Late last year, when Roger Penske purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its related assets, including the NTT IndyCar Series, I wrote a column saying like everyone else that it was great news but, unlike everyone else, the first thing I wanted him to do was fix the mess that was TV coverage of the races in Canada.
In 2019, Rogers Sportsnet, which has the contract to televise IndyCar in Canada, opted to put all but two (the Indianapolis 500 and the Honda Indy Toronto), on either a digital channel or a special cable television channel, either of which would cost fans a significant amount of money over and above the amount they were already paying for cable TV or the Internet.
I have no idea if Rogers made any money because of this and I don’t care. What I do know is that when they did this, an underground group of fans quickly formed to find Internet wild feeds of the races and to tell all their friends.
Now, whether Penske found out about this and said, in so many words, “fix it,” or whether IndyCar President Mark Miles and Vice President of Promoter & Media Partner Relations Stephen Starks were already on the case after getting an earful from Canadian fans most of last season, or whether the people in charge of Sportsnet finally came to their senses – hell, maybe it was all of the above – but whatever, Sportsnet announced Friday that more of the IndyCar races would be available on so-called free TV – Sportsnet360 – in 2020
And, when you add up the races available on basic cable via U.S. broadcaster NBC (which everybody who has cable in Canada gets), the net gain from last year’s two races is an even dozen. Yes, between Sportsnet360 and NBC, 14 of the 17 series races will be available to IndyCar fans. Only the Grands Prix of Alabama and Long Beach and the IndyCar Challenge at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Tex., won’t be available to anybody except the underground crowd who will tell their pals how to watch those three illegally.
Now, while this is good news, it’s also not. If you are a NASCAR fan, you get all the Cup races plus the practice sessions plus qualifying on TSN. You get to watch all the Busch (Xfinity) Series races on TSN too. If you get FOX Sports Racing, you get all the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series races plus races in the Formula Electric Series and all the NHRA drag races. Back at TSN, you get Formula One practice plus qualifying plus two pre-race shows and a post-race program. Before the F1 programs start on Sunday mornings you can watch the FIA Formula Two race, if one is scheduled.
Now, some of what I listed above is not available on what-you-would-call “basic cable.” To watch F1 practice and NASCAR Cup practice, for instance, you would have to subscribe to a TSN sports package that would give you all five TSN channels, not just one. Same with Sportsnet: at last count, I have six (I think) Sportsnet channels. What got everybody upset last year was that people paying through the nose for all those additional channels were being forced to pay over and above that to unlock a channel to watch IndyCar.
(Which is still the case, by the way. If you just HAVE to watch those three races unavailable on either NBC or Sportsnet360, you can pony up nearly $20/month for the pleasure of watching Alabama, Long Beach and Austin. Be my guest. As I already have to increase my line of credit every month to pay Rogers for all my cable TV channels plus my Internet plus my business cellphone bill, I’ll pass.)
IndyCar’s Starks issued this statement Friday:
“To better serve our Canadian fans, we have worked with our media partner, Rogers Sportsnet, to increase the 2020 coverage of the NTT IndyCar Series in Canada and to ensure more economical access to viewers. This season 10 of our 17 races can be viewed live via a basic cable package on SportsNet 360. This is a significant improvement over 2019 when only the Indy 500 and Honda Indy Toronto aired on the basic cable SportsNet channels. Importantly, six of the nine races that will be broadcast on NBCSN in the U.S. – St. Petersburg season opener, Texas, Richmond, Toronto, Iowa, and Gateway – will air on SportsNet 360 this season. We are thankful for our partnership with SportsNet and are excited that one of our most dedicated fan bases will have better access to our racing this season.”
This, of course, is a most welcome turn of events. But there is still work to be done. Only when all 17 races in the series are back on “free” TV again will the fan base be satisfied. And it only makes sense. It is generally accepted that the three big racing series in the world are F1, NASCAR and IndyCar. If I can watch all the F1 races and all the NASCAR races, nothing less than all the IndyCar races will ever do.
March 15, St. Pete, Sportsnet 360, 3 p.m.
April 5 (Alabama), April 19 (Long Beach) and April 26 (COTA): not available except on special premium channels
May 9, Indianapolis GP, NBC, 3 p.m.
May 24, Indianapolis 500, NBC/360, 11 a.m.
May 30, Detroit race #1, NBC, 3 p.m.
May 31, Detroit race #2, NBC, 3 p.m.
June 6, Texas, 360, 8 p.m.
June 21, Road America, NBC/360, noon.
June 27, Richmond, 360, 8 p.m.
July 12, Toronto, 360, 3 p.m.
July 18, Iowa, 360, 8:30 p.m.
Aug. 16, Mid-Ohio, NBC, 12:30 p.m.
Aug. 22, St. Louis, 360, 8 p.m.
Sept. 6, Portland, NBC/360, 3 p.m.
Sept. 20, Laguna Seca, NBC/360, 2:30 p.m.