Attendance – Not Just An IndyCar Problem

One of the hot topics that has been tossed about regarding the IZOD IndyCar Series lately, has been race attendance – or lack thereof. Opinions have swirled as to the cause of the sagging attendance as well as what to do about it. But after watching a full slate of college and pro football this weekend, I think it is now safe to say that this problem is not isolated to open-wheel racing.

It’s easy to blame the current economy for the declining attendance at sporting events. While it certainly has something to do with it, I think it runs deeper than that. All major sports – and yes, I include the IZOD IndyCar Series as a major sport – may have fallen victim to some of the technological advancements meant to simply enhance the overall enjoyment of the sport – not to replace being there.

As recently as the middle of last week, eleven of the sixteen NFL teams scheduled to play home games this weekend were not sold out. I didn’t hear what the final tally was, but seeing glimpses around the league yesterday showed many empty seats. Here locally, even though the Titans game against the Raiders was officially a sellout – there were many empty seats. This occurred on opening day, with a crystal-blue, cloudless sky and a kickoff temperature of seventy-six degrees. Five years ago, this would have been unheard of, around the league.

College football seems to be suffering through the same malaise. Yes, there were packed houses at Alabama, Oklahoma and Notre Dame – but flipping around the dial on Saturday, showed empty seats at several venues where sellouts are traditionally the norm – including a few scattered vacant seats that were visible at my beloved Neyland Stadium in Knoxville.

What I think has happened at all events, including auto-racing, is that the economy may have convinced a lot of people that are usually attendees, to stay home for some of these events a year or two ago. Once they did, they realized how much more pleasurable the home viewing experience was when compared to just a few years ago.

About twenty years ago, Magnavox used to run a very clever ad for their large-screen rear-projection television (remember those?). It showed their, what was then considered, sharp and life-like picture which was great for watching movies (on VHS, of course). The ad closed with a great scene and tag-line. It showed someone sitting in a movie theater, surrounded by kids, loud-talkers and being pelted with popcorn; with the voice-over saying that “Magnavox gives you the movie theater experience, without giving you that movie theater experience.”

Although there is nothing quite like being there, let’s face it – going to a live sporting event can be a huge pain and expense. I consider myself to be a loyal follower of my alma mater, the Tennessee Vols. However I haven’t been to a game there since 2004, even though I live only three hours away. My last experience there was when I took my son to watch them play (and lose to) Notre Dame. It was cold and drizzly. I paid over $100 a ticket for seats in the upper deck of the end-zone. The seats there are on backless benches that have been narrowed in order to shoehorn 107,000 people in. It was so cramped, you couldn’t clap side-to-side. My knees were in someone’s back, while someone else’s knees were in my back. I was longing for the roomy theater-style seats with cup-holders at the Titan’s stadium. I never consciously said I’m never going back, because I know I will. But so far, it hasn’t happened.

But I rarely go to Titan’s games anymore. Unlike the IZOD IndyCar Series that has done a good job at holding their ticket prices pretty much in check, NFL tickets have skyrocketed and I can no longer afford to go. I enjoy going, but it eats up an entire day as well as your wallet. Sixty-five dollar upper-deck seating, five dollar hot dogs and seven dollar beers can put a dent in your budget pretty quickly.

In the meantime; I can stay at home in the comfort of my living room, drink colder and cheaper beer, eat better food and catch the Titans and other games in high-definition clarity in surround sound for a much more affordable price – without the pleasure of getting vomited on, catching an errant blow from someone else’s fight or dealing with traffic before and after the game. Plus, with HD and a DVR that I can pause and rewind – I have a much better understanding of what I just saw.

At the Kentucky race on Labor Day weekend, I’ve read and heard from several people that were there that had no idea that Helio Castroneves was on a fuel strategy and was even going to be a factor in the outcome of the race. There is nothing like being at a race, but with enhanced internet coverage where you can follow a particular driver exclusively, if you so choose – it makes it more tempting to stay home so that you can really know what’s going on.

Then there is the factor of today’s young kids. When I was growing up in the dark ages, there was no ESPN, no cable and no internet. There were just three network channels. Our only exposure to most racing events was to catch highlights in a three-minute segment of the ten o’clock news, watch ABC’s Wide World of Sports, listen to the radio or read about it in the paper. Actually attending a sporting event in person was something a kid like me would dream about. Today’s kids seem rather ho-hum about attending major sporting events, with so many other entertainment options available to them.

So if the NFL is facing this problem, what on earth can the IZOD IndyCar Series do to battle the problem of declining attendance? How can IndyCar make the in-person experience more enjoyable? Should they incorporate multiple series on a weekend to provide more action on the track? That’s great for racing fans, but what about the more casual fan? Unlike the majority of NFL stadiums, most racing facilities are located far from the metropolitan areas they are associated with.

Nashville Superspeedway is in the middle of the next county, it’s at least forty-five miles from downtown Nashville with nothing – and I mean, nothing – around it. No bars, no restaurants, no hotels or businesses. It is out in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know if other tracks share this dilemma, but I know that Joliet, IL, the home of Chicagoland Speedway is no closer to downtown Chicago than Nashville’s track. California Speedway at Fontana is at least fifty miles from Los Angeles. Track promoters as well as the league have to come up with better ways to draw fans, than to give a free concert after a race.

I don’t know what the answer is, but something needs to be done to give fans a reason to come out to the track rather than watch the races on television. It’s a chicken or the egg thing – will better TV ratings drive attendance or will full stands make for a more appealing TV product? I’m not smart enough to know the answer.

This is another issue to pile onto the already full plate of CEO Randy Bernard. His presence continually becomes more vital as the IZOD IndyCar Series tries to grow in these murky times. He is well-versed in issues like these. I’m glad we’ve got him.

George Phillips

29 Responses to “Attendance – Not Just An IndyCar Problem”

  1. I think it’s a problem all over. HDTV and more channels than ever gives even smaller events coverage it could never have dreamed of 30, 20, or even 10 years ago.

    RB does have a lot on his plate, you’re right. But I’m optimistic he can figure out a way through it. I think offering deals for non-premium seats is a smart way to go, for one. If you know you’re going to have 20,000 empty bleachers, try to fill them up without making the people who bought tickets at a prime price feel like they were cheated. That just might be easier said than done, though.

    Good article!

  2. I had rather be there because there is nothing like being there. A friend had an extra ticket so I went to the Titans game yesterday and noticed a lot of empty seats, particularly at the club level. What is the point of having tickets if you don’t use them? By the way, it was a beautiful day and the Titans were giving the Raiders such an ass-whipping that we got an early start home and left at the end of the third quarter, so I was able to see the Bears on the NFL RedZone! Chicago looked packed.

  3. The one thing that IndyCar Racing has going for it that other sports (NASCAR excluded) don’t have is the visceral feeling that being there provides. People who watch a race on TV have no idea what it feels like to watch a field of racing cars screaming down the straightaway and feel the sound pounding aginst your gut. Perhaps they can capitalize on this difference with their marketing

  4. By the way, Alabama looked packed this past weekend. So did UT , Ohio State and Notre Dame. It is safe to say that they do not have to worry.

  5. I agree that the things you touched on impact attendance. But the danger is we’ll blame all these other legit elements and not take a look at the product we’re offering for sale. “The Economy” has become the great excuse in IndyCar to do nothing to increase the value/attractiveness of The Product.

  6. I have to get going but I have time for this one comment: I don’t think the distance to the venue is so important in some regions of the country. In California, the Fontana being 50 miles from LA isn’t such a deal. LA (as a region) is so huge, and fans draw from various parts of it, that for some it’s convenient, for others it would be an all day trip. It’s the same thing with the other venues: Dodger stadium may as well be on the moon for some, but it’s in the back yard for others.

    But there’s traffic and crowds and parking and the general nuisance factor, and a lot of people (like me) are loathe to go.

    • I’ve got to disagree with you there. Fontana may be just as far from Los Angeles as the southern parts of Orange County, but the difference is that there’s very little reason to ever go to Fontana. It’s not particularly pretty or alluring for any other reason than the race track (for racing fans, at least). Compare that to the Long Beach race and it’s night and day. You’re maybe 30 miles out of LA and Orange County, along the coast, downtown surrounded by bars and restaurants and stores and art villages. If Fontana were located in place of the Staples Center, downtown, it would be substantially more successful.

  7. The “At Home” poll choice is leading, and for good reason: I do believe it’s the primary issue.

    But, before going there, I want to point out that the economy is still inseparable from this. It’s a secondary excuse, I think, yet it still enters the picture. I know many here in Indiana who’d be happy to attend a Colts or Pacers game if it weren’t so damn expensive (Those same folks I talk to, BTW, are talking about going to the Indy 500 because “it’ll never be this cheap again”). Money is definitely an issue

    That said, I think many wouldn’t make that argument and in fact would be happy to save up and go in person if the TV and internet experience were not so well done. Again, using football: The at-game experience can actually be aggravating. At a college venue, as George pointed out, the seats can be painfully uncomfortable (they’re better about this at many professional venues, but it’s still no living room couch). The drive there as well as back home is a timesuck in the best of times. You’re ironically “farther away” from the action when you’re there in person (unless you shell out for some really expensive tickets). The snacks/food is at best “Meh” (and you’re shelling out a ridiculous amount for it). And (this can’t be understated), TV cameramen end up doing a LOT of your work for you to identify and home in on important elements of the event for the broadcast. For a football game on TV, I’m damn good at following the action because the cameraman is damn good at following it. But *AT* the game, I fall for every line stunt, misdirection, fake, and other element designed to fool a player into putting his attention elsewhere. I can’t watch a game as fully in person because I can’t see the things the camera crews give me on TV. Those broadcasts truly disguise the amount of work – yes, work – that it takes to fully absorb what’s going on. So even ignoring the navigation of traffic and the logistics of finding your way around an arena, watching a broadcast is literally less effort than watching that same event in person.

    On top of that, you can enhance your TV viewing with the internet. When a Colts game is going, I’m in no less than three (yes, count ’em: THREE) live chats/blogs, *AND* I can do quick lookups of things (like players numbers, stats, other miscellaneous info). That’s hard at games, although it’s getting easier with smartphones that have data plans.

    At any rate, the problems are intertwined, but the financial excuse gets enabled (and moves the Go/Stay-at-Home threshold) by the home experience. Yes, it’s cheaper to buy some franks and light up your own grill than to pay a stupid amount for a stadium dog. *AND* you know who’s hands have been touching your food on your Weber. But when you return to your seat, you get a closer, more detailed experience. So you’re saved the aggravations *AND* in some aspects, you get a better viewing experience.

    This is not to say the in person experience is worthless; I can write a much longer post about the benefits of physically being at an event. Plus, I do want to see some things in person (the Indy 500 for one). I’d go to a game again if I could free up the dough for a ticket. But I’m not in a hurry to do so because I can get a damn good experience at home. That’s the bottom line.

    • The above comments may have a clue to an answer to this problem.
      Sports event promotors need to do a good of education current and prospective fans about the nuances of the event.
      I find open wheel auto racing facinating even during races that many feel are boring, because I know the drivers, teams, strategies, and challenges of open whell racing. I enjoy road/street races even if there isn’t much on track passing, because I have learned to understand the maneuvering and planning that a driver may be doing to set up a pass. Whether or not the pass happens, I cna enjoy watching the trailing driver try to set up an opportunity as the leading driver counters.
      As an educated fan, I get aggravated then I see a driver seeting up a pass, but don;t get to follow the challenge because TV decides to shift to something else. At any track, I can keep my focus on what I want to follow on the portions of the track which I can see.
      Promotors need to do a better job of giving fans compelling reasons to suffer the conveniences of being in large crowds of people in order to experience an event in a way that even the most modern technology can’t provide.

  8. George, I am glad you put together this article – I agree 100%. I have gotten to the point where I dread going to events. I love going to the 500, but mainly because it is something I do with my friends and family from out of state. I consider myself a 500 ambassador. But, for any big event, the traffic, congestion, rude people, drunks, people behaving badly in front of kids, etc., is just frustrating. Throw in varying weather, high concession costs, a hard to hear PA, and that tiny little bit of uncomfortable seating in there between people that are all larger than who the seats were designed for, and it just isn’t worth it.

    At home, one thing that really has spoiled me is my DVR. I can start watching the race when I’m ready, and pause, rewind, fast forward or whatever else I want to do. In my household, I’m really the only race fan – my girls, ages 4 and 2, are too young to pay attention other than to scream out “that’s a red car!” over and over. Hey, it’s a start… Anyway, I don’t always get to sit down and enjoy a race at the time it is scheduled to start. If it’s nice out, like this last weekend, I want the girls outside rather than in front of the TV anyway. Gotta go to the bathroom? Hit pause or wait until the commercial break and I don’t miss a thing. If I do that at a race, I will miss a minimum of 5 minutes of racing, and that’s always when the big stuff happens, so I return to my seat completely confused as to what went on.

    The technology is just too good. I think what this means for the sanctioning body and the track promoters is a shift in where your revenue comes from. We’re looking at tighter profit margins, and the profit must be reinvested effectively. They probably need to accept the fact that track attendance will be relatively low, and the deals need to be brokered accordingly. Of course, that would indicate a lower sanctioning fee so the tracks can come out at least even, and IndyCar would need to then find ways to make that up elsewhere. I think they need to do that by being more pervasive on the Internet and more mainstream sports programming. The tracks could also try to incorporate more package deals, maybe where they include passes for nearby attractions and hotel room so families could make a vacation out of it.

    I also think the racing series need to work together to maximize everybody’s exposure. It’s like the big 3 day music festivals – the small bands get big exposure and it’s a big party. The Mid-Ohio ALMS and IndyCar combination show is a good example, and next year’s Iowa race weekend with IndyCar, the Lights, and USAC midgets and sprints is also a great idea, in my opinion.

    Of course, it wouldn’t have to be limited to race-only – there could be some interesting combination events that could happen: maybe include passes to a theme park with race tickets, maybe tickets to a college football game or a baseball game? Including easy transportation between the events and a hotel would be good. There are just so many options. The key is that promoters – for whatever sport – need to kind of swallow some pride and realize they aren’t the only game in town. Talking about town – the local tourism boards need to be involved, too. They need to promote themselves as a great place to do great things.

    I think the time has also come for new viewership measurements – there needs to be better indicators of more than just TV, more than just the seats in the stands, but of all ways people can access events – Internet, radio, in-person, TV coverage, live or after the event, whatever.

    Anyway, I’m just babbling on now, and I’m really not throwing anything out there that hasn’t already been thought of. This is just my random thoughts and opinions. Sorry about that.

  9. Great topic, George. I believe the promoters of the Milwaukee race, in addition to proposing “Road To Indy” races, mentioned something in the news conference about the necessity of providing other entertainment to attract new fans.

    It’s just easier and so much cheaper to stay home. With today’s technology, your viewing experience is enhanced (where’d I steal that from?) and you avoid all the hassle. And after, instead of spending three hours in traffic, you can mow the lawn or go out to dinner.

    But I think with Indycar, the problem must be deeper than fans in the seats, because the TV ratings are also pitifully low.

  10. George, I couldn’t agree more and here are but two personal examples.

    My brother and I are both Purdue alumni. For quite a few years, he (because he lives in Indiana,) has maintained Boilermakers season tickets, and on the few occasions I have been up that way, we have enjoyed going to Ross Ade to cheer the old gold and black. From his house, that’s about a two + hour drive in traffic – From his lake house, even moreso. This was all fine while his oldest son was attending Purdue: It gave “Mom and Dad” an excuse to visit their son. He has now, however, graduated.

    Virtually ALL Purdue football games are now broadcast locally on either the Big Ten Network, or the ESPN “family” in HD. Subsequently, he dropped his Purdue season tickets. He and his local Purdue pals now hang out in the “man cave” where they can drink without fear of negotiating that 2 hour drive home, have all the “tailgate” food they want without having to set up “camp” in the tailgate lot, and, in the event of blowout, watch other games.

    That situation is even more magnified with the Indy 500. Back in the days when I used to go, you bought whatever ticket you could get, usually at around $40-60. It was either go out to the area the night before or get up at “dark fifteen,” battle massive traffic in and out, drunks, (of which I was one on several occasions,) a very limited view of the track, limited food options, cooler restrictions, stench-filled restrooms at the end of a long walk, and so on. The last few times I went, I went on “packages” which included breakfast, trasport to and from the track, box lunch and such, but it was still expensive and a hassle.

    When I moved away from Indy and the distance made attendance impossible, I discovered that I had the best seat for the race with my La-Z-Boy, unlimited food and beverage selections, the ability to sleep in until about half an hour before the race, my own bathroom that didn’t stink, and the fellowship of whatever friends, drunk or otherwise, that I chose to invite. With the advent of HDTV and DVR, it only got better.

    That being said, I do plan on attending next year’s 500 in observance of the Centennial, and I am excited to be going. But, in all reality, unless I move back to the midwest, (which I do NOT see happening,) this will probably be my last venture to the race.

    And, I know that in much of this, I am not alone. A whole bunch of my old friends who used to trek out to the track in the old days now pass on the race. There are just too many other options of things to do rather than spending an entire day getting there, maybe getting rained on, watching part of the track, and getting home afterward.

  11. As always George, a very thoughtful and topical post. Great observations by all the commenters too.

    I don’t think it’s any surprise that the stadiums and teams mentioned above as being sold out, are also the ones with the biggest sense of tradition, (and following). College teams like Notre Dame, Ohio State, Iowa and Alabama will always sell out. Same goes for professional football in Green Bay, Chicago, and Dallas. The reason? Attending a game at one of these places is more like going to church on Sunday than it is a sporting event. These teams connect with people on an emotional level far beyond entertainment. The only parallel I can draw in racing would be the Five Hundred. You have written on this blog so eloquently in the past to explain how going to IMS is about more than going to an auto race.

    The teams that struggle to put butts in the seats, are the ones that don’t have the same visceral (almost spiritual) connection with their fans, and yet price their product (in this case tickets) as if their product were on the same level as the ones mentioned above. The reason they don’t sell is that in reality, they are not competing in the market with Notre Dame, or the Dallas Cowboys. They are competing with other events in their same geographic area (college sports, baseball, hockey, basketball, racing etc.), that may be selling tickets for far less money.

    From a common sense standpoint, it would seem to make sense that an NFL ticket would be about the same regardless of the town. Each franchise has the same salary cap, and overhead, and with revenue sharing, they presumably also benefit from the TV money in equal amounts. However, their products are not all the same, nor do they compete directly against each other for the same fan $. And as you point out, they also compete against the living room couch. (Hence the TV blackout rule in the NFL)

    It’s basic economics. If people view the value of the experience as = or > the price, they buy the tickets. That’s why ticket prices vary based on their location in the stadium.

    But this isn’t a linear relationship. Somewhere in that graph of sales vs. price, their will be a sweet spot. Teams are now finding this out. The Yankees can charge $1,200 for a seat behind home plate, but half will be empty. Or they can charge $200 and sell them all out. Do the math and you can see why they sell them for $1,200. The same would not apply for seats in the outfield bleachers. Sell those for $1,200 and they would all be empty.

    Where sports teams get screwed up is when they sit down and think, “Hey, I’m the Kansas City Royals. I play in the same league as the Yankees. The Yanks charge $1,200 for a seat behind home plate, so I will too.” Wrong. The Royals didn’t compete for fans with the Yankees on Saturday, they competed with the Kansas Jayhawks football game, and the living room couch and HD TV.

    Racing needs to connect with their fan base on a deeper level if they are going to create more demand for their product. Right now, fans are voting with their wallets. If going to an Indycar race made the same emotional connection at Chicagoland that it does at IMS, they’d be selling it out. But as great as the Chicagoland races were they were not the Indy 500.

    The experience is also as much about who is on the field, as to the excitement of the event. If the fans felt that seeing Ryan Briscoe race against Mario Moraes meant as much to them emotionally, as watching Tony Stewart vs. Jeff Gordon, they’d be in those seats at Chicagoland. Or at least tuning in on Versus.

  12. George,

    I think declining attendence at all sporting events is a mix of different factors. Ball and Stick sports (and some racing series) have priced themselves out of the reach of what used to be the traditional fan base: working or middle class fans with families. My wife’s law firm has a set of four season tickets for the White Sox on the third base line. The seats are $30, plus a parking pass at $23/game. That’s over $140 for four people to attend a game, before you even factor in food and drinks. To be assured decent parking and to make the start of the game we need to leave our house at least 2 hours before the first pitch. Not surprisingly, the minor-league Kane County Cougars, who are located in the next county from us, have skyrocketed in popularity: No seat over $12, free parking, and more affordable food. Guess which team gets more families attending the game?

    In addition to rising prices, I think too many sports (NFL, NASCAR, MLB, NBA, etc.) took it for granted that the fans would always show up and always pay. That’s why you get the sort of stadium layout you mentioned at Tennesse: Backless benches with people shoved in cheek-to-jowl. As much of a pain as it is going to see the White Sox, at least I GET MY OWN SEAT! Racing, especially IMS, is guilty of this sort of layout too. If I’m paying $50 – $100 a ticket, I had ought to get my own damned chair! Heck, for $3 a movie at the second run show I can get my own upholstered seat with cupholder! I think people are tired of being soaked (financially and physically by spilled drinks), shoved and gouged by sporting teams once they get to the stadium and are voting with their feet and wallets. And the recession has hit plenty of those “big ticket” spenders teams were counting on to renew sky boxes and season tickets to treat clients and potential customers.

    Finally, I think as a person gets older, there’s less tolerance for the hassles involved in attending any event. I don’t want to say we all get pessimistic or grouchy as we get older, but I find that I look a little more closely at the costs and benefits of every activity I want to try. Getting and keeping the older fan with (presumably) more money to attend events is as important as bringing in new fans for any sport. I know it will be impossible to get 100K people out of a parking lot in ten minutes after a race, but perhaps race track owners, or other stadium owners, can think about the most effective paths to get fans in and out of the area of the arena. In addition, if the venue was more accomodating and comfortable to attend an event, teams might find fans a little more willing to brave traffic and pay for tickets and parking to see the show.

    Just my $.02

    • brian mckay Says:

      “people are tired of being soaked (financially and physically by spilled drinks), shoved, and gouged … and are voting with their feet and wallets.”
      For “$50 – $100 a ticket, I had ought to get my own damned chair!”
      RIGHT ON!

  13. Donald McElvain Says:

    Does Randy need to read this or has he figured it out already with his experiences with the bullriders?

    I’ve attended many NFL games and NASCAR and Indycar races. It’s very expensive. I’ve moved from California and now watch everything DVR, fast forwarding through commercials, time between “plays” and boring sections of NASCAR, Indycar and F1. It saves so much time!!!!!!! I can watch a 3 1/2 hour race in 60 minutes and then go do something else. (There is a minimum of 21 minutes of ads per hour on most TV shows.)

    I don’t have the answer for Indycar or anyone else. I do know that the older I get (closing in on 62) that time is runnning out and I have a long bucket list that involves my wife, kids and grandkids. Priorities change.

  14. Sorry to reply so soon, but really interesting topic on many fronts and thoughtful replies from all.

    It’s sorta made me realize why street races are gaining popularity. Instead of going to an isolated oval an hour or more from town, you’re right downtown where the action is. Where hotels and and clubs and restaurants are. It’s a county fair/rock concert vibe, with food vendors and souvenir vendors. There’s all the interaction with people and movement on the streets. It’s good for the vitality of downtowns and gets towns some publicity. They’re apparently cheap to produce, cheap to attend and they minimize damage to cars, which owners must like.

    It’s not just for the racing. It’s an event. Something non-fans could get together at the last minute and say, “let’s run downtown–something’s going on.” And you’re not trapped in aluminum grandstands with minimal choices for food and drink. And if you’re near drunken, obscene yahoos, you can easily move somewhere else.

    Street races have never appealed to me, but I can see–after reading George and the comments–how they can be popular and lucrative events.

    • That is a good thought and a really interesting point, Redd. I never really was able to appreciate that appeal until you brought it up. I can now see why promoters like them.

      Good point!

      There are a lot of great points throughout this thread. George, you definitely have a knack for provoking thought!

    • Absolutely spot-on, Redd. Having lived in Long Beach or the area most of my life, it was a no-brainer “to go downtown” to see Champ Cars/Indy cars racing through the streets. Occasionally the things mentioned by George let me settle with being there on Friday (absolutely the best day of the race weekend from a spectator’s p.o.v. in terms of accessibility and comfort) and watching at home on Sunday.

      The thing about the proximity of the tracks to their related metro area – I can speak in general terms which most probably already know. I was at the first California 500 at Ontario Motor Speedway in 1970, and attended every Indy car race there through 1980. Riverside International Raceway (the first Indy car race I ever saw in person in December of 1968 – Dan Gurney won it going away) was a favorite of mine. Ascot Park in Gardena for Sprint Cars on Saturday nights. All of these tracks bit the dust because of the relative property values around them…”progress” took it’s toll in terms of these great venues being deemed ‘losing’ propositions as far as the potential for the land they occupied. So when George points out the distance from the metro areas the tracks supposedly represent and the “out in the boonies” locations, there’s no doubt that is why. Trying to have a track of the size of Fontana, or Kentucky, or Chicagoland within the perimeter of a local metro area just wouldn’t make financial sense in terms of land use and the taxes the cities covet for the same.

      Question is, why doesn’t any enterpreneurial-type see the potential and build a small support structure of Inns and restaurants within a 5-10 mile radius of those same ‘way out there’ tracks?

  15. Savage Henry Says:

    I agree with you to an extent George. I’ve been a Philadelphia Eagles season ticket holder for almost 15 years and my friends and I have decided that this is probably going to be the last year. It is very expensive and with family obligations its hard to spend an entire day at the game. Also, football is much better on TV. You get all of the replays, highlights from other games, analysis from the commentators, etc. I feel like I missed a great day of football yesterday because I went to a football game.

    I haven’t been to see my beloved Nittany Lions play live for at least 10 years. I don’t expect to go anytime soon because it just doesn’t seem worth it.

    Racing is different because unlike football and most stick-and-ball sports the sport is much better live. Racing just doesn’t translate well to TV. There’s just no way to appreciate the noise, the power, and the speed of a race from your living room. There’s no substitute for feeling the ground shake when a car goes by or the punch in the chest when a car hits the wall. Never mind the most tv broadcasts only follow the leader around when many times the best action is back in the pack.

    I think that the IICS needs to focus on this aspect in their marketing. Nobody is never going to appreciate racing that hasn’t been to a race. I just don’t see how it would be possible. As mentioned above, this is a great benefit of street courses. They probably get a lot of people who show up for the event/party and leave as fans because they experienced the race in person.

  16. I think George is right, because attendance is down in all sports. Thing is though, attendance is at least half economy, becuase tickets aren’t cheap. Actually, for Indycar tickets are VERY cheap, but, it’s the gas, car, time, food, ect. that adds to the price.

    In NFL for example, they’re having record high ratings, even with not so great attendance, so it really doesn’t matter that much. Indycar, and NASCAR, however, are having both fall, which suggests there’s something more to the problem than just the economy, or that people are enjoying the TV broadcasts.

  17. It is a dangerous mistake to compare Indycar attendance to other sports.

    First, while you can see empty seats at NFL and NCAA football and basketball games these sports are still reporting record ticket revenues. Second, the premier events are packed houses. You will not find empty seats when the colts play the patriots or when the buckeyes play a top team in the Big Ten. If the product is compelling the fans will pay good money to see it. This is no longer the case in indycar.

    Finally, while these other sorts have empty seats they are pulling more viewers than ever before. Nough to justify entire networks and pay per view packages that exceed the cost of attending most races.

    The best time to go to the store or play golf in Indy is when the Colts are playing because so many people are dropping everything to watch.

    I don’t know how anybody can even think to compare the situation j. The NFL to indycar when the sport has averaged fewer than 10,000 viewers in the Indianapolis market for the past 5 races.

  18. Excellent article, George, and I agree with all of your points. I have fallen victim many times myself to the “I COULD go to the game… or I could just stay home near my bathroom and refrigerator” line of thinking, particularly when it comes to baseball and football games, and both economics and convenience are at play every time.

    I think if anything, Indycar is at less risk of further declining attendance than the traditional major sports (notwithstanding the fact that Indycar has already fallen and the other sports have potentially a long, long way to fall), for a couple reasons.

    1. Supply. There simply aren’t that many opportunities to attend a live Indycar race. There are 17 events per year, and they’re scattered all over the country/world. If you are lucky enough to live near one of them, you are more inclined to make it a priority to attend than, say, a Major League baseball game (81 attendance opportunities per year) or an NFL game or college football game (5 to 8 home games per year). And you can buy an Indycar ticket for about the same price as, if not less than, a ticket to an NFL game or a good seat at a MLB game.

    2. The live experience. Basically, everything Jack in NC said. You cannot even begin to get the feeling of what a live race is like from watching it on TV.

    3. Opportunities to mingle with the “stars” of the sport. There is a definite wall between fan and participant with most major sports. Less so with Indycar. After going to roughly 15 Indycar/Champ Car/CART races in my life, without ever having a pit pass, I finally got one for Chicago a few weeks ago, and it was a blast! Tim Cindric and Roger Penske walked right past me. Mario Moraes went into the bathroom in front of me. I met Pippa Mann. Sebastian Saavedra gave me the evil eye because I was checking out a girl he was talking to. Hanging around down there by the garages was the equivalent of practically having free run of the bowels of an NFL football stadium on game day. I’m a (nearly) middle-aged man, and I was as giddy as an 8th grade girl backstage at a Justin Bieber concert. But Indycar has always made a great effort to reach out to fans, and from what I’m seeing, that effort is ramping up even more under Bernard – case in point, the “open to fans” schedule announcement in Milwaukee, which is my home town so I was able to take it all in, pick up some swag and meet Rutherford, Dixon and Briscoe. Not a bad way for a racing fan to spend a lunch hour on a Friday.

    These are all things that Indycar could use to its advantage in its effort to increase attendance.

  19. Joe Heitzler's Caddy Says:

    I think the NFL or College football should start putting on games in city streets. Take the game to the people.

    Maybe have some beer gardens and some volleyball games going on too, while the game is going on.

    Street football. Its worked so well for Indy Style Racing. You can even lie about the attendance, and nobody will ever know.

  20. After almost passing out at Indy, seeing a guy barf his guts out behind me (a reeaallly bad phobia of mine), and the interminable hours waiting for George to post his blogs in the Media Center, I still can’t wait for the next Indy. Ask George about making him pick strawberries in Portland, TN in 90 degree heat while singing “Old Man River” (George singing, not me –he actually has quite a nice voice) on the way back. Indy is an event–I know the other tracks can’t compete with the event status of Indy, but I sure would like to see them give it a try–more promotions and the like.
    I also still love to see my beloved Titans play in the stadium (ditto the above experiences–minus the barf and add spitting–I seem to be a magnet for people wishing to release bodily fluids in public). I look forward to seeing live sports.
    Remember when people used to dress up to fly in an airplane (Mad Men and the movie–Catch Me If You Can show this well)? It was an event! Maybe it is society as a whole these days, nothing is a big deal anymore. Sad, but true.

  21. Was a huge mistake walking away from Surfers Paradise and crowds of 350k for the event. Great race, amazing location for the series.

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