Sunday, March 10, 2019

IndyCar/Sportsnet Hastily Throws Together Terrible 2019 Broadcast Package

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy/Car FYI Canada


After a brief hibernation from auto racing, March brings forth a full motorsport awaking. While NASCAR season is a few weeks old and the Rolex 24 at Daytona kicked-off the start of sports car racing, we welcome an all-new Formula 1 and NTT IndyCar Series schedule for 2019. With the latter organization, we were left waiting news on the network and channels we can anticipate watching the 17 races of this year. With only 5 days remaining before the green flag dropped, news of the Canadian broadcast package was announced leaving me to quote Vito Corneone from The Godfather in inquiring to Sportsnet, Rogers Communications as well as the open wheel racing sanctioning body. “What have I ever done to you to treat me so disrespectfully?” I ask as a longtime motorsport fan eager to watch a new year of IndyCar competition without major obstacles. Sadly, the so-called broadcast deal made between Sportsnet and the NTT IndyCar Series equates to a slap in the face to a large fan base.

In the press release Sportsnet issued relating to news of their 2019 agreement, the headline didn’t even mention IndyCar but was instead promoted their annual pass for SN NOW+. An online streaming sports platform being sold at a yearly cost of $249.99 (generously offered for a $50 savings at $199.99 until April 1st), SN NOW+ will be the only place to watch all 17 races of the racing series. The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series coverage announcement was given just enough attention in effort to sell the service. To be fair and pains me to say, the cost per month of SN NOW+ isn’t the worst deal but it is no less a kick in the teeth to Canadian IndyCar viewers expecting races on more conventional television channels that already carry steep prices.

Besides the SN NOW+ online streaming service option, IndyCar fans are also being provided with 16 of 17 races on television through another premium cost platform. Sportsnet World (a $32.98 per month set of channels bundled with the WWE Network) is broadcast all events with exception to this weekend’s season opener on the street course in St. Petersburg, Florida. Sportsnet reported a scheduling conflict prevents the live airing of the race (an EPL Soccer game with Manchester United vs. Arsenal on that is also on the main Sportsnet channel). In a recent development announced less than 24 hours prior to the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Sportsnet is now providing free live streaming of the event on their website sportsnet.ca. The same news was shared on the IndyCar website that also includes mention of free live streaming in Latin America. Only two races are slated to air by traditional means on television (Indianapolis 500 and the Honda Indy Toronto).

I’m pleased by the realization that my meager voice is not the only one being transmitted on this issue. The legendary Norris McDonald (a 2013 Inductee into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame) and the familiar, long-serving auto racing television personality Todd Lewis has also been vocal opponents to the Sportsnet/IndyCar package for 2019. According to an article written by McDonald, he reported inside knowledge that Rogers and Sportsnet were less than enthusiastic with the prospect of airing IndyCar racing for 2019. While dealing with disinterested management at Sportsnet, IndyCar was also pursuing this season’s agreement through a different avenue. An in-house IndyCar Media branch was setup to handle international rights for the auto racing series replacing the job previously held by ESPN International. Whether inexperience with the negotiating process played a part in the ultimate outcome is uncertain McDonald’s article also cited that IndyCar Media made no attempt to pursue other broadcast partnership options in Canada (namely with Sportsnet rival TSN).

Besides the attention of two well-known Canadian motorsport media personalities, the nature of the 2019 IndyCar broadcast agreement has become the source of content beyond our country’s border. Marshall Pruett for Racer Media & Marketing as well as a YouTuber named David Land are a few sharing the apparent nonsense of the Sportsnet/IndyCar deal with an international audience. Those commentators also brought up a relatively worse arrangement for Australia that currently contains no live race telecasts. Beside the American’s deal with NBC, the only other IndyCar media package gaining any praise is with Sky Sports F1 for the United Kingdom. The Sky Sports F1 itself is a pay-TV arrangement and it is also worth noting Sky and NBC is now both under the Comcast-NBCUniversal corporate structure.

Personally, I wonder how much a 12-year, 5.2 billion-dollar Canadian media rights deal with the NHL has encumbered Rogers Communications and Sportsnet. As much as I and many Canadians enjoy hockey, the deal seemed ridiculous even at the time of the announcement as NBC Sports negotiated a 10-year, 2.0 billion dollar agreement (in US money) for American television rights. After the 2015-2016 Stanley Cup playoffs where no Canadian clubs were featured in any games, Sportsnet slashed a large contingent of their on-air personalities as well as several employees representing behind the scenes talent for hockey broadcasts heading into the next season. A similar issue may be plaguing ESPN in the United States recalling an analysis produced by the YouTube channel called the Company Man. The video called “The Decline of ESPN” pointed at the increase costs in securing major professional sports rights as one of the contributing factor to rising cable fees and massive layoffs. The obvious concern is the financial demands from elite organizations like the NHL, NBA or NFL is leaving a lot less funds for other sports.

While Sportsnet has apparently failed the motorsport base in Canada wanting to watch events on television, some solace may be best found with signals from the United States. According to American television schedule for the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series, eight races are slated to be televised on the main NBC channel with the remainder on NBCSN. I’ve prepared the following list below detailing the race events being shown on NBC that should be available on basic pay TV and perhaps over-to-air in some locations.

NBC Main Channel Broadcasts of 2019 NTT IndyCar Series

Date Event Time

May 11 Indianapolis Road Race 3 PM
May 26 Indianapolis 500 11 AM
June 1 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Race 1 3 PM
June 2 Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Race 2 3 PM
June 23 REV Group Grand Prix at Road America 12 PM
July 28 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio 3 PM
Sept 1 Grand Prix of Portland 3 PM
Sept 22 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey 2:30 PM


Outside of the United States, the complexion of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series broadcast program can only be summed up with the phase “What a mess”. Instead of various interesting storylines attached to a whole new season of open wheel competition, cheering for our national motorsport athlete James Hinchcliffe or any other driver for that matter, the focus has been on how dedicated IndyCar viewer in Canada will even be able to watch this weekend’s race. Was it ignorance, incompetence, greed or the combination of all of these factors that resulted in what can be easily described as a bumbled 2019 broadcast viewing experience.

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