The IndyCar Series will return to Sky Sports for the upcoming 2019 season in a multi-year deal, the broadcaster has confirmed, following the news earlier this week that BT Sport have lost the rights to the championship.
The single-seater series previously enjoyed a longstanding relationship with Sky, which ended following the 2012 season. Now, the series returns to Sky, however the series will air exclusively live on Sky Sports F1, a surprising move considering the reluctance to air IndyCar action on the channel in 2012.
Sky will air both qualifying and the race for each round on the F1 channel, the first time this level of coverage has been available to UK fans.
Steve Smith, Director of Content and Production at Sky Sports, said “The NTT IndyCar Series is one of the most thrilling competitions in motor racing, crowned by the world renowned ‘Indy 500’, and it’s great to be able to work with our new partners at NBC to bring it to a whole new audience here in the UK and Ireland.”
“Alongside our biggest ever season of F1, it will be part of an incredible line-up of motor racing on Sky Sports this year.”
Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, which owns IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said “We are pleased to reach a deal with Sky Sports to showcase the NTT IndyCar Series on the Sky Sports F1 channel for the next several seasons.”
“IndyCar values the commitment Sky and NBC have made to the series and the support of Comcast-NBCUniversal to help make this deal possible. We look forward to starting our season next week on Sky.”
World Feed only coverage expected
I understand that Sky will be taking IndyCar’s World Feed, with no additional wrap-around or bespoke content, unlike in their previous iteration of coverage, when Sky provided extra studio coverage, typically fronted by Keith Huewen.
For those that watched BT Sport’s commercial free coverage, some may consider the move to Sky to be a downgrade, but airing the series on the F1 channel should open the series to a much wider audience, assuming Sky gives IndyCar promotion within their F1 coverage.
Prior to 2012, IndyCar was the only live motor racing show in town on Sky, and promotion was minimal as a result. IndyCar never benefited from Sky’s F1 coverage in 2012, with the F1 channel acting as an overflow station on two occasions, whereas this time round every race will air on the F1 channel.
It appears that Formula 1 themselves, now led by under Liberty Media, are happy for this to happen, whereas Formula 1 under Bernie Ecclestone’s ownership were reluctant back in 2012. It does make prospects for the Indianapolis 500 interesting, which falls on the same day as the Monaco Grand Prix, and features two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso.
If given an appropriate level of cross-promotion, the 500 could benefit significantly. BT Sport’s coverage of Alonso’s Indianapolis 500 debut in 2017 peaked with 203,000 viewers, so Sky should be able to match that comfortably. I daresay Sky should provide some bespoke wrap-around coverage for the 500, but that might be a bridge too far.
Aside from the build-up for the 500, the chances of a direct clash with the F1 season is highly unlikely.
Multiple reasons behind Sky’s IndyCar deal
Comcast now owns Sky, and has done so since the middle of 2018. In the US, IndyCar is airing on NBC in a new deal starting this season. Comcast also owns NBC, which is one reason this deal fits together nicely for all parties as noted in the quotes from both Sky and IndyCar.
Additionally, one of the suggestions touted by industry sources is that IndyCar may be part of a wider strategy to expand the scope of Sky Sports F1 to cover other motor sport championships, which is now possible with Liberty at the F1 helm. In my view, this is exactly how Sky should use the channel outside of live F1 weekends.
Of course, adding other championships to Sky F1 helps drive up subscriptions for those fans ‘on the edge’ of taking out Sky’s ‘best ever’ deal for the F1 channel which runs through March.
It is unclear whether BT Sport bid for IndyCar this season. What we do know is that their new contracts with MotoGP and the World Rally Championship kicked in from this season. Both are world championships, the latter coming with a significant increase in hours due to WRC All Live, which may have sealed IndyCar’s BT fate if there was no money lying round for the American based series.
The 17-round IndyCar Series season gets underway on March 10th in St. Petersburg, finishing on September 22nd in Laguna Seca.