Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.
Questions for Robin can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the high volume of questions received, we can’t always guarantee that your letter will be printed, but Robin will get to as many as he can. Published questions have been edited for clarity. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of RACER or Honda/HPD.
Q: Coming soon, the end of NBC Sports channel and civilization as we know it… or not. I noticed that everyone is all doom and gloom about the end of the NBC Sports Network. And while I admit I will miss it, I don’t think this is the ‘nuked from orbit instant death’ for IndyCar and IMSA that some people are saying. And while the channel is dying, NBC Sports will continue across NBC Universal’s other channels. NBC has stated that the USA Network will be taking over some NBCSN’s load. Given that USA’s average viewership numbers are roughly double NBCSN’s, this could actually turn out to be a good thing if NBC continues to promote IndyCar and IMSA.
Furthermore, since USA is on basic cable, the average channel surfer is more likely to see a race while flipping through the channels. And finally, The Captain isn’t going to let the millions upon millions of dollars he has invested fade away into the ether. I am quite certain the Penske organization has already come with contingencies on top of contingencies for this. So to quote the meme that originated in WW2 Great Britain, “Keep calm and carry on.” Because no one knows what the future will bring.
RM: You sent this before my column was published on Monday but I think your assessment is spot-on. Racing fans love to bitch without ever considering the realities of the situation, and this shift to Peacock and USA is merely NBC trying to get the most out of its properties while keeping up with the ever-changing arena of how we watch sports. And it figures to be cheaper than NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold. Thanks for making sense.
Q: I love your insights and opinions so I have to ask: is IndyCar dying a slow death with a possible move to Peacock in 2022? RP can’t be pleased, and it seems clear that the series would have fewer eyes on it. It’s not that I can’t afford to pay for the service, but I won’t pay to watch sports – any sports – beyond my cable package. Just to be clear IndyCar is my favorite sport, bar none, but for the sport to move a portion of its season to Peacock, I guess I’ll wait to see if the series moves once the NBC contract ends. Could I be looking at this wrong?
Mark M, Floyds Knobs, IN
RM: Like I wrote on Monday, the fact NBC is giving IndyCar nine races on network this year is incredible considering how poor the ratings are, so going from NBCSN to USA/Peacock is hardly reason to panic. We just need to hope that NBC wants to keep IndyCar beyond 2021.
Q: Thoughts on where IndyCar will go for its television after this season? Total confidence in Roger Penske and the IndyCar management to make a decent deal, but curious what you think the options are?
Jeff C., Des Moines, Iowa
RM: I don’t think there are any options except staying with NBC, and I would assume The Captain will work something out because he knows how flexible and supportive NBC has been the past two years. It’s not like there’s going to be a bidding war among FOX, ABC and CBS. ABC/ESPN always treated IndyCar like a stepchild compared to NBC.
Q: Just saw the article confirming the end of NBCSN. I know this year is unaffected by this development, but I am concerned about future IndyCar broadcasts not being available on TV and cable. If IndyCar stays with NBC on the next contract and a bunch of races are shown on Peacock, look out. Ratings are going to plummet. I know IndyCar wants to grow young viewership, but a significant amount of IndyCar’s most loyal fans are middle-aged or older, and they are much less likely to stream a network like Peacock. Hope RP and his staff take this into consideration when negotiating the next contract. NBC has done a nice job the last few years, but airing races on a streaming service is going to hurt IndyCar. Fox, CBS, and ESPN have multiple channels. Better to move to another network than lose a major part of your fan base.
RM: Ratings are going to plummet? Did you see the 2020 ratings? The lowest Indy 500 of all time, less than a million average on network and less than a half million on NBCSN. Why would you think FOX, ESPN or CBS would have any interest in IndyCar with those numbers? Whether we like it or want it, streaming in the future and nobody is saying the races wouldn’t still be on NBC or USA if the contract is renewed for 2022, but Peacock will replace NBC Sports Gold for practice and qualifying and my understanding is that it’s only $5 a month. Considering all the money that NBC has spent the past three years trying to grow IndyCar, you’d better hope they stick around because nobody else is going to embrace a niche series like NBC has.
Q: I’ve been an IndyCar fan since I was in high school marching band and marched and played around the 500 track in 1973. I never miss a race on TV, have been to the race on several occasions, and time trials more times that I can count. But with the coming demise of NBCSN, I have a feeling that I won’t be seeing much IndyCar racing on TV and I can’t see myself paying for another service, as I already pay way too much for cable as it is. Please tell us that NBC or USA will be broadcasting all the races in 2022.
Barry, New Haven, IN
RM: We don’t even know if NBC is going to keep IndyCar beyond 2021, but I just don’t understand all this hand-wringing about the expense. I believe USA is part of most basic cable plans and Peacock will be $5 a month, so what’s the difference between paying extra for NBCSN and NBC Gold and what’s around the bend? I think the hope would be that NBC and USA show all the races if a deal can be struck, but it’s not like it’s a big price increase.