“Mark Miles is a moron.”
“He doesn’t know anything about television.”
“He hates Canada.”
“He’s a rich guy who has no feelings for the working-class IndyCar fan.”
“He didn’t start working on the Canadian television package until a couple of months ago.”
“He turned his back on Canucks, and now we are stuck without all the IndyCar content we are used to seeing on basic cable.”
Those are just a select few of the e-mails I’ve received in the past week. The fallout from Canada’s unhappiness with its new IndyCar TV deal has been large and loud, with IndyCar’s Mark Miles catching most of the flak.
Ditto the comments from Australia, although not as voluminous.
Canadians have gone from getting IndyCar as part of their standard cable package to being charged either a $20 CAD upgrade fee for Sportsnet’s premium cable channel, Sportsnet World, or $27 CAD a month for SN NOW+, Sportsnet’s direct-to-consumer platform, by Sportsnet for the nine races that aren’t on NBC.
The Aussies have it worse: A 60-minute highlight package on Mondays, with rumors that the Indy 500 will be seen live on FOX and its direct-to-consumer platform, Kayo.
On the flip side, Sky Sports F1 is delivering the full IndyCar season, as broadcast by NBC, to England, while Latin American got the season-opener for free.
Of course everybody is an expert on how television deals are made and the rationale behind it all.
So is it really IndyCar’s fault that Canada got hosed?
“It’s not anybody’s fault, it’s the media rights market,” Miles responded. “Stephen (Starks, IndyCar’s VP of promoter and media partner relations) and I have been working on Canada since last year, and we talked to at least three prospective outlets there about carrying our races.
“Our job is to get the best understanding of all the options. What’s the exposure? What’s the promotion? Is it free? Are they going to pay a rights fee? But our priority is exposure and promotion.
“And we took less money this year in some cases to have more exposure.”
Rogers (Sportsnet) gave IndyCar a great ride in Canada for several years before big budget cutbacks altered the landscape. IndyCar was warned last year that 2019 wasn’t going to look anything like 2018 on one of Canada’s TV staples. So it was left with the package of Sportsnet 360 (Indy 500), Sportsnet ONE (Honda Indy Toronto), Sportsnet World (all IndyCar Series live races) and SN NOW+ (all IndyCar Series live races and qualifying).
“It is our understanding that the eight NBC races are available through basic cable,” said Starks, who stays plenty busy putting together IndyCar’s race schedule and managing the distribution of IndyCar’s media rights, alongside Miles. “They’re part of basic cable just like in the U.S.
“Regardless, we are sensitive to the fact that fans will have to adjust to paying for certain content that used to be available for free. Our goal is to expose the most fans possible to our sport at the lowest possible price point, but this is not easy to accomplish in today’s media rights landscape.”
A source from Canadian broadcasting told RACER that there’s talk Sportsnet may drop the Davis Cup, Tour de France and English Premier League Soccer from its television channels after those contracts expire, yet it is believed IndyCar has a three-year deal with Sportsnet.
Sky Sports had to get the OK from Formula 1 to take on IndyCar, and Miles credits NBC sports programming president Jon Miller for helping make it happen.
As for Australia, IndyCar racing has been popular Down Under since the late, great Barry Sheene of motorcycle fame used to host CART parties at his bar in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The success of Will Power and Kiwi Scott Dixon have only heightened awareness.
For the past decade, Australia and many other countries got their IndyCar fix from ESPN International, but those ties were cut this year.
“We were part of a big sports package and never exactly knew when the races would run or if they were getting any promotion, so I wanted us to take control of our product,” said Miles.
Nobody picked up IndyCar for 2019 in Australia, other than FOX agreeing to show highlights. But, as previously mentioned, there’s a chance the Indy 500 could be aired live so fans can watch Power try to defend his win.
Another complaint heard constantly is that IndyCar doesn’t have a dedicated TV person, but that’s false.
“We have a full-time television licensing person based in London, and we use consultants in certain markets as well,” said Miles.
The bottom line is, though, that IndyCar can’t make a country take its races, no matter how compelling or competitive they’ve been in the past few years. But in addition to its new UK broadcaster, Sky Sports F1, IndyCar has added a few countries in the Nordics, including Sweden (Rosenvquist, Ericsson), to its media fold through its new deal with NENT/ViaSat, while France (Bourdais, Pagenaud), Brazil (Kanaan, Leist), Japan (Sato), Spain (Alonso), and Latin America (O’Ward) are signed up for 2019 with some of those arrangements, including added free-to-air coverage of several, if not all IndyCar races.
In the last 10 years, the television landscape has gone from free to cable to premium cable. Boxing led the way to pay-per-view a long time ago. Could this new deal hurt IndyCar in Canada? Absolutely. But like they say, it’s business; nothing personal.
Kicking and screaming, Canadians nonetheless have the option to pay $120 American for six months to watch the nine races not on NBC. It’s not popular, but it’s practical, and pay-per-view is only going to expand in the coming years. Formula 1 is likely headed that way on ESPN in 2020, and when the NFL decides it’s time to pony up; they’ll make a fortune.
But whether it’s $50 for NBC Sports Gold or $120 for Sportsnet in Canada or whatever the charge for basic cable to pick up NBC/NBCSN in the USA, it’s not the end of the world, and it won’t change your life. It’s your choice: Either quit watching, or just pay a little extra for something you enjoy.