Indy 500: The race must go on

Indy 500, IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Indy 500, IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images) /

IndyCar and Roger Penske announced on Tuesday afternoon that no spectators would be allowed for the 104th running of the Indy 500.

This announcement comes as COVID-19 cases have been steadily rising in the state of Indiana as a whole as well as Marion County, where Indianapolis Motor Speedway is located.

Two weeks ago, it was announced that IndyCar would reduce capacity from 50% to 25% following an 88-page plan that was approved by numerous health authorities within the state of Indiana. Now there will be no fans allowed whatsoever.

It is going to feel weird seeing no spectators inside the track that can hold up to 235,000 in the seats and roughly 400,000 throughout the facility, but I understand why it is happening. Safety is a higher priority during these troubling times.

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While Penske has gone on record and said that the race will not run unless fans are in the stands, the race is still on. Fans have taken to Twitter to say that the Indy 500 should be cancelled for the year or maybe even postponed to October, but I am not one of those people.

While I do believe race tracks need to rely on their gates, as a majority of Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s revenue comes from ticket sales, according to Adam Stern of Sports Business Journal, this is the Indy 500, “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” There is still a way for revenue to be made in this scenario, and that comes from advertising.

Many companies have committed for months, even before the pandemic, to advertise as a track sponsor, race sponsor, broadcast sponsor, or even a team/driver sponsor.

Gainbridge is the title sponsor for the Indy 500, and this year marks the second of a four-year deal. As a title sponsor, not only would I expect them to have advertising on the walls of the Brickyard and on Zach Veach’s #26 Andretti Autosport Honda, but I would also expect them to advertise on television and on the radio.

That is a huge investment, and Gainbridge not getting the opportunity they had anticipated would be a shame.

I recently went through the NBC Sports Gold broadcast of last year’s Indianapolis 500, as it comes to leaderboard advertising and side-by-side commercials. Firestone, Gainbridge, Shell/Pennzoil, Honda, Lucas Oil, NTT Data, AutoNation, Cly-Del Manufacturing, Gallagher, United Rentals, Gess, GEICO, Chevrolet, PNC Bank, Charmin, Mullen, Speedway, among other notables, paid a lot of money for advertising during this telecast.

While a majority of these sponsors commit to the entire season as team sponsors, some of them only do the Indy 500 as the best way to promote their products, as the Indy 500 is the most viewed IndyCar race of the season.

If this race doesn’t run, a lot of money invested in their commercials, especially the special Super Bowl-like commercials, goes down the drain, and sales won’t go up.

Additionally, advertising is the main way race teams make money. Look at Juncos Racing last year. When Kyle Kaiser qualified them for the Indy 500 as an underfunded team, they got sponsorship immediately after bumping McLaren and Fernando Alonso from the field.

Some of the primary sponsors that only did one-race deals for the 2019 Indy 500 included ROKiT Phones sponsoring James Davison, 2500k, an email intelligence company based in Indianapolis, sponsoring Kaiser after the Cinderella story, Salesforce sponsoring JR Hildebrand, WeatherTech sponsoring Ed Jones and Lucas Oil sponsoring Oriol Servia.

They all made commitments to put those drivers and cars into the race so that they would get some sort of TV time.

Finally, also regarding the teams but outside of advertising, this is the final race this year using the superspeedway package, and these cars have been worked on for months.

If IndyCar had canceled the Indy 500 less than three weeks away from its scheduled date and just over one week from the commencement of practice, how much money would have been lost building those cars?

The Indy 500 must go on.

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The 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 is scheduled to begin at 2:30 pm ET on Sunday, August 23, with the live broadcast set to begin at 1:00 p.m. ET on NBC.