State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson told IBJ on Tuesday that there is no legal limit on the number of people the Indianapolis Motor Speedway can admit into its massive open-air facility for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 29. So there’s really no way to sell out the 560-acre venue.
That could have an impact on whether IMS decides to lift a local television blackout that prevents central Indiana residents from seeing the race live. Several reports said Monday that IMS officials were tracking the sale of infield, unreserved seats as they discussed whether to end the 66-year blackout, but it's not clear the track has even set a number of tickets it would consider a sell out. The 238,000 reserved seats surrounding the track are already sold out.
The broadcast decision belongs to IMS alone.
“When it’s an outside venue, there are no regulations like an indoor venue,” Greeson said. “In an outside venue, where people can go all different directions and they don’t have to funnel through a narrow exit, there are no limits. This is totally the Speedway’s call" on how many tickets to sell.
ABC/ESPN spokesman Andy Hall told IBJ Monday night that ABC officials have no problem airing the race live here and that the pieces to do that could be put into place quickly.
Last month, IMS President Doug Boles told IBJ that lifting the local blackout was unlikely and that many fans who attended the race enjoyed going home after the event to see what they missed on the tape-delayed telecast on WRTV-TV Channel 6. Boles scoffed when asked if ticket-buying race fans couldn’t simply tape the show if it aired live.
“It’s funny, because I’ll get responses from our customers who can’t wait to get home and watch it on TV,” Boles said. “Part of their tradition is going home, cooking a burger out back and watching it on TV at home to see what they didn’t see when they were in the venue. At least for the locals that come to the 500, that’s part of the tradition.”
IMS controls the local broadcast rights and has blacked out the live broadcast in the Indianapolis market since 1950. The Speedway made the decision this year to give WRTV rights for a second broadcast—both tape delayed. Financial terms of that deal were not disclosed, but the deal would likely need to be adjusted if the Speedway officials decide to lift the blackout.