2021 Indy 500 Will Be The Most Fan-Attended Sporting Event Since Pandemic

Posted on April 27, 2021 - Last Updated on March 20, 2024

Fans will return for the Indianapolis 500 next month.

The Greatest Spectacle in Racing went without fans last year for the first time in its 104 year history.

The Motor Speedway will be able to fill to 40% capacity this time around.

With fans returning to the speedway, one of Indy’s greatest traditions will finally be back in the mix.

Indy 500 breaks pandemic attendance record

The Motor Speedway is the largest sports venue on the planet.

The property can hold close to 400,000 fans at full capacity.

Even with limited capacity, this year’s Indy 500 will become the most-attended sporting event since the start of the pandemic.

Approximately 135,000 fans will be able to watch the big race in-person this year.

That’s quite a step up from the second-highest pandemic attendance numbers.

Over 78,000 people watched an Australian rules cricket match in-person a few days ago. As of right now, that match had more fans than any other pandemic event.

The 2021 Indy 500 will top that number by over 57,000 fans.

Things might not be completely back to normal yet, but race fans will still be happy to see the action in-person this Memorial Day weekend.

March Madness and vaccines help bring back fans

As basketball fans know, Indiana hosted the entire March Madness tournament this year.

The extended bubble covered the greater Indianapolis area, and went off more or less without a hitch.

That instilled some confidence into the Marion County Public Health Department.

After a successful NCAA Tournament, city officials decided that 40% capacity would be appropriate for this year’s 500.

Over 130,000 fans is a lot for one sporting event, but the motor speedway is an outdoor arena.

Since it normally holds 400,000 fans, there will still be plenty of room to spread out for social distancing.

Vaccinations are the other piece of the pie for the race’s attendance number.

About 60% of Indiana’s population has received at least one vaccination dose. That number will only increase between now and the actual race on May 30.

That vaccination rate is in large part due to the Motor Speedway itself.

The venue has acted as a mass-vaccination clinic over the past few weeks.

Those efforts are shifting over to Lucas Oil Stadium since the IndyCar action is starting to gear up heading into May.

Regardless, this year’s Indy 500 wouldn’t have been able to snag 40% capacity without a successful March Madness and a ton of vaccinations.

First real Indy 500 for Penske

This year’s 500 will be a crucial one for Roger Penske.

The Indiana businessman purchased the Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series back in 2019.

Since then, Penske has been waiting for his first real Indianapolis 500.

The pandemic hardly created ideal conditions for Penske’s debut race last year.

The 500 might have limited attendance in 2021, but Penske is determined to make this one count.

“We’ll move heaven and earth to make sure our guests get what they expect and live up to the commitment we’ve made. We can always have another race, but we need to have this one be successful.”

That’s enough to get race fans excited to head to the speedway this May.

Part of the experience for those fans will be betting on the race in-person.

Betting on the race

Indiana’s online sportsbooks will be taking Indy 500 bets for the second year in a row.

The race attracts fans from all over the country every year, so Indiana could benefit from a few traveling gamblers.

Many of those race fans will be coming from states that do not have legal legal sports betting. That could lead to some new folks betting on the Indy 500 while they’re in town.

That’s in addition to Hoosiers that will already be wagering on the race.

Gamblers can place a bet before the race starts, or even as its happening thanks to live betting.

Live betting could be a particularly fun option for fans attending the race in-person.

Gamblers will have plenty of options since Indiana has 10 different online betting apps to pick from.

That number could be up to 12 by race day since Barstool Sportsbook is launching soon and SBK Sportsbook is also making its way to the state.

Regardless of which sportsbook you’re using, betting on the Indy500 is a great way to mix up the typical experience.

Photo by Associated Press
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Jake Garza

Jake Garza is a US Gambling Industry Analyst for Catena Media. He specializes in Midwest sports betting and casino content. Prior to covering the legal gambling industry, he spent time as a professional sports writer, reporting on teams such as the Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers. Garza is currently working as a Managing Editor for PlayIndiana and PlayOhio, with previous stops at other well-known brands such as PlayIllinois and PlayMichigan. He has been covering the gambling industry since 2019, and currently works with a team of other journalists to provide comprehensive coverage of the legal U.S. gambling industry.

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