The 2017 Indianapolis 500, highlighted by Fernando Alonso’s one-off move from Formula 1, peaked with over 200,000 viewers in the United Kingdom, overnight viewing figures show.
BT Sport/ESPN aired the race exclusively live from 16:30 to 21:30. The complete broadcast, including studio build-up and post-race reaction, averaged 129k (0.91%) across the five-hour time slot.
The show started with 31k (0.35%) at 16:30, increasing slightly to 54k (0.57%) at 16:55. Quickly audiences jumped over the 100k mark, hitting a high of 133k (1.31%) at 17:25 as the race started, before dipping back towards 100k. For the best part of an hour, audiences hovered around 110k until 18:45.
Viewing figures picked up at 18:45 as the caution period for Conor Daly’s accident started, numbers moving from 120k (0.86%) at 18:45 to 165k (1.16%) at 18:55. Audiences remained around 170k through the 19:00 clock hour, eventually hitting 201k (1.18%) at 20:10.
The peak audience though came at 20:30 as Alonso’s Andretti Autosport car retired from the race, with 203k (1.15%) watching. An audience of 191k (1.04%) watched Takuma Sato’s victory at 20:55, so encouragingly the extra viewers stuck around for the conclusion of the race.
Last year’s Indianapolis 500 averaged just 12k (0.09%) on BT Sport 1, peaking with 31k (0.16%). In percentage terms, that is a year on year increase of 975 percent based on the average, and an increase of 555 percent based on the peak figure! Which is extra-ordinary, really. It highlights how shockingly the Indianapolis 500 has rated historically with very little attention on it from UK broadcasters and writers.
Yesterday’s IndyCar audience was the highest for the championship since records began in 2006. It is probably the highest for American open-wheel racing since the Eurosport days with CART in the early 2000s, although it is difficult to say exactly when.
I think IndyCar may experience a small boost in the UK for next weekend’s races in Detroit, but I do not foresee any medium to long-term boost for the series over here. From an IndyCar perspective, it is a great number, but from a wider motor sport perspective, it is no greater than other numbers for UK races.
As an example, the British Touring Car Championship on ITV4 regularly equals or betters the Indy 500 number recorded; whilst BT’s MotoGP coverage peaks with between 250k and 300k for each race. It is likely that the Indy 500 would have done better had a free-to-air channel, such as Channel 5 or Quest, picked the race up to broadcast live. We will never know whether a free-to-air broadcaster expressed genuine interest.
By airing the race live on BT Sport/ESPN (as part of the normal IndyCar deal) it severely limited the potential for the race; and meant that audiences may have resorted to ‘other methods’ of watching, such as streaming online via non-BT sources. Not many people realised it was on BT Sport, as extremely high traffic to this site yesterday appeared to indicate.
If a Formula 1 star does attempt IndyCar again next year, organisers may want to consider offering it to international broadcasters ‘standalone’ instead of rigidly sticking to existing commitments, in the same way that the 24 Hours of Le Mans is packaged differently worldwide. But, next year, the aura around such an appearance will be less.
Do not get me wrong, for IndyCar the Indianapolis 500 numbers were fantastic and frankly huge for the championship. In the grand scheme of things, was money left on the table by series organisers?