The Indianapolis 500 soared to its highest ever audience of the modern era last weekend, official consolidated viewing figures from BARB show.
Consolidated audience figures include viewers who watched via the TV set within seven days of broadcast, and exclude commercial breaks. Figures in this article should not be compared to previous overnight ratings posted on this site.
Background and Historical Comparison
For the first time ever, the race aired live on Sky Sports F1. Historically, the race, which forms part of the IndyCar Series, aired on Sky Sports through the 2000s. Both the series and the race moved to BT Sport under the ESPN banner at the start of 2013. The series has a small, but passionate following in the UK, and that is reflected in most of the audience figures.
However, in 2017, BT Sport’s coverage of the Indianapolis 500 averaged 141,000 viewers from 16:30, a number boosted significantly by the presence of Fernando Alonso, a year-on-year increase of 900 percent! BT’s programme started half an hour than Sky’s offering did this year, but the race back in 2017 also started earlier, so the comparison is like-to-like.
Last year with no Alonso, audience figures dropped back to their usual levels of around 40,000 viewers on BT. 2019 is IndyCar’s first year back on Sky, but audience figures have not jumped significantly so far. That was, until the 500 came around…
The Indianapolis 500 averaged 172,000 viewers from 17:00 on Sunday 26th May on Sky Sports F1, IndyCar’s highest ever audience in the modern era.
Furthermore, the IndyCar average is across a four-and-a-half-hour time slot, suggesting that those watching did so for most of the broadcast, as opposed to a downward trend throughout. BARB does not publish consolidated peak figures, but it is likely that the 500 peaked with around 250,000 viewers.
IndyCar retained most of the audience that were watching Sky’s F1 post-race show. Paddock Live from Monaco, which preceded events from Indianapolis, averaged 228,000 viewers from 16:25 to 17:00.
Excluding Formula 1, it is Sky Sports’ highest audience for a live motor race since the launch of A1 Grand Prix nearly fourteen years ago! The World Cup of motor sport’s inaugural race from Brands Hatch in September 2005 attracted an audience of 247,000 viewers to much fanfare back then.
Of course, that statistic also means that the 2019 running of the 500 out-rated every Formula 1 feeder race in the past seven years, which is great for IndyCar, but not so good for Formula Two. Sky did not repeat the 500 in the days following the race, whereas Formula Two races are repeated ad nauseam on the channel.
The audience figures are slightly below what MotoGP gets on BT Sport and ITV4 get for British Touring Cars, but not a million miles away.
For me, the viewing figures this time around are more surprising than 2017. The 2017 audience boost can be equated to Alonso, and we all knew that race was going to receive a sizeable boost, whereas this time, the boost cannot be equated to a specific person.
Yes, the race did follow Sky’s Monaco programming on the very same channel, but the gap between Monaco concluding and the Indianapolis 500 starting was nearly two hours, enough time for the audience to dwindle, as we have seen on many occasions in the past.
However, it should be acknowledged that BT’s programme in 2017 essentially had to ‘self-start’ from an audience perspective, whereas the 2019 audience was already there and waiting on the same channel.
If Alonso drives in 2020, and manages to qualify next year, it will be interesting to see if there is any boost beyond 2019’s figure. The target audience will already be watching Sky Sports F1, so any further boost may be limited.
As in 2017, do not expect IndyCar’s numbers to suddenly jump moving forward. However, being on the same channel as Sky’s F1 offering provides a platform for IndyCar’s numbers to gradually increase.
Sky need to prepared to increase resources to help the cause, including bespoke UK commentary during US ad-breaks. The argument for doing that has surely increased following the successful trial run during the 500, bringing Sky back in-line to the level of coverage that BT Sport offered.
For now, at least, the IndyCar Series had another, somewhat unexpected, day in the sun from a UK perspective. And based on the quality of both the 500, and the Duel in Detroit over this past weekend, they absolutely deserve it.