Insider: With 345,000 tickets sold, storms looming, Indy 500 blackout looks greedy, archaic

UPDATE 2:40 p.m.: In the wake of the rain delay, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles announced that the local TV blackout for NBC affiliates has been lifted when the race begins.

INDIANAPOLIS – I’ve heard from the elderly, as well as their sons and daughters. I’ve heard from husbands of expectant mothers, those allergic to sun exposure, parents with young kids and central Indiana residents who, for various reasons, simply can’t make it to 16th and Georgetown Sunday morning.

And I feel for the countless others, whether they be low-income families, in the hospital or simply looked at the threat of heavy midday showers and potentially dangerous storms in the evening and prioritized their comfort and safety.

And yet, a company that boasts annual revenues of $39 billion on its website has decided that $500,000 in potential ticket sales is important enough to bar those groups, and many others in central Indiana, from watching the Indianapolis 500 live, a race they love, like or may have never even heard of, from the comforts of their homes.

It's a decision made well over half a century ago in order to protect a one-of-a-kind sporting event that engulfs so much of the attention, culture and humanity of this city and state. But in the age of VPNs and illegal streams, it’s also, for many folks, futile. Many in central Indiana won’t struggle to find a way to watch the 108th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

For a sport so bothered by how many millions of fans flip on NBC the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, and then fail to watch another IndyCar race for 12 months, there are potential fans living in central Indiana who don’t even know IndyCar, IMS or the Indy 500 exist.

One such Hoosier cut my hair Saturday afternoon. When she asked where I worked, and I explained I wrote about racing for the local paper and was getting a cut before co-hosting a live show ahead of a race that would host nearly 350,000 fans across several hundred acres, she asked if the stadium was open-air or domed.

That may sound outrageous, but it’s true. And she’s not alone.

History: The saga of the Indy 500 TV blackout and its fascinating, quirky stronghold

IndyCar and Indy 500 fandom is passed down generation to generation in central Indiana. I am a product of a father who’s attended every 500 since the ’80s and who will be at every single one as long as he’s on this side of the ground.

But imagine being an awestruck kid lucky enough to attend one of the schools drivers and teams visited on Wednesday and being captivated by Pato O’Ward’s energy or the allure of polesitter Scott McLaughlin or even just Graham Rahal’s goofy bright-orange shirt. And so you come home and bug your parents daily to ensure you don’t forget to tune into NBC Sunday at 12:45 p.m., only to find out you can’t watch it.

Why spend all that time out in the community when those you win over last-minute on race week can’t watch your Super Bowl?

Indy 500 rain policy: Will it rain? Here's the latest 2024 race day forecast

That’s not to say IMS and IndyCar aren’t able to cultivate fans who aren’t born and bred to be at the Racing Capital of the World each Memorial Day weekend. The Snake Pit works wonders every year, as does the magic of diehards who bring along first-timers. Lifelong race fans are a special, uber-passionate breed who sometimes, for better or worse, are so dag-gone annoying about their passions that someone might just choose to come to the 500 to see how goofy their friend truly is?

But many families live and breathe the Colts in the fall or the Pacers in the playoffs and can’t afford to send a family of four to their biggest games. Yet their fandom lives on for years and years.

And so I cringe to think of the lifelong 500 fans, those with 50, 60 and even 70 editions on their resumes for whom making it out to IMS this year simply isn’t possible. I hate, too, that my 2-year-old son, who hasn’t stopped talking this past week about ‘race cars’ and ‘wearing headphones’ and seeing ‘dada at work’ and who wants nothing more than to wear his ‘race car shirt’ after attending qualifying on Sunday with my wife but won’t be able to wake up from his nap and watch those cars bang and battle for what could very well be one of the most riveting and unpredictable 500s we’ve seen in recent memory.

Latest: With 5,000 grandstand seats unsold, 345,000 expected, IMS won't lift Indy 500 blackout

This is the same sport, lorded over by executives who, for more than an hour, held a virtual pre-season presser earlier this year for a small group of dedicated media to, among other things, boast of their skyrocketing number of sponsors, growth in merchandise sales and rising TV numbers over the last couple years. One that continues to set short-term records in at-track attendance for its first couple venues on the calendar this year.

And though that all may be true – backed up, certainly by the largest crowd the 500 has seen, outside its 100th running, in decades – how much faith does it show in that burgeoning interest to essentially say, “We don’t think you’ll still show up if we allow you to watch at home?”

And what does it say about the sport’s financial health that $500,000 ticket sales is so important to bar your largest, most passionate fan base from watching the race at home?

Can I watch?: How to determine if the 2024 Indianapolis 500 will be blacked out for you on TV

Find a pay-per-view option for Peacock subscribers. Set a bar that ticket sales must reach each year for the local blackout to be lifted. How about last year’s crowd of 330,000, or nearly 95% of capacity?

Instead, the threat of storms over the last week have curtailed last-minute ticket-buyers, keeping IMS from what seemed like a virtually certain grandstand sellout. Had they reached that mark, IMS president Doug Boles said Penske Entertainment would have a decision to make.

Race day schedule: What happens at IMS before Indy 500 begins

Those on the fence to attend – who very well may have been persuaded not to by the forecasts – are exactly the folks Penske Entertainment should be hoping to capture. It’s not every year, after all, that the NASCAR Cup points leader and recent series champ Kyle Larson attempts ‘The Double.’ That seems like as good an opportunity as ever to grab race fans who’ve yet to give IndyCar a serious chance.

And Sunday’s race is rich in storylines – from Team Penske redemption, the prospect of a new multi-time winner, the outside chance of Helio Castroneves winning his 5th or one of many young drivers capturing their first Borg-Warner Trophy. The threat of inclement weather and its effects on strategy, too, could make this 500 one for the ages.

It’s enough of a shame that millions across the country will watch that drama and then care not to tune in for Detroit one week later. It’s perhaps worse that thousands living just a few miles from the track don’t know it’s happening and can’t flip on their TV to give it a chance.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Thousands short of sell-out, IMS drops ball continuing Indy 500 blackout