You Can Watch the Indy 500 Online, But Not if You're In Indianapolis

Race officials prevent the Indy 500 from being televised locally to ensure fans buy tickets to attend live.

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May 25 2016, 12:00pm

The Indianapolis 500 in 2011. Image: momentcaptured1/Flickr

This Sunday, May 29th, marks the 100th edition of the Indianapolis 500. To say this race is a big deal is a bit of an understatement. In fact, the 100th Indy 500 looks as if it could be the first sellout in 25 years. Last year's race averaged nearly 6.5 million viewers, achieving better ratings than the Nascar Coca-Cola 600 for the first time in a decade--all this despite increased competition from Formula One racing and worry over dwindling sponsorships.

With ticket sales up, it's easy to see why more and more people will be searching for ways to watch the race. While many people assume you need cable to catch all the big sporting events, it's simply not the case for the Indy 500. ABC owns the TV rights, which means you can watch for free over the air with one of those antennas all the cool kids are using. And since the ABC family of networks includes ESPN, you can also use the WatchESPN app to view the race online (although it's a different experience with in-car cameras). Then there are the live streaming services like Sling TV and PlayStation Vue, both of which offer legal ABC live streaming in select markets.

There's a live viewing solution for just about everyone… except racing fans living in Indianapolis. Yep, you read that right--you can't watch the Indy 500 live anywhereif you live in Indianapolis, the home of the event. Not over the air. Not online. Not even at your local bar.

To give you an idea of how strange this is, the Indy 500 is the only major one-day sporting event in the U.S. that's still blacked out locally (which has been the case since at least 2010). Why?

"IMS and IndyCar want the blackout to continue because they fear that the race being shown on live TV would lower attendance," IndyStar Columnist Gregg Doyel told Motherboard. Baffled by such a rule, Doyel wrote a piece last year decrying the "absurd Indy 500 television blackout." But surprisingly, his readership didn't really back him up.

"When I wrote that the blackout was unfair to local residents, I was taken aback at the response: Local residents telling me I'm wrong. I still can't make sense of it."

How could this be? With MLB facing a major lawsuit over its blackout restrictions, how is it that Indianapolis racing fans aren't livid?

Doyel explained that "they love listening to the race on the radio in the backyard with a BBQ, and then they watch the replay that night. I mean, LOTS of people tell me that."

Of course, that doesn't mean some people aren't still upset over the blackout. For those Indianapolis residents wishing they could watch live this Sunday, it appears there's now a slight sliver of hope. With this year's race looking like a sellout, there's speculation that there might be a temporary lift on the blackout.

Although quite honestly, it sounds more like the "we'll see" a parent gives a kid when they're tired of hearing the same question over and over.

Update: May 25, 12PM ET: What do you know, just a few hours after Motherboard published this story the organizers of the Indy 500 announced that the local blackout discussed herein is being lifted this year because the race itself has sold out.