Indy 500: Major pre-race decision reignites an annual debate

The local Indy 500 blackout lives on for another year, and with it, the refusal to embrace life in a modern era of television.
Indy 500, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, IndyCar
Indy 500, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, IndyCar / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

Unfortunately the solar eclipse wasn't the only blackout at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and surrounding areas this spring.

Continuing a tradition that pretty much every other major sport in the United States rightfully abandoned long ago, the Indy 500 is once again subject to a local blackout in the Indianapolis area, meaning that residents will not be able to watch NBC's live broadcast of the 108th running of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" at 11:00 a.m. ET on Sunday, May 26.

And thanks to the discovery of a loophole that was shrewdly utilized by thousands of fans two years ago, you can't watch it live with a premium subscription to NBC’s Peacock streaming service, either, as that loophole has since been sewn up.

This announcement ultimately serves as a further indication of Indianapolis Motor Speedway's unwillingness to adjust to life after the 1970s, because before last year, there was actually a stretch of a few years in which this wasn't the case.

Now here we are in 2024, and the same archaic Indy 500 blackout principle is back. Again.

Prior to 2023, the last full blackout was in 2019. In 2020, that blackout was lifted because nobody was allowed to attend due to COVID-19-related restrictions.

In 2021, it was lifted because attendance was limited due to the same restrictions. In 2022, fans could get around it using the aforementioned Peacock exploit, but that was not the case last year -- and won't be this year.

One question: why?

The Indy 500 is steeped in tradition, and you won't find a more traditionalist fanbase than that which makes the annual trek to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The magnitude and pageantry surrounding this event make it a traditionalist's paradise, and there are more elements to it than you or I can probably count that should forever remain unchanged.

The blackout isn't one of them.

The continued use of a local blackout is nothing more than a straight-up refusal to stop living in the past. The whole goal of a local blackout, in the Indy 500 or in other sports, is to get the local fans to buy tickets and come out to the event.

It's a strategic marketing attempt that might have worked four or five decades ago.

And for as much as the greatest sporting event on the planet is rooted in tradition, there's no denying that every year brings changes: cars, drivers, aero package, qualifying format, bumping format, etc. Yet for some reason, the blackout remains exempt from that standard.

In an era during which high-ranking individuals within the sport were said to be pushing for guaranteed entries and the end of the "Fastest 33" concept that makes the Indy 500 what it is, this is particularly baffling.

The Indy 500 is the most attended single-day sporting event in the world. Unlike another racing series, one which, on multiple occasions, tried to abuse the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" trademark, the Indy 500 doesn't need to rely on three-day attendance totals to hit the 300,000 mark.

On race day, the fans at Indianapolis Motor Speedway turn the Racing Capital of the World into a venue that would rank just outside of the top 50 in terms of the most populated cities in the United States, ahead of cities such as New Orleans, Cleveland, and Orlando.

Does anybody really think that would change if local residents were allowed to watch the Indy 500 live on television?

The same fans who want to come to the race are still going to come to the race. All the blackout does is restrict potential fans -- given the location, potential lifetime fans -- from having access to the event in any capacity.

Some fans aren't physically able to attend. Some fans can't afford it. In an era during which anything less than up-to-the-second data on a sporting event is considered obsolete, how ridiculous is it that those individuals have to wait hours and hours to get the biggest sporting event in the world in their living rooms?

Is telling fans who can't come to the event that they can't watch the event really the best way to turn people into lifelong race fans? Fortunately for fans of other sports, their leagues realized this marketing logic made no sense years ago and promptly moved on from it.

Not so much at Indy.

Demographically speaking, IndyCar's fanbase is older than most as it is, so this is even a bigger concern when it comes to attracting younger fans to the sport.

Sure, attending the race is obviously the best way to get new fans engrossed in the sport, but that isn't always possible. The fact that those locals are given no other option is absurd.

In the age of smartphones and connected devices, they're either going to get updates on the race anyway (while missing out on the captivating action the event provides, thus missing out on an opportunity to truly embrace it for what it's worth) or move onto something else that doesn't present such an elitist style gatekeeping approach.

How is someone going to fully appreciate the magnitude of the event if not even given the chance to watch it?

And speaking of the eclipse, look at how many thousands of fans Indianapolis Motor Speedway welcomed for the rare event in early April. Look at how many of those fans, plenty of whom from the surrounding area, might have been given their first ever exposure to IndyCar through that event.

Maybe some of those attendees did end up buying race tickets. But for those who didn't or couldn't, that exposure could be all for naught, since they have no way of watching live.

Next. 2024 Indy 500: Full starting lineup. 2024 Indy 500: Full starting lineup. dark

Alas, the misconception that keeping fans from watching the race live is actually somehow growing the sport lives on for another year. For non-Indianapolis residents, the race is set to be shown live on NBC beginning at 11:00 a.m. ET on Sunday, May 26, with the green flag scheduled to fly shortly after 12:30 p.m. ET, weather permitting. Begin a free trial of FuboTV and don't miss it!