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ABC retains Indianapolis 500 TV rights

10 August 2011

The IndyCar Series has agreed a new six-year deal with US broadcast network ABC to continue to provide live coverage of the Indianapolis 500, which keeps the Memorial Day holiday weekend event on the channel that has been its home since 1965.

That means the race will stay with ABC for its 100th running in 2016, the network already having covered this year's centennial anniversary of the first Indy 500 (the difference being down to the wartime years when the race was not run.)

ABC provides the live television coverage which is then syndicated to broadcast partners around the world, including Sky Sports in the United Kingdom. This year the coverage utilised 64 high definition cameras to capture all the action on track at the 2.5 mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"We are very proud to extend the relationship with this new agreement," said George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports. "The 500 is a uniquely American event and a Memorial Day tradition."

"We value our partnership with ABC and ESPN and are pleased that the relationship will continue into the future," said Jeff Belskus, CEO and president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation.

The new deal also adds live online streaming rights from on-board during the Indy 500, which will be available to online subscribers at indycar.com and ABC's web-only channel EPSN3.

"As broadcast technology advances and opportunities arise to implement new technology," commented Belskus, "ABC's production team continues to seek out innovative ways to televise our sport."

As well as the Indy 500 itself, ABC will continue to cover four additional IndyCar races during each year, including this year's season finale at Las Vegas. The remainder of the races in the IndyCar season are covered under a separate broadcast deal with cable channel VERSUS, which will be branded NBC Sports Channel from the start of 2012 after its takeover by ABC's national broadcast rival network.

VERSUS has recently been conspicuously busy upgrading and improving their coverage, implementing a pre-race "grid walk" and adding Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon to the commentary team for a very well-received three-race run in June and July.

There had been speculation that the Indy 500 rights might be pulled from ABC in order to 'reunite' coverage under the NBC umbrella. Currently there is criticism that while ABC and its cable sports channel ESPN provide extensive coverage of the Indy 500 and the four other events they carry, there is no cross-promotion or news coverage of any VERSUS-covered IndyCar events. That could hamper the overall growth of the series, and is a situation that will only harden once the cable channel takes on branding from the arch-rival NBC network.

However there was a considerable sentimental drive to keep the Indy 500 with ABC after 47 years together - one of the longest continuous relationships in the world between a television broadcaster and a sporting event - and the series ultimately decided that the known quantity and quality of having ABC as its broadcast partner brought IndyCar a level of stability that was hard to walk away from.

"Our continued relationship with ABC ... allows the series long-term growth on the network," said Randy Bernard, the CEO of IndyCar. "This deal will help our series, team owners, sponsors and fans for the long term with a much more solid foundation."


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