IRL: ABC, ESPN, IRL and Indy 500 together for five more years

The Indy Racing League, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, ABC Sports, ESPN and ESPN International announced today that they have entered into an agreement to broadcast Indy Racing League events globally through 2009. The announcement continues a...

The Indy Racing League, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, ABC Sports, ESPN and ESPN International announced today that they have entered into an agreement to broadcast Indy Racing League events globally through 2009. The announcement continues a partnership between ABC and IMS that has lasted four decades.

"Forty years ago," said IMS and Indy Racing League CEO Tony George, "the Indianapolis Speedway and ABC Sports forged a partnership which today stands as one of the most enduring of all in sport. In 1999, ESPN joined ABC Sports as a partner in broadcasting the Indy Racing League events, and now today ABC, ESPN and ESPN International together will extend their rights to broadcast Indy Racing events globally through the year 2009. I'd like to personally thank everyone at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indy Racing League, ABC Sports and ESPN for their hard work to make this possible."

The relationship has been enduring, beginning in 1965 with Wide World of Sports delayed highlights, then same-day tape delay, and (since 1986) live coverage. "To put it into context," said Loren Matthews, Sr. Vice President for Programming for ABC Sports, "the Indianapolis 500 is certainly one of our crown jewels. To tell you how long it has been on, it's been on longer than college football, longer than the British Open, several years longer than the British Open, several years longer than Monday Night Football, and only two years behind the Little League World Series in terms of the length of the relationship, which means we've gone through on the network side many management changes. Tony has met more presidents of ABC Sports than I have."

Mark Quenzel, Senior Vice President for programming and production for the networks, pointed out that the relationship is more than just broadcast and cable television. "From an ESPN perspective," he said, "most people say 'That's cable television.' I feel obligated to tell you, if you don't know, it's not. It's all about dot com, magazine, radio and all the things that we bring to the table. Obviously, on ABC Sports as well, we will hit racing fans and sports fans wherever they live. We just found a piece of information the other day that said that on a given week 94 million sports fans are involved: touch ESPN media in some way, shape or form. That number was astounding to me. Our goal here is to bring as many of those 94 million people as we can to the Indy Racing League and let them experience what we thin is extraordinarily competitive racing."

The Indianapolis 500 has always been an international event, and the tradition continues with 14 of this year's 33 starters coming from outside the United States. The broadcast partnership will bring this year's 500 to 205 countries worldwide, with 420 million potential viewers. Strategies to capture a larger audience include adjusting the start time of the race match the potential viewers, to increase coverage, including "lifestyle" programming, and to appeal to younger viewers.

"We're committed to a number of specials," said Quenzel, "at least one of which will be will be produced by our ESPN entertainment group, the same group that produces the made-for-TV movies.

"I don't know that it makes sense necessarily to do weekly shows," he added. "I think weekly shows preach to the converted. It's hard to sustain that cutting edge with the younger viewer. We'd much rather concentrate on very high-end shows that will promote, get out there, and try to reach a broader audience."

For the rest of this year, and most of next year, the broadcast partners plan to add an extra half hour to the race windows. With the extra time, they will not have to jump off-air at the conclusion of events. More stories can be told during the broadcasts. Commitment also remains to the Infiniti Pro Series: all twelve of this year's races will be televised, as will all twelve of next year's.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony George