When the green flag flies for the 2022 Indianapolis 500, the competition level could be at an all time high. Something else that might be at an all time high is interest from sponsors, spectators and viewership. In racing, viewership numbers lead to sponsorship interest, sponsorship and views lead to more revenue for the series and the Indy 500, leading to a higher purse. This year, we could see the biggest purse in Indy 500 history, with the high mark being set at $14,406,580 dollars back in 2008, with winner Scott Dixon taking home $2,988,065, the second biggest for a winner. The highest winning share came in 2009 with Helio Castroneves netting just over 3 million dollars. In the 2009 race, sponsors like Target, Motorola, 7-Eleven, Indiana Jones, Menards, McDonalds, Wii and HP computers were all household nationally known sponsors for even the casual viewer.
In the 2021 edition of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, some would argue that less than a third of the field was sponsored by a well known brand name. NBC has done a great job in growing the sport with it’s coverage. After the pandemic, the purse for the 2021 Indy 500 was $8,854,565. The 2021 Indy 500 saw an average viewership of 5.5 million, peaking late in the race with Helio Castroneves leading going for his record tying fourth Indy 500 win.
What was missing from the 2021 race that we will see in 2022? Romain Grosjean and Jimmie Johnson. Johnson and Grosjean both ran road courses only in 2021 and will be rookies at the Indianapolis 500. Johnson has Carvana as a sponsorship. Carvana is all over NBC’s broadcast and has a huge presence at races Jimmie ran in 2021. Johnson also boasts 2.5 million Twitter followers, 509,000 on Instagram and just over a million on Facebook. Grosjean, who came to IndyCar last year after a decade plus in Formula 1, brings 1.2 million Twitter followers and another 1.7 million on Instagram.
I’m not saying every one of these drivers' followers will be tuning in, and more than likely the same person follows these drivers on multiple platforms, but the potential for another million or so viewers is certainly not out of the question. With viewership going up and the sport providing some of the best racing in the world, more sponsors will be attracted to the product. We are well removed from the days where companies marketed their products based around the driver they sponsored. Carvana has done a great job having Jimmie Johnson in their commercials. If other companies could see the same value, IndyCar will gain unlimited exposure from their household named sponsors using the sport, driver and Indy 500 as promotion.
Another big step would be for the series and/or the Indianapolis Motor Speedway partnering with a sports book as sports betting is legal in the state of Indiana. Almost every local TV and radio station, and every professional sports league has capitalized on the billions of dollars the sports book industry has seemed to be handing out. IndyCar has no official partner and is usually hard to find on sportsbooks apps to bet on any given IndyCar race. Partnering with a sportsbook would possibly allow for betting kiosks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, more categories to bet in and exposure to the sport that has never been there before. If would be nice if a fan could bet qualifying, have odds for pit stop times, fastest lap of the race and have over unders on caution laps, lead changes and how many laps led by the winning driver. Most fans that walk into the Indy 500 end up cutting out the newspaper and pooling drivers from a hat anyway, might as well capitalize on that process.
The purse for 2022 might not go up as high as it should be, but with new eyes, sponsors and interest in support, the Indy 500 is on the right path to increasing viewership and ultimately the purse. The Indy 500 is the marquee event in auto racing across the world and drivers from Formula 1 to NASCAR have interest in running. If the new video game and an expanded presence in the gambling world can take off, IndyCar will be very close to as popular as it was in 1995 before the split.
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