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Assessing IndyCar’s FOX move and 2025 calendar

Written by Archie O’Reilly & Dan Jones

The NTT IndyCar Series announced their new media rights deal with FOX Sports on Thursday, drawing to a close NBC Sports’ time as the official broadcast partner. The 2025 schedule was also revealed, with every race to be shown on network television - along with both days of Indianapolis 500 qualifying - for the first time.

There has been some division relating to IndyCar’s move from NBC to FOX, plus aspects of the calendar for next season. DIVEBOMB unpicks both pieces of news here…

The positives of the FOX move

Dan: The FOX deal is undeniably huge for IndyCar. It’s the exact step the series needs for longer-term growth and prosperity. Having all 17 races on network television is a huge selling point for the series, particularly compared to the 11 that NBC currently provide. Having IndyCar on prime-time television in a calendar specifically designed to not clash with the NFL season is exactly what the sport needs in order to bolster viewership figures for years to come.

The other crucial element is how FOX will promote the series. NBC have been particularly criticised for not projecting the series to worldwide audiences outside of the Indianapolis 500. On the contrary, there is a general positive attitude when it comes to FOX that they will solve this inherent issue. There’s a continual problem with the series that casuals think that Indy cars only visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And that’s it. If FOX can continue what they’ve done with other series, the sport is in for a huge bolster in viewership - something it desperately needs in its battle against NASCAR and Formula One.

Archie: Despite scepticism in some quarters, it is hard to see how the FOX deal could be bad for IndyCar. It is being given a headline position within their extensive sports bill, with the all-network package an excellent way to increase exposure and grow the somewhat dwindling amount of eyes on the phenomenal IndyCar product weekend by weekend.

FOX hosting events such as the Super Bowl and Daytona 500 in the lead-up to the IndyCar season is a brilliant opportunity for the promotion that it feels has somewhat lacked in recent years. This new deal is a massive chance to show people the entertainment that IndyCar boasts, both compared to its motorsport competitors and in the wider sporting worlds.

The increased eyes should also open up avenues for more sponsorship opportunities for teams. This is also apparent in Indy NXT as IndyCar’s premier ladder series is guaranteed FS1 and FS2 television windows for its races - a very significant part of the deal, increasing exposure and possibly offering a launchpad for the careers of the next generation of talent.

Unpicking concerns with the FOX move

Archie: Concerns from some about the move to FOX centre around aspects of their NASCAR coverage, though IMS Productions continuing to control the production side of IndyCar coverage should mean similar quality IndyCar broadcasts. That is providing FOX strike the right balance with the talent they supply for the booth, pit lane and beyond.

Losing NBC stalwart Leigh Diffey from commentary will be a blow to IndyCar. One risk is FOX coming in with a completely clean slate rather than tapping into the knowledge, expertise and crucially engaging nature of some of those currently working on the NBC side. 

It would be good to see those with long-time IndyCar involvement, such as James Hinchcliffe, Townsend Bell and Kevin Lee, move over to add to any FOX personnel. And you have to feel for those behind-the-scenes who could now be fearing for their future. 

Another worry comes from those without cable television, where practice and qualifying will be available. Streaming platform Venu Sports - including FOX Sports content - is set to be launched this year but there are questions over costs compared to NBC’s Peacock. A reasonably-priced streaming option is essential for watching sessions on catch-up or on the go.

Dan: As mentioned, the move to FOX will bring in the viewers, but retention is the critical element of the equation. And that’s where the unknown comes. FOX have been criticised for their coverage of NASCAR - the cartoon figures become a bit gimmicky, ad breaks placed at bizarre times. The actual production will be split between the series and FOX, much like it was in the NBC deal. That element is regarded as pretty strong, but it’s how FOX executes what they’re given.

And then it comes to the play-by-play. There’s little doubt that Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and James Hinchcliffe are amongst the best in the business. A mix of high energy, strong analysis and feel-good mood in the booth are just some of the reasons why the broadcast is so popular internationally, many of Diffey’s calls in recent seasons being shared heavily on social media. Diffey will stick with NBC, but who do FOX get as the equivalent? They may already be on the side of a losing battle in that regard, and it’s critical they get this right, or some of the casuals may turn away.

A wishlist for the FOX deal

Dan: The big selling point of the FOX deal is viewership. But you won’t get viewership without promotion. FOX has the selling point of all 17 races being on network television. NBC were heavily criticised for failing to promote the series outside of the Indianapolis 500, FOX need to show the casual American fan that the series does this 16 more times a year. The promotion of the series is absolutely vital for it’s long-term growth.

But it’s about creating a broadcast which is fun to watch. It needs to strike that balance of being engaging enough for new fans, but neither boring the hardcores. If IndyCar wants growth, it needs to lean upon that newer market, and that’s what they’ve struggled with on the NASCAR side of things. Formula One has seen great growth in the States, FOX need to gather a broadcast, and more importantly, a broadcast team who can help convey what the series is all about.

Archie: Beyond tapping into NBC’s IndyCar personnel to strike a similar balance and level of chemistry, there are a number of other things that FOX could benefit from doing to enhance the series’ coverage and maximise growth.

Foremost, in terms of widening awareness of IndyCar, it is imperative that FOX promote the series - every race and not just the Indianapolis 500 - across their other major events. And it is also important that the Indy 500 is used to ensure fans realise that IndyCar continues beyond its marquee event.

As McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown told DIVEBOMB in May: “Exposing it to people that maybe don’t see it on a regular basis is what will turn them into a fan. We have a great product, we just need to promote it more. Sport is entertainment and I think that will continue to grow our audience.”

Something to enhance the broadcast would be a consistent and in-depth pre-race show and more post-race time. But whether this can be fitted in a two-and-a-half-hour broadcast window for regular races is unclear given it is not uncommon for races to almost reach the two-hour mark. It currently feels tough for casual fans to get to know drivers and their stories.

Potential issues with the calendar

Archie: Knowing the toll that five successive weekends of on-track action has taken on the paddock since the start of last month, it does elicit some concern that the distribution of races continues to be suboptimal into 2025. 

There is a stuttered start to the season, with three weeks between each of St. Petersburg, the Thermal Club, Long Beach and Barber Motorsports Park. This is not particularly conducive to building momentum early in the season. It is not until after that period, at the start of May, that things ramp up and get going in earnest.

There remains a five-week period of cars on-track in May, albeit with only one race directly after the Indianapolis 500 and Barber added the week before the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. And come July, there is a four-weekend period with five races given the Iowa Speedway doubleheader. IndyCar is on track 14 of 18 weekends to close the season. 

While understandable in order to maximise viewership by avoiding conflicts with other major events, it is a shame to see the season condensed into only six months with a fairly uneven spread within that. It is also hard to build momentum with such a long off-season.

Dan: If I were to describe the calendar it would be cautious. And maybe understandably so. The series don’t want to rush into huge changes whilst they settle in with FOX at the helm. Mark Miles has previously stated that bigger changes would come in 2026, but short-term, 2025 poses a few issues.

The lack of high-speed ovals sticks out again like a sore thumb. Texas was a huge loss on the 2024 schedule, after the excellent events it put on in 2023 and 2022. And it was at a convenient time, it filled the calendar gap between St. Petersburg and Long Beach nicely, and gave drivers a taste of high-speed oval action before the Indianapolis 500. Rookies, in particular, thrown in at the deep end in the Indianapolis 500 maybe isn’t the wisest idea.

The oval round at World Wide Technology Raceway has been brought forward. The issue at hand is that it clashes with the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This year’s event has seen the likes of Álex Palou, Scott Dixon and Romain Grosjean at the event - and this is only good for the series. That door is frustratingly closed for 2024. Palou has stated he wishes the 2025 calendar remains provisional, so he can compete in the race, and he certainly deserves to feel that way. 

Making Thermal a points round

Dan: A long story short, the $1 Million Challenge did not work, for a multitude of reasons. Was it down the track? Not hugely. Is the Thermal an asset to IndyCar? Yes, I’d say so. Do I think it should be a championship round? Probably not. 

Let’s start with the good. The glaring thing is that it fits that painfully long gap between the championship rounds at St. Petersburg and Long Beach. That was important to solve. The track itself isn’t a bad one either, with a mix of flowing corners and a few opportunities to overtake.

The bad? Well it all lies down to the exclusivity. The reason why it hosted the $1 Million Challenge is that it was a unique motorsport resort, built for motorsport enthusiasts. Fan access wasn’t a thing, because it was designed for the wealthy. How does the fan engagement work this year? Is it fair to have a championship race without fans? If you add fans does that exclusivity that the members desire go? 

The Thermal was a great testing venue, and maybe something just-for-fun pre or post-season would work, but adding it as a fully-fledged championship round provides some particularly awkward questions.

Archie: Alex Palou, winner of the exhibition event at the Thermal Club back in March, was not keen to return in-season unless points were on the line. Drivers liked the track and, while it is yet to be seen how a full-field race unfolds, its technical and challenging nature lived up to that of other road courses on the calendar.

This said, it is somewhat of a gamble to make the decision to add Thermal as part of the championship without knowing how a race may pan out with every car on track. Alterations will also have to be made to extend the pit lane to fit the full field in race conditions.

A big question also surrounds how many fans could actually be able to attend the event after the idyllic setting boasted an exclusive nature for this year’s non-championship event. Moving forward as a points-paying race, one would hope the series will explore the possibility of adding further grandstands to allow more fans to attend.

Ultimately though, it plugs what would otherwise continue to be a six-week gap without a championship event and gives drivers something to play for that really matters to them competition-wise.

What would we change on the calendar?

Archie: The first thing that would elevate the schedule, aside from ideally better distributing the existing races over a longer period, is the addition of an extra race early in the season to prevent such a disjointed start and bulk up the season.

And what better than Texas Motor Speedway or a similar high-speed oval? Texas’ omission from the calendar in 2024 due to scheduling issues was already a blow given the exceptional standard of racing there in 2023. It is sad to see it missing again.

The calendar has the glaring absence of a superspeedway in the mould of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; having a Texas-like race prior to the Indianapolis 500 can act as a perfect advert while allowing drivers to gear up for May. Unfortunately, and not unjustifiably, the schedule cannot necessarily be all that fluid as it has to fit with the television window offered.

Moving the World Wide Technology Raceway (WWTR) oval event to the weeks after the Indy 500 is a positive switch, offering a further oval to build on the Month of May and better spreading the oval races out. In a perfect world, this would be the race immediately after the Indy 500.

A bigger issue preferably needing rectifying is the clash of the WWTR race with the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Drivers, including Alex Palou, have understandably expressed displeasure at this clash - a threat to viewership and preventative of drivers such as Palou and Scott Dixon from competing in France.

Moving Milwaukee to only a single race without having run the 2024 doubleheader may be premature and possibly a missed opportunity to add a much-needed extra race to the championship. An international race also continues to sit on the wishlist.

Dan: It’s particularly easy to make these calls whilst not having to negotiate with TV deals, circuit promoters and many more, but I still think IndyCar could have done more in regards to this year.

The lack of a high-speed oval, particularly before the Indianapolis 500 needs to be solved. Whether that’s Texas, whether that’s Homestead, whether that’s somewhere like Michigan. Oval racing is undeniably one of the series’ key selling points. And as great as Iowa and Gateway are, racing on high-speed mile-and-a-half ovals bring a different type of adrenaline. It also may mean we avoid all the mess we had at this year’s Indianapolis 500, with drivers getting some oval experience under their belt.

The calendar sees 14 weekends of on-track action in an 18 week span, but ends in August. Yes, this is down to the NFL season, but can IndyCar not work around that. The calendar is too condensed as it is, and yet the series wants to condense it further. How does retention remain when fans can only watch the racing five of twelve months a year? Maybe IndyCar needs to go against some of the big guns to actually get its name out there.

The demand for international races has also exponentially increased. Mark Miles has also stated the series is looking at options post-season for doing international races, which solves the problem above. Will it happen? Let’s be honest, probably not. IndyCar needs to hit international markets, that’s just as vital for series growth. Yes it’s a logistical challenge, but IndyCar need to take these risks, whether in Latin America, Australia or Europe if they want the series to grow.


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