Indy 500 TV ratings tick up, but Miles still has miles to go

The IndyCar Series posted a year-over-year TV ratings improvement with Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. The uptick could be considered a validation for the myriad changes to the event made by Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles and the new staff he has assembled over the last 18 months.

The national ABC-TV audience was up about 5 percent for the 2014 Indy 500 compared to the 2013 race, according to New York-based Nielsen Media Research. American Ryan Hunter-Reay nipped Helio Castroneves for the victory.

The preliminary—or overnight—national rating for this year’s race, which aired on ABC, was 4.0 (4.4 million households) compared to 3.8 last year.

“Moving up a tenth of a rating point is a big deal, so moving up two-tenths of a point is really good,” said Paul Montgomery, spokesman for WRTV-TV Channel 6, Indianapolis’ ABC affiliate.

The final rating, which will be out later this week, is likely to drop. Last year’s final rating was 3.68, meaning just more than 4 million households nationwide tuned in. Numbers for the 2014 Indy 500 likely will settle between 3.9 and 3.8 once the final ratings are tabulated by Nielsen.

That means viewership for the IndyCar Series’ biggest race is probably down more than 10 percent from the 2012 race, which posted a 4.34 final rating (4.77 million U.S. households).

For the staffs at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar Series, the result is a glass that could be half-full or half-empty.

Leading into Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, the IndyCar Series had seen a 44-percent, year-over-year increase in its TV ratings, according to Nielsen. Much of that had to do with having more races airing on network TV (ABC) this year than last, and the relatively high ratings (0.92) of the new Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

The addition of NASCAR star Kurt Busch, who finished sixth in his first Indy start, helped ratchet up national viewership for this year’s Indianapolis 500. The second-closest finish in the event’s 100-plus year history didn’t hurt either.

The local audience this year was 39-percent larger than last year, with the tape-delayed race airing Sunday eveningand earning a 12.47 rating (134,000 homes), according to Nielsen. Last year, when the race locally went up against an Indiana Pacers-Miami Heat playoff game, it earned an 8.9 rating locally. Although the tape-delayed race this year went up against NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 on Fox, there was no Pacers playoff game to contend with.

Although the local numbers for the tape-delayed race were strong this year, they pale in comparison to other local sporting events. For example, the Pacers playoff game May 18 on ABC earned nearly a 21 rating (more than 215,000 homes), according to Nielsen. Even the Pacers’ disappointing loss Monday night earned a 14.25 rating on ESPN. Indianapolis Colts games regularly earn ratings higher than 35.

Monday night’s Indy 500 Victory Banquet, which went up against the Pacers game, earned a 7.7 rating, according to Nielsen. That’s down 27 percent from last year’s banquet, when lots of folks tuned in to watch fan favorite Tony Kanaan take top honors.

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