IndyCar president Jay Frye on the 2024 schedule, US broadcast plans, and future expansion

New events, a season finale in Nashville, and a noticeable drop in live races available on broadcast TV; Jay Frye, president of IndyCar, answers questions arising from the release of IndyCar’s 2024 schedule and looks ahead to the future of the series.

The 2024 IndyCar schedule has been released, but questions linger on the future direction of the North American open-wheel racing series.

The headline from the calendar announcement is that Comcast-owned US network NBC will be reducing its live coverage to just nine races, compared to 13 events in 2022.

Given last season was the most-watched IndyCar campaign since 2011, it’s concerning to see a step backwards. While NBC’s coverage of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games would inevitably be a cause of disruption next year, IndyCar will take a mid-season break for the duration of the event

The result is that, after this self-imposed mid-season break, only the IndyCar season finale will be available on NBC’s flagship network, with other races restricted to cable or streaming. An extended absence from broadcast television could not come at a worse time given IndyCar’s surging momentum.

IndyCar owner Roger Penske claims to have invested US$17 million in marketing during the 2023 season – a 60 per cent increase from the previous year.  The ‘100 Days to Indy’ docuseries was a major success of this expenditure, with 50 per cent of the three million viewers having never seen an IndyCar race before.

This mission to take the series to new audiences has seen the addition of the US$1 million non-championship event at The Thermal Club, while there is also a long-awaited return to the Milwaukee Mile. Conversely, Texas Motor Speedway has been lost for this season at least and scheduling issues remain with considerable gaps between races.

BlackBook Motorsport chats to Jay Frye, president of IndyCar, to look at the difficulties in producing a perfect schedule, why the drop in live races on commercial TV was unavoidable, and the future expansion of the series.

How did the increased marketing spend of 2023 benefit IndyCar in terms of viewership and attendances?

If you look at the whole scope of work from the entire season from a marketing and broadcast perspective, and an on-track perspective, all metrics were up. So, overall, just a great season: the most watched season on NBC since 2011, the most streamed season we’ve ever had.

All the metrics from a digital and social perspective too were up, and it was a lot of work that went into it from a lot of different people. It seems like it’s paid off.

[The ‘100 Days to Indy’ docuseries] had a really good effect. In a lot of ways, it showed our drivers more from a behind-the-scenes perspective. Part of it is getting the drivers without their helmets, what they do with their families, their hobbies, what they do for fun, that type of thing.

There are more plans going forward in future for something similar to that, so there’ll be more to come on that soon. Overall, it was very successful. The Vice Group and The CW Group were great to work with and, again, there’ll be more to come on that.

I would envision that there will be an incremental increase [in marketing spend] in 2024, like there was in 2023.

With the positives arising from the increased marketing spend, does the decrease in live races on NBC in 2024 come at a bad time for IndyCar?

NBC has been a great partner, I don’t think there was any intention that [there are fewer] NBC races than we have been in the past. The [Paris] Olympics are a big part of what’s going on in 2024.

Before [IndyCar], I was on the team side [in Nascar] and there’s a perception of how easy it is to build a schedule or calendar. I was one of the ones that thought it was simple: it’s not simple.

You’re dealing with your broadcast partner, you’re dealing with different sports, you’re dealing with different motorsport series, you’re dealing with different programming, different things that are going on with the venues; it’s quite complicated to put it all together.

There will also be double the amount of races available exclusively on NBC’s streaming platform Peacock. With comparatively low viewing figures on streaming compared to broadcast, how is this development viewed from an IndyCar perspective?

2023 was the most streamed IndyCar season ever. Peacock is obviously a really big deal to NBC and we are certainly interested to see how it will all play out to be on Peacock.

Toronto has been a great partner with Peacock. We’ll have to monitor this year, maybe bumping the number [of races] up, people will have a better understanding that you’ve got to go [to Peacock] a couple of times to actually watch the race.

It’s going to be really interesting to see what happens over the next five or six years, where this actually goes. It’s certainly not done, I think it’s just the beginning.

On the plus side, there’s the long-awaited return to Milwaukee, the addition of the non-championship event at The Thermal Club, and a new season finale in Nashville. How does it feel to develop the calendar with these events?

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We’re really excited about what we put together for 2024. We think the event at [The] Thermal [Club] is going to be something different, something very fun. It’s going to inject a lot of money into the paddock, and we could see something like that going forward in other events down the road.

Ending in Nashville is going to be great, Milwaukee is something that the fans have been calling for many years, so the double-header over in Milwaukee is going to be outstanding.

Getting back to Nashville, running our cars up Broadway is going to be quite the spectacle. If you think this year attendance was up, we know there’s a number, a certain percentage increase year-over-year, but we can feel it at the track. You just see there’s more people there.

It’s a good feeling, it feels like we’ve suddenly got more work to do, but we’re on a good path. We’re grateful and appreciative of all our promoter partners that have worked very hard to put this all together.

IndyCar will run a non-championship event at The Thermal Club between the first and second races of the 2024 season

On the other hand, there remains a one-month gap between the first two points races and Texas Motor Speedway has dropped off the schedule. How do you balance the positives with the negatives?

Thermal is in that gap [between the first two races] which is great. You can run at Thermal basically anytime during the course of the year and that’s something that goes into building the schedule.

There’s certain places we can’t run at certain times of the year because of the weather. Thermal’s a year-round venue and we appreciate their willingness and ability to plug into that date in March.

We’ve got a two-hour broadcast window, you’re going to have three races: a knockout format for the first two and then 12 cars going for a lot of money. What’s not to like?

Texas has been a great partner for many, many years. It’s a great race; this year, we had a record number of passes there. We feel like we finally hit a sweet spot with the car in Texas.

[Losing the event] is disappointing, it seems like it’s just a pause. But, it’s just one of those things, it wasn’t anyone’s intent that it didn’t come back, it just didn’t work out for 2024.

Josef Newgarden won the 2023 race at Texas Motor Speedway, but the circuit will now be absent from the calendar for the first time since 1996

With the addition of the non-championship event, it raises questions about future options. There’s the long-rumoured expansion into Argentina, but is there anywhere else IndyCar is looking?

There’s been talking of doing multiple off-season events, creating almost an off-season series, who knows what that looks like in the future.

Obviously, we’ve got to take care of what we’re doing in the US, there’s a lot of states we’re not currently running that we probably need to look at. We’re pretty light in the northeast, there’s a lot of opportunity there.

We understand that fans have frustrations that we’re not going to ‘X’ location, there are definitely limitations and reasons when we’re not racing somewhere, but that’s not saying we won’t go there in the future.

[Argentina] is certainly being worked on. I’m big on ‘it’s done until it’s done’, there’s been lots of things that we’ve all worked on over the years and then it doesn’t happen. So, we’ve always got to make sure.

We hope it gets done, and we’ll see what that looks like for the future. What they did last year, when the Juncos [Hollinger team] went down and did an exhibition it was just off the charts. The enthusiasm from the fans and for what we do and how we do it, it would be a really great event.

We don’t tolerate [the abuse from Argentinean fans towards Juncos Hollinger driver Callum Ilott], I’m sure that was a very limited group. We won’t put up with anything like that, but we don’t think there’s anything like that that would come as part of this.


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