Despite capacity limits, Indy 500 to be largest sports event of pandemic

The Indianapolis 500 (IBJ photo)

The Indianapolis 500 is set to become the largest sporting event since the pandemic hit in early 2020 with a reduced-capacity sellout crowd of 135,000 expected to attend Sunday’s race.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway worked with the Marion County Public Health Department to determine that 40% of venue capacity will be allowed. The speedway is the largest sporting facility in the world with more than 250,000 grandstand seats and the ability to host close to 400,000 on race day throughout the entire property.

Other large sporting events have included more than 73,000 fans at the bout earlier this month in Arlington, Texas, between Canelo Álvarez and Billy Joe Saunders and 78,000 for a cricket match last month in Melbourne, Australia. But the Indy 500 will dwarf those totals this weekend.

The track also decided to lift the local broadcast blackout and allow central Indiana fans the chance to watch beginning at 11 a.m. on NBC.

NBC averaged 3.67 million viewers and a 2.3 rating for last year’s Indy 500, won by Takuma Sato in August when the race was moved away from Memorial Day weekend because of the pandemic and held without spectators for the first time in its 104 runnings. IMS also lifted its usual local TV blackout last year because spectators were not permitted.

The infield’s raucous “Snake Pit” will be closed and all the traditional pre-race concerts will not be held, including on Friday’s Carb Day. There will be suite seating and the Pagoda will be open to those with tickets, but the midway will be closed.

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5 thoughts on “Despite capacity limits, Indy 500 to be largest sports event of pandemic

  1. Bet IMS and Penske are annoyed to see how many NBA teams are increasing capacity to nearly full capacity in tiny indoor arenas compared to IMS’ massive footprint. Although 135,000 fans initially sounds high, they could have waaay more at safe distances.

    I know they had to prepare in advance, but why not add to the ticket allotment in the past few weeks after the CDC’s updates and seeing the progress of vaccinations? Penske is missing out on millions of dollars, while many fans were unable to get tickets.

    1. I’d assume that would have been a possibility if Indiana didn’t have one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. In all honesty, it shouldn’t matter anyway. If we’re following updated science, outdoor venues have a miniscule chance of community spread. With that said, it is still possible. Especially if you think of what goes on in the Snake Pit. Maybe IMS decided they just don’t want to risk their reputation by going too big too soon. Who knows, but thankfully it’s happening with fans this year.

    2. Millions of dollars is a meaningless sum of money to Penske…

      I would assume having zero negative stories about the 500 come out after the fact is worth the opportunity cost for his first 500 with fans

    3. @Jeff, they haven’t come out and said it, but it sounds like they JUST sold the last of the 135k. There was so much uncertainty even 30 days ago, it was hard for anyone to plan attendance.
      The attendance number besides Queen Craine, is also for appearances. If you had packed stands people like Wes would be saying “ look at all the knuckle draggers trying to kill Grandma”.

  2. Unfortunate timing on this years decision, that’s all. IMS has every right to complain but despite all the hardships, Penske is a man of integrity and won’t. Although I feel bad for Penske having suffered two years of financial hits, I am grateful that he owns IMS because I’m not sure the Hulman’s could have financially or competently handled the past two years.

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