IndyCar is taking its international media rights back in house and forming a new entity called IndyCar Media, a move the series believes will make for a better product and fuel global growth.
The open-wheel series currently licenses its international rights to ESPN International, which airs or sub-licenses races on channels in more than 100 countries. However, intrigued by increasing international interest in IndyCar, fueled in part by former Formula One champion Fernando Alonso running the Indianapolis 500 in 2017, the series is ending the ESPN International deal after this year and starting the new venture beginning in 2019.
IndyCar has not formally announced the plans, but CEO Mark Miles revealed them to Sports Business Journal. Miles, who made a similar move in a prior stint with the ATP, said that bringing the rights in house will allow IndyCar to better develop broadcaster relationships, maximize marketing potential and in the long term generate more revenue.
“We want to make this a high priority,” Miles said. “IndyCar has great opportunities internationally, and we want to build our relationships ourselves; that’s at lots of levels, so it’s not just about sales.”
IndyCar is looking into running street races as soon as 2020 in the beach city of Punta del Este, Uruguay, and the beach region of Gold Coast, Australia, underscoring the series’ growing international ambitions.
IndyCar used to work with IMG on international media rights deals before moving its business to ESPN International in 2001. ESPN had the non-U.S. rights to all parts of the world except Brazil. ESPN handled everything from transmitting the world feed and doing technical problem solving to collecting fees and handling exchange-rate risks. But ESPN actually hired IndyCar owner Hulman & Co.’s in-house IMS Productions subsidiary to produce the world feed, something that reinforces IndyCar’s move.
IndyCar started informing international media outlets while Miles was at the Sportel Monaco conference late last month where he met with 12 to 15 broadcasters from 10 countries.
As part of the move to form IndyCar Media, IndyCar has hired ESPN International executive Heather White to help lead the new group alongside Stephen Starks, IndyCar’s vice president of promoter and media partner relations. Miles said he’s open to working with local consultants in different regions. IndyCar, for example, consulted with Bevilacqua Helfant Ventures on its recent U.S. media-rights deal that it signed with NBC Sports.