Sunny, mild weather this weekend will likely boost the economic impact for this weekend’s MotoGP motorcycle event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Favorable weather could push the economic impact for the three-day MotoGP event up 15 percent, said Tim Frost, president of Frost Motorsports, a Chicago-based motorsports business consultancy.
“This is the type of event that not only draws an international audience, but draws a regional audience of large motorcycle groups who will ride into Indianapolis if the weather is right,” Frost said. “Although the race is run rain or shine, the weather forecast can make all the difference for an event like this from an economic impact standpoint.”
Three days of activities surrounding the race start Friday, and local tourism officials expect more than 100,000 visitors to turn up for the festivities, including the fourth running of the main event, which starts at 2 p.m. Sunday.
IMS officials said they expect attendance to be on par with, or maybe slightly above, what it was for the race last year when the weather was overcast with patchy rain for the three days.
“[On Thursday] we’re already seeing big groups on motorcycles in Speedway,” said IMS spokesman Doug Boles. “The weather is supposed to be good, and that’s significant because the walk-up ticket sales for the MotoGP race are more percentage-wise than we experience for either the Brickyard 400 or Indianapolis 500.”
The Speedway has had some difficulty with declining attendance for the event.
A total of 136,184 spectators attended the three days of action at the Speedway in 2010, with 62,794 attending the feature race, according to MotoGP officials. That fell from 75,130 in 2009, when the combined total for the weekend was 146,680. The three-day total for the first event in 2008 was about 170,000, according to MotoGP officials.
Still, the economic impact to the region is significant, said Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association spokesman Chris Gahl.
“It’s not just the quantity of the visitors, but the quality of the visitors,” Gahl said. “We know this is a very affluent, travel-prone audience. These are the types of people who could steer conventions or other corporate business here. It’s a very appealing audience from an economic and branding standpoint.”
Groups from France, Germany, Australia and Canada are descending on the city, Gahl said.
According to ICVA figures, Indianapolis’ downtown hotel occupancy rate is 80 percent on Friday and 97 percent on Saturday.
“The MotoGP race is definitely pushing those [occupancy] rates,” Gahl said.
Several vendors setting up near the track on Thursday told IBJ they each expect to sell between $150,000 and $200,000 in merchandise during the three-day event.
New attractions this year include the IMS After Dark, which will run from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and feature live bands, fireworks, food and merchandise vendors, motorcycle displays, and demonstrations and other activities.
This will also be the first year that the Speedway’s MotoGP weekend has featured a race for Harley-Davidson motorcycles. This will be the first time a Harley has raced at the IMS since 1909.
This weekend also will mark another first, as Shelina Moreda becomes the first woman to race a motorcycle at the Speedway.
Away from the track, the annual Motorcycles on Meridian event Friday and Saturday nights is expected to draw tens of thousands of bikers downtown each of those nights.
A motorcycle race scheduled for Saturday at the Indiana State Fairgrounds has been canceled because of the fatal stage collapse Aug. 13. The Indy Mile AMA Pro Racing Flat Track Grand National was to be held on the track at the Hoosier Lottery Grandstand, but debris strewn across the area from the stage collapse will prevent the race from being run.
Tourism experts think the Fairgrounds race cancellation will have a minimal impact on the number of visitors to Indianapolis and Speedway this weekend.
Though the ICVA has not yet calculated an economic impact number for the event, motorsports business experts pegged the three-day impact at $25 million to $30 million.
By comparison, the estimated economic impact of the Big Ten Football championship to be played in Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 3 is $17.7 million.
IMS President Jeff Belskus wouldn’t say if the event is profitable, only saying, “It’s a good event for us.”
Part of the event’s appeal for the Speedway, Belskus said, is that it draws “a very different demographic” than the Brickyard 400 or Indianapolis 500.
“It’s another way to increase exposure for our facility,” Belskus said.
The MotoGP is held at the Speedway on a one-year contract, and Boles said the two sides are currently in negotiations to hold the race in 2012.
“We’d certainly like to have this event again,” Boles said. “We hope to have an announcement in September.”