Two of the greatest, most traditional sporting events in the world are located only 123 miles apart.
The Kentucky Derby begins the month of May and the Indianapolis 500 concludes it.
The Derby has showcased traditional horsepower since 1875 with Churchill Downs as its cathedral, while the Indianapolis 500 has exemplified “horsepower” since Ray Harroun won the inaugural 500-Mile Race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1911.
The Derby is held the first Saturday in May and the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day Sunday.
There has always been a bit of a rivalry between Indiana and Kentucky when it comes to the significance of its two signature sporting events. But they both share something in common — people who normally don’t pay a lick of attention to horse racing, stop and watch the Kentucky Derby. Those who don’t follow auto racing generally watch the Indianapolis 500.
This year, the Indianapolis 500 will get “The Kentucky Derby Treatment.”
That’s what Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN calls the philosophy behind his network’s first telecast of the Indianapolis 500.
This will be the first time the Indy 500 has been televised on a network other than ABC since 1965. It was a hallmark of the ABC Sports lineup, first as part of “Wide World of Sports” from 1965-1970. Beginning in 1971, the race was shown on a same-day basis and from 1986 through 2018 was televised live on ABC.
Beginning this season, all NTT IndyCar Series races are being televised on NBC or NBCSN.
When the IndyCar television contract came up for bid, IndyCar CEO Mark Miles wanted to have the same family of networks televise all of the races to better promote the series. NBC and NBCSN outbid ABC and ESPN, promising increased enthusiasm and promotion.
“We’re giving it the Kentucky Derby Treatment,” Miller told SPEED SPORT. “You’re going to see it every place. The Indy 500 is an iconic event and we’re thrilled to be part of it. You’re going to see us bring all the different assets we have to bear.
“Jenny Storms, our chief marketing officer, has put her whole team behind it and you will see everybody working hard to make sure it is a huge success right out of the gate.
“It’s going to be great.”
Expect to see IndyCar Series drivers on popular NBC programs such as the “Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” or “Today” as part of the promotional lead up to the 103rd Indianapolis 500.
“When NBC had the cable portion of IndyCar, we always felt like something was missing,” Miller said. “When the opportunity came to bring the entire package under one roof and we knew we could bring all the assets, all of the marketing and promotion efforts that Jenny Storms and her team get to do, we knew we had a real opportunity to make something special happen here.
“Nothing to take away from the prior partners who all did a good job, but we think we are the best in class, and we aim to prove that. We kind of live every day making sure we have done that.”
Indy car fans first saw what NBC could do for their sport during a January NFL playoff game when the network aired an exciting and well-produced commercial promoting the network’s coverage of the Indianapolis 500.
“It was after the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro that we started really thinking about what a partnership might look like and here we are,” Miles said. “It’s absolutely true that NBC is magical about making big events bigger. When we think about the Indianapolis 500 race, I don’t think we could be in better hands.
“We think about the whole of the series, we love the fact it’s one platform and for the first time we have a partner that can look from race to race to race and think with us strategically about the series, a partner that cares a lot about its success.
“That’s talk. It sounds good, like sort of early dating sometimes, you make promises,” Miles continued. “But we made an agreement. Now it’s been however few months since and I can just tell you I have never worked with a broadcast partner that is so engaged, everybody who’s part of their organization and our organization are talking every day.
“It’s a very focused priority for us, and we have no doubt that it will benefit the series and the 500 and all that we do. We hope it will be a great success for NBC, as well.”