Major Indy 500 announcement reignites age-old debate

The Indy 500’s live local audience is masked again, and that includes a flaw that was uncovered ahead of last year’s race.

Continuing an archaic tradition that began nearly three-quarters of a century ago, local Indianapolis residents will not be able to watch the 107th race of the Indy 500 live on NBC this Sunday, May 28 at 11:00 a.m. ET.

This is the event’s first complete breakdown since 2019, though it ironically serves as an illustration that Indianapolis Motor Speedway does not anticipate any immediate changes to this approach moving forward.

In 2020, the breakdown was lifted as the race felt more like a glorified training session. In other words, no fans were allowed to attend due to COVID-19 restrictions. In 2021, attendance was limited due to the same restrictions, so it was lifted again.

Then last year the outage was restored, but fans found a loophole allowing them to watch the race with a premium subscription to NBC’s Peacock streaming service, as nothing was in place to prevent streaming where distribution was prohibited.

Now that loophole has been sewn up, and fans in Central Indiana will have to attend the Indy 500 to watch it live.

It revived the age-old debate. Should the Indy 500 still be closed for local residents?

The purpose of the breakdown is to get local residents to watch the race. It is not a foreign concept. Other sports have used similar blackouts for their local markets in a strategic attempt to sell tickets.

Decades ago, that is.

When it comes to tradition, no one appreciates it more than Indianapolis Motor Speedway racing fans. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, given the scale of the event and all the pageantry that surrounds it each year.

But at some point, you can’t totally live in the past. Believe it or not, every Indy 500 brings with it some form of change. Whether it’s the cars, the drivers, the aero package, the qualifying penalty shootout format, the knockout format or something else, change is inevitable.

The blackout should be no exception.

We are already talking about the most attended one-day sporting event in the world. We’re talking about an event that transforms the confines of the racing capital of the world into a city that would rank among the top 60 in the United States by population, higher than cities like Orlando, Cincinnati, Newark, St. Paul , and Pittsburgh.

Does anyone really think that lifting the blackout will reduce the number of spectators?

On the contrary, the blackout is counter-productive. This limits who can see the race and thus reduces the potential to attract new fans. For a somewhat older fanbase than other sports, that’s the complete opposite of a bargain.

We live in a time where everyone is connected. More and more people own more than one screen for live sports. People are talking. Social networks exist. People want action. It takes some effort to not be up to date on live sporting events. Any delay longer than a few seconds is considered “overdue”.

Is getting people to attend a three-hour event that has already happened the best approach?

Maybe decades ago. These days, many fans will already know the result. Highlight clips exist minutes after something happens.

So you have to ask yourself, why even watch? It’s not as engrossing at this point as watching a live event unfold.

As for fans in central Indiana, who are literally the best candidates to become Indy 500 regulars with proper racing exposure, a tape delay is the worst possible concept. What logic does blocking fans from seeing an event generate more interest in that event in the future?

And in terms of competing with other sports, there will always be something else (actually livestreamed) that people can watch instead.

Guess what? They go.

It’s crazy how far IndyCar is behind this rule. It’s even crazier that they seem determined to stay there, having only really lifted the breakdown when the 100th race of the Indy 500 was sold out in 2016.

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