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INDY 500 HISTORY - TV
In central Indiana, you CANNOT 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
coverage altogether.

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 TV.

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 it was
not broadcast in Indianapolis 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 out.

In 2020, the COVID pandemic forced the race to be delayed until August and no spectators
were allowed.  Consequently, the race was 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.

UPDATE: While it was not announced, 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
some reason.

UPDATE: Due to rain, the Indy 500 was delayed four hours. The live broadcast was then not
blacked out in Indianapolis.

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 blackout stronghold.

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 and a large number of general admission,
it is the highest-capacity sports venue in the world.
A Virginia newspaper spot in 1964
advertises the Indianapolis 500 race
to be shown on closed circuit TV.
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The History of the Indy 500 on TV and the Local Blackout