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Mark Miles touts IndyCar attendance growth over 20 percent while finalizing 2024 schedule

IndyCar: Legends Day Presented By Firestone

May 27, 2023; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; IndyCar Series fans in the crowd during Legends Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Indy 500 drew a crowd of more than 300,000 this year (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

MONTEREY, California – As the president and CEO of Penske Entertainment, Mike Miles has little time to be satisfied with the accomplishments of the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series season.

There are many, including Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske announcing a crowd of 330,000 fans for the 107th Indianapolis 500, to increases in television ratings and on-site attendance for most of the races on the schedule.

But there remains much work to do, and Miles is deeply involved in that.

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From negotiating a new TV contract (which would begin in 2025) to finalizing the schedule for 2024, the offseason is no time to take a break for the man who is responsible for guiding the organization.

NBC Sports had an extensive interview with Miles with the 2023 IndyCar season set to conclude in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

The business of IndyCar was good in 2023, with 27- and 28-car fields for every race and 34 entries for the Indy 500.

But there always remains plenty of room for growth.

“The business is really, really strong and growing,” Miles told NBC Sports. “Last week at Portland, was another example of how a promoter has invested and improved and brought more people.

“They have brought more sponsors, brought expanded, new suites, put them in a better position. Put big boards across from them. The suites are sold out. I think the attendance was stellar at Portland, and that is consistent with something like 22 to 24 percent increase in attendance across the series.

“That is really good. It’s healthy for our promoters and for us.

“We look at all the fan metrics for IndyCar itself. They are all up. We will see what happens with the linear and total audience delivery and metrics for the final race, but so far, we are ahead of any year back to 2008. We have to be really pleased about that.”

Now, it’s on to 2024 and that includes a revised schedule. Instead of finishing the season at Monterey, California, the championship will be concluded in the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee.

Flashback to the days when Miles took over the business of IndyCar under previous owner, Hulman and Co., in late 2012. The 2013 season was propped up with doubleheaders at three venues, simply to have somewhat of a complete schedule.

Ten years later, there are markets that want to be part of IndyCar and are bullish at increasing involvement, such as Nashville’s decision to become the championship season finale beginning in 2024.

“Doubleheaders were almost a necessity because we needed to get enough races in, and they were easier to do if you raced twice on the same weekend wherever we might have been,” Miles reflected. “The series is in better shape. Everybody struggled with the COVID years, but it has gotten better every year consistently and now we are getting in a hyperdrive gear.

“Monterey will be on the schedule next year. It will be after the Indianapolis 500 at the end of June.”

The schedule also will include a three-week gap because of the Summer Olympic Games in Paris. NBC has the exclusive rights to the Olympic Games, and its other properties (including IndyCar and NASCAR) will take at least two weekends off with much of NBC Sports broadcast personnel involved in Olympics coverage.

Miles indicated there also could be smaller adjustments to the schedule with the looming return to The Milwaukee Mile (which will add a second short oval).

“Milwaukee is likely,” Miles told NBC. “It’s still not something we can announce, but I know our fans have loved being in Milwaukee in the past and will be delighted if we can get back there.

“Even that is familiar in a sense, even if it is new compared to the 2023 schedule.”

The Milwaukee Mile played host to its first race in 1903, eight years before Ray Harroun won the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911.

Beginning in 1939, it was a mainstay on the schedule, including sanctioning bodies AAA, USAC, CART, the Indy Racing League and IndyCar.

The last IndyCar race at Milwaukee was in 2015. It sat dormant over the years but since has been revitalized.

IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske stopped by The Milwaukee Mile to tour the facility the morning of the IndyCar race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

He told the Wisconsin State Fair Board, which owns the facility, and the current promoter there needed to be some necessary upgrades to the facility before it could be added to the IndyCar schedule.

Miles is confident an IndyCar return to The Milwaukee Mile will succeed where previous promoters have failed.

“Two things will be different,” Miles said. “One is the state, and the fair board are putting real money into improving the condition of the place. Indy 500 fans will think Penske-esque. They are going to make investments and it will be a better track, more safe, and our fans will feel that. That’s a big thing. Year over year over year, it was declining in terms of its condition.

“The second thing is we are going to promote it. We have done that at Detroit, and we have done it with Hy-Vee’s help at Iowa, and we do a few races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We’re not going to let it take second shift, we are going to work hard at it and make it the best event it can be.

“I’ll leave the date to your imagination, but it will obviously be in the summer.”

Miles also was asked to confirm if 2023 was the last year for the IndyCar/NASCAR combined weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Next year, NASCAR is expected to return to the 2.5-mile oval with the return of the Brickyard 400 after three seasons on the IMS road course.

“I’m not going to say,” Miles said. “That is not something we are ready to announce at this point. It needs to be finalized and will be rolled out with our schedule announcement.”

Will there be a NASCAR/IndyCar doubleheader in 2025, if not at IMS, at another venue both series race at?

“I don’t really know the answer to that question yet, but I would tell you there have been discussions about it and both NASCAR and we are interested in finding just the right opportunity or opportunities,” Miles said. “I don’t think it is a broad approach to our schedule, but there is a very good chance there is a combined event by 2025.”

Miles also believes the docuseries “100 Days to Indy” will return. In 2023, the “Drive to Survive”-style show aired on The CW, and Miles said it met IndyCar’s expectations.

“Yes, we thought it was really well done,” Miles said. “They did a great job telling the stories and the quality of the show itself and the audience in the United States averaged half a million viewers per episode for the six episodes. That’s a useful increase in the total number of eyeballs that are watching IndyCar, whether it’s the live races or the series.

“Where we weren’t happy was the international distribution. We’re going to have some really good news about international distribution of Season 1 quite soon.

“The streaming aspect of it was important, and it will grow as we have news we can release before the end of the year of international distribution of the first airings of Season 1. We will have additional information of platforms where they can view it.”

Penske Entertainment also invested more money into IndyCar’s marketing plan in 2023. Some of that was funded through money that was previously part of the Leaders Circle payments so that IndyCar team owners also shared a stake in helping to market the series.

“Our television ratings are up, and our Social and Digital ratings are off the charts,” Miles said. “I think that is in part attributable to the additional investment we have made in marketing.”

The increase in cars on the grid is perhaps the most impressive aspect of IndyCar’s season, but with some teams including Andretti Global currently confirming just three entries instead of four, that number may fluctuate in 2024.

Miles is not concerned and in some ways, believes IndyCar is close to its limit of cars it would like to see on the grid.

“There are lots of supply,” Miles said. “There are teams out there and we could consider having even more cars on the grid than we did this year, but that is not our objective. We are getting to the place where our engine manufacturers and our tracks, we are pretty much at the place we can be.

“We are pleased with the growth of the size of our growth and team interest, not worried about any attrition there, but not looking to grow further.”

The neverending search for a third engine manufacturer has been paused, Miles admitted.

“It’s not like we decided to hit pause, but practically that’s a fair way to look at it because of the work on the hybrid,” Miles said. “We need to get the hybrid out.

“That’s going to be the big news for next year. I think it’s going to be sensational. Getting that out on the grid is going to be quite useful and adding momentum to those discussions.

“The simplest way to look at it is it is going to make the racing better. It is more horsepower. It will put more strategy decisions in the hands of the drivers. That will be the tradeoff between deploying the hybrid or fuel-saver mode or mentality. It will be very fluid. It will be very exciting, great new content and make the racing even better.”

As for new goals, Miles believes selling out the Indianapolis 500 and increasing IndyCar’s footprint to the East Coast remain high priorities.

“We would like to find a way to strengthen our events and help them increase the quality of their presentation,” Miles said. “It’s good for the whole brand. It’s good for them. It’s good for marketing and it’s good for sponsorship sales.

“We have to keep moving up the food chain in terms of the quality of our events. That will be an important priority.

“We would like to be on the East Coast, so we will keep looking for an opportunity there.

“We may have the opportunity develop a non-points after the end of the championship. The teams all employ their people in the fourth quarter of the year and that gives us the opportunity to do a little bit of racing abroad that helps us in lots of ways, most of all our international television distribution.”

When Penske told NBC Sports and the Indianapolis Star on Memorial Day that 330,000 people were at this year’s Indianapolis 500, he indicated he wants even more on the grounds in 2024.

It’s up to Miles and Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles to put that plan into motion.

It’s not as easy as it may seem, by looking at the numbers.

“Let’s say we would need another 30,000 people to be there, which is small as a percentage of what we have in regard to 300,000,” Miles explained. “But another 30,000 is a big sports event.

“Getting there is really getting more people into the infield. That’s the variable.

“I don’t know if that will happen, but I would sure love for it to the be the case.”

This is the first time in Miles leadership, either with Hulman & Company or Penske Entertainment, that the series championship was clinched before the final race of the season.

Alex Palou clinched the title with a victory in last Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland. It was Palou’s second IndyCar championship in three seasons and the 15th for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“This is my 11th season and every year I thought it was spectacular for fans the championship came down to the last race and that has been the case for many years.

“You have to hand it to Alex. He has had a sensational year. He has been consistent. He has won races and he deserves it. Nobody laments the fact he has had an historic year.

“There are lots of the rest of it to watch going down to the wire.

“Everybody at Ganassi has to be pretty thrilled with the way they performed this year,” Miles concluded. “They are a quality organization, and they are right there – 1 and 2. I know Roger Penske and Michael Andretti and McLaren, all of those other strong teams, want to give them their money’s worth for next year.”

With 86-year-old Roger Penske at the helm, and Penske Corp. senior management including vice chairman Greg Penske, president Bud Denker, Jonathan Gibson and Michael Montri, Miles is part of a team that runs at full speed all year.

That’s the “Penske Way” and Roger Penske isn’t about to slow down.

“I don’t remember seeing a pause or any diminishment of his vigor,” Miles said of Penske. “He is all out, all the time. Inspiring to all of us and I have seen zero evidence he is getting off the throttle at all.

Now that the world has made its way through a pandemic that dramatically impacted sports in 2020 and 2021, this is the first year we have seen Penske’s vision for IndyCar fully implemented.

“This was more of a normal year for us, a normal baseline year for us economically and we think we are going to grow,” Miles said. “Our promoters are getting healthier all the time and growing and reinvesting in facilities in capacity and quality.

“I think we are starting to hit our stride, but I don’t think we have started to sprint. We have lots of opportunity.”

Follow Bruce Martin at @BruceMartin_500