The Grand Prix is returning to network TV—if COVID-19 doesn’t cancel it again

The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach is scheduled for April 16-18, and for the first time since 2007, it will be broadcast on network television.

That is, if all goes well, and nothing has gone well for a long, long time.

The 2020 Grand Prix was canceled on March 20, just days after the initial stay-at-home order was issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom, and it’s going to take a lot of luck—something like COVID’s miraculous disappearance or at least the broad use of a dependable vaccine—before a 2021 race in Long Beach is green-flagged.

And yet, Jim Michaelian, longtime president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association, needs to be optimistic about the race’s return to the streets of Long Beach.

“The race is lumped in with other big outdoor events like music festivals and other sporting events, and those rank pretty low right now in terms of Gov. Newsom opening things up,” Michaelian said. “But we’re working with people now, including the L.A. Sports Council to see just what we can do and how soon we can do it.”

Michaelian says he hopes to know by November or December if it’s plausible to hold the 2021 event, and by February he’ll need to know what restrictions will be in some detail so they can start building the race. Construction around the course begins 54 days before the event.

As for NBC’s live broadcast of the race, scheduled for noon to 3 p.m. April 18, Michaelian said, “For many years we’ve worked hard to get coverage of the race on network television, but we always ran into conflicts with the NBA and NHL playoff broadcasts.”

This year, he said Indy Car asked him if he could free up a block on April 18 for NBC. “I told them, it’s earlier than usual, but that I’d make it work,” said Michaelian.

What Michaelian can’t do, however, is remove whatever restrictions will remain into the next year. “Will we have to limit the number of attendees? Will we be able to do the Lifestyle Expo, the post-race concerts  and all the other weekend activities that we usually have? Those are the kind of things we’ll have to get nailed down, and we hope to have some clarity by the end of the year.”

Michaelian said holding the race without a crowd would be virtually impossible. “It’s a tremendous expenditure and you can’t generate the money without a paid audience.”

He added that the race does not receive any TV revenue from the broadcast.

“That’s one of the challenges,” he said.

That’s one. There are many more.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.