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At 2 p.m. today, IRL officials are expected to unveil their 2009 schedule. Motorsports sources tell IBJ there will be 18 races next year (10 ovals and eight road courses), with the Nashville race removed and a race in Toronto added. There will be no race in New Hampshire or Las Vegas despite speculation to the contrary. The race in Homestead will be moved from the beginning of the IRL calendar to the end. The race in Motegi, Japan will also be moved toward the end of the season. A race in Australia will not be on the 2009 schedule released today. But league sources said it could be squeezed in after the race in Japan and before Homestead. On a side note, IRL officials just announced today that the Australia race will be held Oct. 26, 2008. After much complaining by team officials, there will be no more than three consecutive weekends of racing next year.
Meanwhile, the IRL is negotiating for a new television package, and it’s not going well, according to sources with knowledge of the dealings. IRL’s current deal with ABC/ESPN runs through 2009.
Officials for ABC/ESPN and Fox Sports have told IRL officials they are interested in the Indianapolis 500, but little else concerning the open-wheel series. ABC/ESPN and Fox officials have told IRL officials they will not pay a rights fee anywhere near the $10 million annually ABC/ESPN currently pays, according to motorsports insiders.
Despite unification with Champ Car, IRL race telecasts have seen no bump in advertising revenue, and ABC/ESPN officials said they continue to lose money on the deal. ESPN has suggested a revenue-sharing model, but the IRL has shown little interest in that.
IRL officials are still trying to put together a package with ABC/ESPN or Fox that includes the Indianapolis 500 and at least four or five other races. That could force IRL officials to buy time for their other 12 or 13 races, or let them go untelevised, which would be a marketing disaster.