Indianapolis 500 TV ratings see 2% bump, biggest share in 15 years

Nathan Brown
Indianapolis Star
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INDIANAPOLIS — NBC saw a 2% bump year-over-year in its TV ratings for Sunday's red-flag-heavy Indianapolis 500, which averaged 4.92 million viewers when combining the traditional NBC broadcast (4.71 million) and streaming on Peacock and NBC's online platforms (216,000), according to Fast National Data from Nielsen and Adobe Analytics.

Here's what you need to know and how to interpret the data:

Despite small audience increase, 'share' signifies overall success

Though just a tad above the lowest non-pandemic broadcast TV ratings audience that it reached in 2022 (4.84 million), NBC said in its release Josef Newgarden's last-lap pass of defending-winner Marcus Ericsson for the the Penske driver's first 500 win delivered a 13 share (meaning 13% of homes watching TV at the time of the race tuned into NBC to watch), the race's highest since 2008 (also 13). It comes at a time when 'homes watching television' dropped 26% from 2018 to 2022. When asked to account for the race's constant skid in average viewership since 2015 (when the race averaged 6.5 million viewers), that decrease in overall TV audience across the board is often pointed to be series and network officials having a major impact.

From 2022:Why the low Indy 500 TV ratings were surprising and why the blackout isn't solely to blame

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Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden (2) crosses the finish line to win the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 on race, Sunday, May 28, 2023, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Even with a sellout in 2016 for the historic 100th running of the 500 and a lift of the central Indiana blackout, the broadcast of the race dipped year-over-year to 6 million (from 6.5 million in 2015), falling to 5.5 million (2017) and 4.9 million (2018) in the final years of ABC's coverage of the race. NBC's initial broadcast drew a healthier 5.4 million in 2019 before the pandemic-shifted race in August of 2020 saw a heavy drop that many mainstream sporting events across the board saw (3.737 million).

Back in its original Memorial Day weekend slot, and with central Indiana viewers able to watch on traditional TV due to the lift of the local blackout for the track's ticket restriction, NBC had fan average of 5.581 million viewers watch Helio Castroneves' record-tying fourth win in 2021. Though arguably with more major storylines coming in (including debuts for worldwide racing stars Jimmie Johnson and Romain Grosjean and Castroneves' drive for a 5th 500), 2022's audience fell more than 13% year-over-year to 4.84 million.

Sunday's average audience, though well behind the hopeful targets of years' past, shows improvement, representing NBC's most-watched Sunday afternoon program since its broadcast of last year's final round of the US Open in June.

NBC showing growth in Peacock audience

NBC's digital viewership also showed promise. Despite a small drop in overall audience (by 3,000, 219,000 to 216,000), Sunday's 500 was geo-blocked digitally by NBC in the network's local Indianapolis and Lafayette affiliate market coverage areas, identical to the area similarly affected by the over-the-air blackout. Knowing a sizeable audience in central Indiana likely tuned into Peacock and NBC's digital platforms in 2022 (since the live coverage had not yet been geo-blocked despite the traditional TV blackout), such a small drop could be viewed as a win and likely demonstrates strong overall growth in Peacock's dedicated IndyCar subscriber base.

Earlier this year, NBC averaged 50,000 digital viewers for its Long Beach broadcast, marking the second-most-streamed IndyCar race on record (outside 500s and last year's Peacock-exclusive Toronto race).

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Indianapolis market rating jumps back up near 10

In its second year of returning to the traditional central Indiana over-the-air blackout of the live 500 broadcast, Indianapolis paced all markets (as it always does) in household rating, which registers as a percentage of all homes in the market that watched the race (not just among those who were already watching TV). Indianapolis (9.5) paced Dayton, Ohio (6.3), Louisville (6.0), Knoxville, Tenn. (4.8) and Cincinnati (4.7) among top-5 markets. Greensboro, N.C., Greenville, S.C. and Ft. Meyers-Naples, Fla. all tied for sixth in market household rating (4.6), followed by Phoenix (4.5) and Sacramento (4.2).

Indianapolis's recent history with the 500's household rating is all over the board, given the different attendance restrictions and blackout situations since the 100th running in 2016. That year, an astounding 33.6% of Indianapolis-area homes tuned into the race live (when it wasn't blacked out, due to the sellout crowd), and the two other races without live over-the-air local blackouts have also drawn ratings above 20 (2020, 24.9; 2021, 21.3). In recent years where the local blackout has been in place, the Indianapolis household rating for the Sunday evening replay has ranged from 5.7 (2022) to 14.2 (2017).

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