The 2019 Indianapolis 500 will be a little different for viewers. Since 1965, ABC has broadcast the big race, but NBC outbid its rival broadcast company for rights to air the race this year. With the network shift, NBC is already working hard to promote and carry on traditions ABC started.
The Associated Press reported on the shift on Monday and the major resources NBC has thrown behind the race. In fact, the company isn’t treating the Indy 500 as a race, but as a major event. The “Today” show will broadcast live from Thursday through the weekend with Tom Hanks as a guest host, and more than a dozen commentators and analysts will be on hand to cover the race. Two of the commentators will be now-retired drivers Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Mike Tirico, former ESPN announcer, will be the broadcast lead.
It’s all part of an effort to expose IndyCar outside of its typical sphere to a larger audience. The fact all races in the IndyCar series are now part of one network family will likely help, too. Until ABC lost its bid, Indy 500 broadcast rights were reserved to ABC, while other races aired on the NBC Sports channel for cable customers. Two weeks ago, the IndyCar Grand Prix, also in Indianapolis but on the road course, became the most-viewed grand prix race in five years with a 37-percent increase in viewers. IndyCar’s rise also comes as Formula One works to branch out and find a larger American audience.
“Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” a Netflix docuseries, is largely credited with an influx of new fans from the U.S.
One notable name will be missing from the Indy 500, however: Fernando Alonso. The F1 world champion and McLaren driver failed to qualify for the big race after a poor performance by the race team. Alonso has long pursued the coveted Triple Crown—wins at the Monaco Grand Prix, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Indy 500. So far, Alonso only lacks an Indy 500 win.