R: When's the first chance that what are currently Versus races can be seen on NBC? Is it 2012 or 2013?
RB: Well, we start renegotiating our network television deal this month and right now we're in an exclusivity phase with ABC. We're being very respectful to them and we've had some very productive meetings with them.
R: But ultimately, could ABC's five races end up on NBC, and the remaining 12 switch to the NBC Sports Channel?
RB:I don't ever want to rule out anyone. I think that we owe ABC respect because, number one, they're good people, and number two, we've had a fruitful 46-year history with them and they deserve an opportunity to negotiate with us. But anything is possible at this time.
R: I guess what I'm driving at is, what is your ideal-world scenario? If you could rip it up and start again, what would be your choice?
RB: Let me put it this way: What's important for the series is looking for who will provide the most exposure for the series and then the best coverage. That's simply essential for the teams' sponsors and for the series' sponsors.
R: These figures that have been bandied about – that Versus pays IndyCar $5m per year for its 12 races – are they true?
RB: No, that's not true, and I don't know where all that came from. It's actually a very complicated deal, something that I'm not going to explain over the phone on such a poor connection! But it's much more of a co-promotion and co-ownership deal, with some revenue-sharing.
R: OK, but are IMS Productions' costs covered by this deal?
RB: Er…no! I think it's fair to say that right now, our television deal is a very expensive proposition.
R: Is it true that the Versus deal was for 10 years?
RB: I believe we have seven more to go.
R: Is there a penalty for getting out of the deal early, if that's what you wanted?
RB: There are no options out right now.
R: How much of a position of strength is IndyCar in when it comes to negotiating new deals?
RB: I think the strength of our position is determined by how much competing TV companies want our product. I think the most positive thing for us is the forward momentum in terms of how much sponsorship and advertising we've been able to attract in the past couple years. I think there's excitement over the new car which is also essential. And I think everyone remembers the heyday of 1993-'95. As a network, you should be looking at us and thinking, “Hey, this has a very good shot of coming back.” We're making great progress and that will be reflected in a better television deal.
R: Will you have to buy time? And how much of that do you have to do for network TV – or the sports channels?
RB: We don't actually buy time.
R: So IndyCar has to make itself desirable enough to trigger bidding wars from ABC, NBC, and so on?
RB: Yeah, I think we must show promise, show commitment, and show what our vision is – all of which I think we've done. And I think there's a lot of interest from networks out there; I know there is, in fact, and that's a very positive sign for IndyCar and that will be our leverage on a new deal. I think it's very important that we have brought on IMG and Barry Frank to help negotiate our next deal.
R: Wow, that's great! There's no chance, though, that you could end up with all 17 races on SPEED?
RB: No, Versus has exclusivity on cable. We have a lot of interest from networks right now. I think it's very promising that we'll have a major network deal. Stay tuned!