IndyCar expects sports betting partner this season

Posted By Brant James on April 26, 2021 - Last Updated on May 6, 2021

NTT IndyCar Series chairman Mark Miles expects his open wheel circuit to sign an official sports betting partner by the end of the 17-race season. As with everything surrounding the North American open wheel series, the Indianapolis 500 will be at the center of any deal.

Miles told PlayUSA at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg that the series likely will not acquire an official data partner, as NASCAR did with Genius Sports and Formula One did with Sportradar. Instead, he said, “I think sometime later this season we’ll do a deal with one of the big [sports betting] sites.”

Miles wouldn’t dangle a potential suitor. But it could be noteworthy that Penn National Gaming CEO Jay Snowden said during an earnings call in early May: “We are going to be live in Indiana here in a couple of weeks in time for the Indy 500 and for the NBA playoffs, which we are really excited about and total of 8 states by football season.”

Will the Brickyard become the Pickyard?

Globally, sportsbooks have not been leaping at motor racing liveries as they have soccer jerseys. Miles therefore isn’t surprised that a betting outlet hadn’t been signed at least in an associate sponsorship capacity with an IndyCar team. To his knowledge, none have jumped aboard for the Indianapolis 500 although 12 sportsbooks – including DraftKings, FanDuel and PointsBet – are active there.

“I’d be surprised if it doesn’t show up [in the future], but I think most of them aren’t looking for branding now, they’re looking for people to download apps,” Miles said. “And, so, I think a venue with 300,000 fans sitting there – 500,000 in a normal May – as an opportunity to get them to download, and then not just bet on our sport.

“I think for us, at least initially, it’s going to be more driven by the ability to get their hands on our fans at the sites, to drive experience with the sites, the downloading, and then the initial customer acquisition. And then of course, they’ve got them as customers.

“The car may not be as powerful, in a sense as the big race – or others – because you have more of a sustained presence in the market.”

Richard Childress Racing inked BetMGM to a partial sponsor deal in NASCAR this season, marking the first such partnership of its kind in the series.

Indianapolis 500 the hook in any IndyCar sell

Miles’ efforts to land a major national sportsbook brand will again be impacted by COVID-19. He sees one of the major selling points of the series as several hundred thousand fans at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in a state where mobile wagering is available nonetheless.

Indiana legalized sports betting in May 2019, therefore missing a chance to implement in time for that 500-mile race. The 2020 installment was raced without fans because of COVID-19 restrictions, but the 2021 version will accommodate about 130,000, roughly 40% of capacity. That will still represent the largest collection of fans globally in the COVID era. But it’s still not the backdrop IndyCar can present any potential partner.

“I think it’s unlikely we can still do something for this May and with COVID, we didn’t know what to tell them we could sell them,” Miles said. “I didn’t know how many people we would have until recently.

Miles said he believes pinning a sponsorship around the 500 is “an obvious strategy,” noting the “checkerboard of regulations” nationally and sports betting not being legal in every state where the series races as a hindrance.

WynnBet became the official NASCAR sports betting partner in 2020 in the most apt comparison.

IndyCar schedule penetrates national sports betting map

Sports betting is currently legal in five states (comprising eight races) where IndyCar competes this season: Indiana, Michigan, Oregon, Tennessee and Illinois. Movement is being made in Ohio, Ontario, Canada, and Florida, where races are also held. Miles, a former ATP CEO well-versed in sports betting synergy with a professional series, acknowledges the opportunity but sees any benefit emanating first from the Speedway, then Indiana, and then outward nationally.

Adding IndyCar sports betting partner is a collaboration, Miles hopes

Miles said that, in talks with its eventual partner, the series intends to discuss specific in-race markets it would like to see offered. In-play is a part of it.

“We will care about that and I think they will appreciate our help, or [journalist Robin Miller’s] or somebody who really knows the sports to know what makes sense during the race,” Miles said. “I’ve always thought beyond ‘podium finishes bet prior to the green flag.’ That’s the way we capture fans and keep them during an event. That then goes to the data and latency and the technical aspects of doing it. So that needs to be sorted. That’s the most exciting part.”

Sealing the deal for a sportsbook partner at Indianapolis would require fast broadband for all those app downloads and the in-race bets Miles and his eventual sportsbook partner covet. That’s already covered, Miles said, after an extensive project to improve coverage began when a subsidiary of Penske Corp. announced its intention to purchase the nearly square-mile facility and IndyCar in 2019. The deal has since been completed.

“We are in a far better place than we were 24 months ago in regard to 5G and WiFi,” Miles said. “There should be very few slow dead spots at Indianapolis.”

Penske became a billionaire and one of the most successful race team owners in history by mitigating risk, and therefore doesn’t seem like the type to bet big on gambling. Penske sees the benefit, though, Miles said.

“I think he wants to be cautious about it,” Miles said. “But I think at the same time he sees that it’s a fact of life: a sportsbook – especially on apps – fantasy, betting, and the like and doesn’t want to leave racing behind in regards to the rest of the sport.”

Photo by Darron Cummings / Associated Press
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Brant James

Brant James is a veteran journalist who has twice been recognized in the Associated Press Sports Editors Awards, most recently in 2020. He's covered motorsports, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball among a myriad of others beats and written enterprise and sports business for publications including USA TODAY, ESPN.com, SI.com.

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