Was the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis a success?
That depends on whom you ask.
If you are a traditionalist, it probably wasn’t. Seeing Indy cars go the wrong way down the front stretch on Saturday was probably just too much. If you were expecting to see full grandstands and a huge economic impact from the event, you were probably disappointed.
If you are Mark Miles, CEO of IndyCar parent Hulman & Co., you likely have a few reasons to smile.
While attendance Saturday didn’t beat the 40,000 bodies Miles wanted by much, if at all, attendance was certainly higher than any opening day at the track in well over a decade. Long-time motorsports journalist Robin Miller estimated Saturday’s crowd at 25,000 to 30,000. I would guess it to be a little higher than that, but probably not near 50,000.
Most in attendance raved about the race and the course. Some of those I interviewed went as far as to say the revamped road course was the nicest road course in North America. Folks in Austin and Birmingham might beg to differ.
Either way, the GP of Indianapolis seemed to accomplish its main objective, which was to build momentum for the rest of May at the Speedway.
While the race’s highlights didn’t exactly lead ESPN’s SportsCenter on Saturday night and Sunday morning, it did warrant a mention, which is more than opening day at the track has garnered in a very long time. A handful of national journalists made their way to the Speedway on Saturday, and the race aired live on ABC. All that media attention has to help the IndyCar Series and its crown jewel race on Memorial Day weekend.
Getting more IndyCar races and events on network television has been a big objective for Miles, and the impact of getting the open-wheel series front and center on ABC for three consecutive weekends culminating in the Indy 500 can’t be underemphasized.
In Indianapolis, the race was the highest-rated TV show all day on Saturday, according to officials for ABC affiliate WRTV-TV Channel 6. The live broadcast of the race scored a 9.1 rating (98,000 households) in the central Indiana market, according to New York-based Nielsen Media research.
“That’s a really big number, especially for a Saturday afternoon,” said WRTV spokesman Paul Montgomery.
Indianapolis by far had the most people watching of any market nationally. The next two highest-rated stations for the race were WFTS-TV in Tampa, which earned a 1.6 rating, and WHAS-TV in Louisville, which registered a 1.5, according to Nielsen.
Overall, the national rating for the race was 0.9, which means about 1 million households tuned in to the broadcast, according to Nielsen.
While those numbers a long way off what an NFL game or NBA playoff game would tally (and one-third to one-fourth what the Indy 500 earns), they’re a lot stronger than a normal opening weekend at the IMS would have brought in.