The Indy 500 TV blackout
In central Indiana, you can't watch the Indianapolis 500 live on
TV. The reason is that the speedway thinks it might cut down
on crowd size if locals could stay home and watch it.
In March 1949, televisions first went on sale in Indianapolis.
IMS agreed to televise the race live. Indy's first TV station
(WFBM) broadcast the race with only 3 cameras, set up along
the main straight. Local trial lawyer, Earl Townsend, was the
announcer. He was assisted by two color commentators.
WFMB televised the race again in 1950, and there was talk of
starting nationally-syndicated coverage the following year.
Instead, IMS management decided to eliminate live television
Around the globe, people could only listen to the race on the
radio until 1964.
CLOSED CIRCUIT TV
From 1964 to 1970, theaters and venues across the country
opened their doors — at a price — for fans to come in and
watch the greatest spectacle in racing live via closed circuit
As part of the closed circuit contract, IMS placed a three-day
embargo on showing the race on network television.
In 1971 with the 72-hour embargo lifted, the Indianapolis 500
was shown tape-delayed on race day. The race was edited to
a 3-hour broadcast and shown in prime time. But not in
Indianapolis. The city wouldn't be able to see that delayed
version until July 4.
Live coverage of the race on network TV began in 1986 with
"flag-to-flag" coverage of the 70th running. But it didn't happen
easily. The race was rained out Sunday and Monday and had
to be run the following weekend on Saturday.
For all those years, Indy residents who didn't attend the race
had to tune into their radios.
But in 2016, Indianapolis got to see the Indy 500 live along with
the rest of the country when the 100th running of the race sold
This year, 2020, no spectators are being allowed in the gates,
so the race will once again be shown live in Indianapolis.
In 104 races since 1911, only four times —1949, 1950, 2016
and 2020 — have people in the city been able to watch the
Indy 500 on live TV. That's despite drawing crowds of more
than 300,000 fans from 1976-95 and 2001-02.
Note: The Indy 500 could be watched live by Indy residents in
2023 on NBC's streaming Peacock channel, because they were
unable to black it out for central Indiana.
From 1973-2014, the NFL had a blackout policy. A home
game could not be televised in the team's local market if 85%
of the tickets were not sold 72 hours prior to kickoff. Other
major sports leagues did as well.
In late September 2014 that rule was lifted when the FCC's
five commissioners unanimously approved the change.
Despite the government sending a signal blackouts are not
encouraged, the Indy 500 has been able to maintain its
One reason, is that the race happens just once a year and
there is no direct competition from other races. There is also
the number of tickets IMS is trying to sell.
While other sporting events often come close to a sellout, for
the Indy 500 that's a much tougher feat. With 257,325
permanent seats, it is the highest-capacity sports venue in
|A Virginia newspaper spot in 1964
advertises the Indianapolis 500 race
to be shown on closed circuit TV.
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