Bobby Rahal believes that the upcoming expiration of IndyCar’s current TV deal makes the series uniquely poised to capitalize on the growing prominence of digital broadcasting.
The series is currently in the process of planning its next steps for when the current TV deal, split between ABC and NBCSN, concludes at the end of this year, and is doing so at a time when major sporting properties are increasingly looking beyond terrestrial and cable TV for their broadcasting options; Liberty’s desire to create its own streaming service was fundamental to the U.S. F1 broadcasting deal that it struck with ESPN for 2018.
Rahal believes that aspects of IndyCar’s current TV deal have been disadvantageous for the series over the past few years, but sees an opportunity in the contract coming up for renegotiation at a time when many major sports are in the middle of long-term deals.
“We’ve been stuck with a television contract that finally is up for grabs at the end of this year,” Rahal said. “Even [former CEO] Randy Bernard had to deal with that, Mark Miles over the last several years. I think there’s been improvements for sure.
“When you see quotations about the number of people that Formula 1 reaches, Formula E, I don’t believe those numbers whatsoever because I’ve been in Formula 1 [as CEO of Jaguar Racing]. I just know those numbers are not factual. Makes it look bigger than it really is.
“Formula 1 still has a huge following. But I think IndyCar racing is in a good spot right now in the sense that the television contract coming up at the end of this year, it’s in a position that most major sports are not in the sense that I think NASCAR’s television contracts run for another five years, NFL same thing – although I saw Thursday night is going to be on FOX – and Major League Baseball.
“Let’s face it, the world is changing rapidly between what I would call terrestrial TV – ABC, CBS, NBC – versus not just the cables, because they’re suffering, like ESPN and others. That’s across the board. That’s not motorsports on ESPN, that’s ESPN, period. Much of it is going digital.
“To me, the first series that really is able to grab hold on the digital side is going to be the ultimate winner. I think IndyCar racing is in a position to do that. I’m not negotiating the deal for Mark Miles. He’s plenty smart enough to do that on his own. But I do think we’re in a good spot in terms of being able to take advantage of these new technologies. I think it’s moving so fast right now for everybody, those even within the industry, that everybody’s kind of running like crazy trying to figure out which way to go.”
Rahal’s comments came in the wake of the announcement that French petroleum giant Total will be a Rahal Letterman Lanigan sponsor this season, a deal that he says points to the fundamental health of the sport.
“Total is not the only new sponsor that we’ll be announcing,” he said. “We have several, let alone renewals of existing sponsorships. So I got to believe there’s a reason for all that, and that’s that people believe in the IndyCar Series as motorsports entertainment.
“You look at the circuits we run on, they’re great venues. The addition of Portland this year. Back in the Northwest after many, many years. I just think these things are happening because people are seeing the value in it. We’re glad to participate in some small way.”