It’s All About Having Choices

In my day job, a big part of my job is to oversee disputes between some of the different departments I work with, and whenever possible – manage compromises. Sometime and somewhere in the early part of my career, someone told me that the definition of a successful compromise is when all parties walk away mad. I’m not sure that I subscribe to that theory, but if that’s the case – the policy for managing attendance for this year’s Indianapolis 500 has been a rousing success.

First of all, let me set the record straight. I was wrong. I fully believed that the postponed 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 would be run with full stands. In all honesty, I really thought this pandemic would be pretty much an afterthought by the Fourth of July. Some states and cities opened up in late April and by early June there were no notable up-ticks in cases. By mid-June, that had changed.

This is not a political statement and some will disagree with it, but I fully believe that if thousands upon thousands did not protest side-by-side beginning around the end of May – we would not be seeing these up-ticks. But…that’s just one person’s opinion. I’m old-school and I believe I’m still entitled to that without being publicly shamed and silenced. So this is where we are, with up-ticks in several parts of the country.

I owe a couple of people tenderloins and/or a beer. To the commenter that goes by “Big Mac” – you were right…partially. You said the “500” would not be run with a full compliment of fans. You said it would be run with either no fans or a significantly reduced number of fans. I’m not sure if a not quite 50% reduction was your definition of significant, but I’ll give it to you. If you are on the grounds this August, I’ll buy you a beer too.

In case you haven’t heard, IMS President Doug Boles announced the plan for reducing the number of fans for the Indianapolis 500. About 175,000 tickets have already been sold for the August event. For those of us that have had tickets in-hand, we have all been given choices. If we do nothing by July 6, our order will be cut in half (my four tickets would automatically be scaled down to two). All of us are guaranteed at least 50% of our tickets, although I’m not sure what they do for odd-numbered ticket orders. You may request a smaller number than your original order or even your full order. But all that will be guaranteed is that you’ll get at least half. The last option is to choose to not go at all and get a credit toward other IMS events, including the 2021 Indianapolis 500, without disrupting your seniority level with your seats.

I have requested three of my four in the same general vicinity as my Stand A tickets. I’m hopeful of getting the third. Usually, Susan’s son takes two of our four and brings a friend each year. If we get the third, he’ll go but with no friend. If we don’t, her son stays home (sorry, Eric).

When I first read this, I thought it was a fair and equitable plan. My fear was that they would honor seniority levels much higher than mine and leave me out in the cold. This is my eighteenth year in a row to buy tickets through IMS, which is nothing compared to those that have held the same seats for generations. I originally started buying my own tickets in the early nineties, but gave up my tickets two years into The Split. I started over in 2003.

When I read the reaction from all ends of the spectrum, I found very few people that felt like I did. The Coronaphobes and the Maskovites are angry on many different levels. Some of them say it shouldn’t take place at all. Others want no fans present, while some say it should only be 20-25% full. They claim that this plan is too permissive and the stands will be way too full and will put everyone at risk. The mask brigade is outraged that even though fans will be given masks; they will only be encouraged, but not made mandatory. To read their accounts, you’d think that Roger Penske and Doug Boles have practically guaranteed death to all that attend. I actually saw one person say that Roger Penske was going to have blood on his hands. Really??

On the other end of the spectrum, there are those unreasonable fans that would have gone even it meant playing Russian Roulette at the gate. They are furious that some of their traditional groups that have been sitting together for generations will not get to attend this year. They are outraged that Roger Penske has allegedly gone back on his word, when he proclaimed that it will be run with fans or will not be run at all. They say they drew the line too soon and didn’t give the virus time to subside. They say a month from now, things could be a lot different.

Some will say I’m wishy-washy or that I’m a Penske and/or IMS apologist; but I’m just not sure what else people expected.

Maybe I’m just selfish because the plan introduced on Friday guarantees that Susan and I will get to attend. This is a plan that doesn’t favor those that have been buying tickets for thirty-five consecutive years or more. If you are buying tickets for the first year and had them in-hand, you will still get to go – just with not as many in your group and perhaps not where you thought you would be sitting.

Under this plan, the Speedway doesn’t decide who goes and who doesn’t. We get to decide. It wasn’t hard to jettison an unnamed friend from our group. If we only get two of our four, we get to decide that Eric is the odd-man out – not IMS.

If a bunch of people have been buying tickets for years and go together, you have some tough discussions to deal with amongst you– but at least your group gets to make the decision. It could have been that your whole group was excluded.

This plan also takes into account that many will not feel comfortable in attending, but don’t want to let their money invested go to waste. For those, they can choose to sit this one out for safety reasons and it will cost them nothing. They can apply those funds as a credit for next year’s race and they keep their seniority.

When details were released on Friday, it was mentioned that those over sixty-five may consider not going. Unbelievably, I saw a complaint on social media of age-discrimination because this particular person was over seventy and wanted to go, but the track wouldn’t let him. When other commenters pointed out what the release actually said, he argued and said he knows what he read. IMS might be justified in barring this person due to stupidity, but not for age.

My middle brother has indicated he and his wife will most likely not attend. They are both over sixty-five and think this will be a good one to sit out. That is his personal choice and decision and that’s fine. My oldest brother is seventy, and currently he plans on going – although he doesn’t sound as enthusiastic as I am. It wouldn’t surprise me if he opted out this year too. That’s his choice. That’s the beauty of this plan, we all get to make choices.

Rather than making decisions for us, IMS officials have given us many choices, but some don’t seem to like that. Many IndyCar journalists that have been very public with their opinions on the dangers of fan attendance, ran polls over the weekend on whether or not fans planned to attend. They made public comments on the droves of people they had heard from that didn’t feel safe and would not be going. I’m sure they were shocked that each poll showed more than 50% said they would go, while less than 25% said they wouldn’t – with the remainder saying they were undecided.

I was also very surprised to see how many people thought the whole event should be cancelled. This wasn’t because they feared an outbreak of the virus, but because it just wouldn’t be the same in August. It’s well-documented how much I hate change, but what planet are these people on where that is an acceptable option?

I’m also bewildered by how many want to push it back to October. If you’ve listened to Trackside in the past couple of weeks, you’ve heard Kevin Lee make a very good point. He says if you can do it in August, you do it in August. If you push it back to October and something happens in the meantime, you can’t push it back any further. I’ve been to Indianapolis in November. It’s not conducive to racing. They need to run it in August.

Doug Boles and Roger Penske have given us choices, in fact – plenty of choices. We can agree to cut our orders in half, we can scale them back some (as I have), we can try to get our full compliment of tickets, or we can choose to stay home and not cost us anything other than the joy of being there. I suppose there are some who want it all, then there are those who think we are all too reckless to be given the responsibility to think for ourselves. They want the Speedway to make the decision for us, and they want that decision to be far more restrictive than what was given to us.

The only problem I have with anything that we learned on Friday is that the race broadcast will still be blacked out in the Indianapolis area and shown that night. Seriously? The original reason for the blackout was to encourage fans in the area to attend. This year, they are trying to limit attendees by giving people reasons to not attend. How does blacking out the broadcast reach that objective? Being selfish, I always enjoy going to the race, then watching the replay in our hotel room that night. But I understand everyone’s angst on this topic. I’m hopeful that those in charge will give this another look and rethink their decision.

Other than that, I’ve got no complaints about the plan that IMS officials have come up with. It is a daunting task to review each order and determine how or how not to make the requested changes in less than two months is mind-boggling. I wondered how they would do it if they had to cut attendance, and I never thought of this method, but to me it seems fair and I think they should be given credit for coming up with something that affects everyone across the board. It has also given choices to every single ticket holder. That’s all we could hope for. It must be a very good compromise, because people from each end of the spectrum are complaining about it.

George Phillips

18 Responses to “It’s All About Having Choices”

  1. I don’t get all the anger. Like most businesses, and people, they’re making the best decisions they can under strange circumstances. Personally, I would like to see the TV blackout lifted for this year so I could watch the race live.

  2. The good part of the plan is that they are allowing those who are still afraid of crowds to get a credit for next years race. I think if they had left it at that all would be good. The bad part is making everyone respond to their letter/e-mail and threaten everyone with potentially losing seats. I really don’t think that was necessary.

    The national reaction to this escapee from the China biolab has been pretty extreme. But allowing those in the group most at risk and concerned about attending the race this year to use their ticket money toward the 2021 race would have been the perfect solution. Thousands of at risk fans would have taken them up on it. Maybe even to that 50% level. And those not in that group would not have been affected. I wish it would have stopped there.

    Rehire Brad Hockaday

  3. Like Jesus said , you can’t please everyone all the time. When both parties leave a negotiated compromise unsatisfied it’s normally a good settlement. There was no negotiations between ticket holder and ticket issuer in this case . IMS has unilaterally made new rules.

    Every year I purchase my tickets on the secondary market , ticket broker or EBay etc. I prefer to try different viewing locations following years of sitting in the same seats. IMS ticket office has advised me the tickets I currently have in hand are now invalid for the August 23 date. Even though I have tickets issued by IMS the ticket office advises I need to go back to.the person who originally purchased the tickets from IMS for redress. This I feel is unfair. If the race took place in May IMS would have honored the tickets regardless from whom they were purchased . Now the hundreds if not thousands of ticket holders need to go back and try to arrange a resolution with the third party seller.good luck with that. Third parties are still listing tickets for sale on EBay.

    I am not an attorney and don’t play one,I don’t know Indiana Consumer Fraud law . I am sure IMS attorneys have researched this issue however I assume there will be some litigation over the new ticketing plan

    Tickets I purchased issued by IMS are now deemed invalid and will not be honored at the gate. I will need to try to find redress from a third party seller who bought and then sold the tickets to me in good faith . Sour grapes on my part …. You bet.

    I am over 65 and if able to get valid tickets will attend the race .

    I assume the 50% reduction only applies to spectators and not vendors , crews, media etc

  4. Really upset with IMS decision to still blackout the Indy 500

  5. I believe the rule with the blackout is it’s on for now, but if IMS sells out their new ticket allotment of 175,000 they will lift it.
    I don’t think they’ll sell out though.

  6. Big Mac Says:

    George, thanks for your gracious response and your offer to buy me a beer. Alas, I will not be able to accept, since I won’t be at IMS in August. With that said, unfortunately I’m going to have to disagree with you on this issue as well. I think that IMS’s plan is terrible.

    I’m generally in favor of giving people choices instead of telling them what to do. My personal politics lean pretty strongly libertarian. But giving people choices rests on the concept that they’ll be the ones who are primarily affected by their own choices, for good or for bad. And that’s just not how it is with highly infectious diseases. Let’s suppose that R0, the transmission factor that we read so much about, is 0.95, so that if 1000 people are infected with COVID-19 as a result of attending the “500,” they’ll give it to an additional 950 people, more or less, and those 950 people will give it to another 950 * 0.95 = 902.5 people, on average, and they’ll give it to another 902.5 * 0.95 = 857.4 people, and so on. The total number of people who would become infected in this chain? 20,000. In other words, 95 percent of the people in this chain who are infected with COVID-19 would be people who didn’t attend the “500.” Instead, most of them will be people like an attendee’s wife’s hairstylist’s brother’s Uber driver’s grandma. In situations like this, it’s simply not sufficient to rely on letting people make their own decisions and bear the consequences, because the vast majority of the consequences will be borne by others. And that’s why it’s important to figure out how many people can attend the “500” safely, and then to limit attendance to that number. To my chagrin, it doesn’t appear that IMS has done this, as I’ll explain in a minute.

    But first, let me explain what I meant by a “significant” reduction in the number of fans. I wasn’t precise about that, but here’s what I had in mind. Suppose you have a section of grandstand with 10 rows and 10 seats in each row, for a total of 100 seats. In order to maintain six feet of space in every direction, I think you can have one person in every third seat, in every third row. In rows 1, 4, 7 and 10, someone would be in seats 1, 4, 7 and 10. That’s a total of 16 seats occupied, or 16 percent, so I concluded that it should be possible to permit roughly 16 percent of capacity to attend. Now, I allowed for the possibility that someone might come up with a cleverer scheme than this that might permit attendance at 20-25 percent of capacity, but it was hard for me to see how to permit attendance at a much higher level that would be safe. Over time, that figure seemed to be roughly consistent with data I was seeing elsewhere. Just to pick one recent example, the Cubs announced that they hope to permit as many as 8000 fans to attend games at Wrigley Field by the end of the season, which would be a little below 20 percent of capacity.

    Given that, when I saw that IMS announced that it was planning to run the “500” at 50 percent of capacity, I didn’t want to make any immediate declarations, but I was very skeptical because I simply did not see how that could be consistent with social distancing. I found my answer Friday evening, in Robin Miller’s column: “Asked about social distancing, [Mark] Miles replied: ‘It’s too early, that’s why we’ve got to find out how many are coming. I could give one answer if it was 50,000 and another if it was 125,000….’” In other words, if they run at 50 percent of capacity, which would take us to about 125,000 people in the grandstands, it sounds like they’re just going to ignore social distancing. Maybe additional information will come out in the near future that leads me to retract this, but given what I know now, I think this is a bass-ackward approach to decision-making, I think it’s irresponsible, and I’m truly astonished that Roger Penske would sign onto this. I think this proposal is unfair to ticket buyers who are being asked to make commitments to keep their seats or not without knowing whether IMS will observe social distancing guidelines or not. And I think it’s really, really unfair to those who won’t even attend the race, but could be sickened or die as a result of the increase in downstream infections that could result from implementation of this plan, so I can’t endorse it.

    Now, I used the word “could” twice in that sentence. It’s possible that, as Miles suggested, most ticket holders will decide not to exercise their options to attend and attendance will be low enough to permit social distancing (although even a race limited to 15-25 percent attendance may not be safe, since attendees will be encouraged but not required to wear masks). Moreover, even if the race is held with 50 percent attendance, it will be held outside. The risk of transmission appears to be considerably lower outside, so I think there is a very good chance that permitting 125,000 fans to attend the “500” without maintaining social distancing may not lead to an explosion in cases. Things may turn out for the best. But I don’t think we have anything close to the degree of confidence in that conclusion that would justify staking hundreds of lives on it. As I keep saying, one thing we know for sure about this virus is that we don’t know much about this virus.

    • S0CSeven Says:

      I’m not eloquent enough to respond to this but …….. wow!
      You’ve nailed it.

    • Hey Big Mac, I think you must’ve gone to public schools, because you have a SERIOUS math problem! 0.95 is LESS THAN ONE PERCENT, which means if 1000 individuals are “infected,” at a 0.95 “transmission rate” they would only infect another 9 people NOT 950!!! One percent of 1000 is 10!!!!!! 0.95 is LESS THAN ONE PERCENT!!!! So that pretty much destroys your entire diatribe.

      Maybe that’s the problem here; most folks don’t know how to do basic math any longer!

    • Oh my, I just got through another paragraph with hideous mathematics! You DO know the seats are 14 inches wide, right? And you want six feet in between everyone and you say every third seat will accomplish that? Uh, no, to have fans six feet from each other requires them to be FIVE seats away from each other. Six feet is 72 inches, five seats add up to 70 inches.

      There goes another argument….

      • Two things:

        1) You have comprehensively misunderstood the concept of R0, the basic reproduction number of an infectious disease. It doesn’t refer to the total number of people that get sick (like you propose by saying that an R0 of 0.95 means that 0.95% of the total people exposed get sick…), it refers to the number of people that each infected person goes on to infect. R0 of 0.95 means that 95% of the people who are infected go on to infect another person (an R0 of 1.0 would mean that every infected person infects exactly one other person). Big Mac’s numbers are correct.

        2) Big Mac laid out a simplified model of what an occupancy matrix would look like with a 10 seat by 10 row section (are there any actual sections of seats like that at IMS?) with 36″ wide seats and 36″ deep rows. You are correct in that actual seats and rows at IMS are much smaller than that…..and the result is that they’d have to leave even MORE than 2 out of every 3 seats empty to provide correct social distancing. Given a 14″ wide seat and 24″ deep rows, you’re about correct, 5 out of every 6 seats would have to be left open, or no more than 17% occupancy. Given this, I think Big Mac is again correct, that 50% occupancy is awfully optimistic, and 20-25% occupancy is probably about right, if you can plot out where people within the same group have no spaces between each other, but then 6′ in every direction to other groups.

  7. Bruce B Says:

    This event will really dictate what happens to permissible football crowds this fall.

  8. I released my entire set of 4 tickets in E stand for this year. The IMS plan worked to my benefit because I was likely going to just eat the cost of the tickets and not go for this year. Now I at least get a credit toward my 2021 tickets.

    Also, as an FYI – “This is my eighteenth year in a row to buy tickets through IMS, which is nothing compared to those that have held the same seats for generations.” — If you transfer seats from a deceased individual to the next generation they reset your seniority (you keep the seats, but the new ticket holder only has 1 year of seniority for upgrade purposes).

  9. More time that passes I think Tony George made the deal of his life cashing out at the start of 2020 .

  10. billytheskink Says:

    I would be surprised if the blackout is not ultimately lifted regardless of how many people plan to/are allowed to attend, surely NBC would prefer it and lifting it would put IMS in the good graces with both the network and the local fans. They even have a ready and acceptable excuse for bringing it back next year. The only thing besides the gate that the blackout protects is the radio broadcast… is it really worth that much to IMS?

  11. SkipinSC Says:

    As I posted to a couple of different sites, I had put my two tickets up on StubHub the day before the IMS announcement. Obviously, this works for me. I am 66, hypertensive, diabetic, and borderline COPD. I have survived the slings, arrows, and dirty looks when I don’t wear a mask. If it was me by myself, I’d be going, even though IMS
    didn’t give me either my first or second choice.

    My fiancée, however, has mobility issues and the walking, stair climbing and such that is involved in a trip to the race is probably a little beyond her capability for this year. She’s getting stronger every day, but if I can get credit towards my purchase for next year’s race, I’m all over that idea. She gets an extra year to get stronger for her first 500, and we’ll be in Indiana the previous weekend for my 50th high school reunion, so we have extra reason to be in the neighborhood.

    If all had gone as planned with full stands for the August date, I would have attempted to upgrade my seats to something a little better through StubHub, but now, I can move us to a better location at the ticket office’s direction when 2021 tix go on sale

  12. Another major concern is, Will fans keep a separation. For instance IMS may spread out the ticket allotment in each stand but people will move and gravitate to a better view in that stand.

  13. three things:
    1. “Sometime and somewhere in the early part of my career, someone told me that the definition of a successful compromise is when all parties walk away mad.” this is the quote i like: “the best deals are when each side feels slightly screwed”.
    2. ” As I keep saying, one thing we know for sure about this virus is that we don’t know much about this virus.” but i know i will start paying more attention to Big Mac.
    3. agree with Bruce B: an August race will set the attendance pace.

  14. James T Suel Says:

    I did not really like what they have done, however given the circumstances I guess it was the best solution. I have two seats in the penthouse of stand B. Hopeful I can keep them. Another concern of mine is my pit and garage credentials for the month. Will they allow people not directly with a team those privileges..

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