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Declining attendance forcing Speedway to make changes

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Three days after witnessing the smallest Brickyard 400 crowd in the race's 17-year history, Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Jeff Belskus said he intends to cut ticket prices for about 75 percent of fans at next year's race.

"I can't deny that having as many empty seats as we had (Sunday) is a disappointment to me," he said. "But we have a lot of people here and a lot of opportunity here to rebuild this event and bring it back. It's going to take the full effort of everyone here at the speedway and at NASCAR."

Belskus' immediate plan calls for tiered pricing, which will cut prices up to $20 for seats closer to the track where sight lines are not as good. The coveted higher seats will cost more. He also plans to cut general admission prices, used for the first time this year, from $40 to $30 for advance purchase, and he will retain the new policy of allowing fans 12 and younger into the infield for free with a paying adult.

The changes are a major shift for a venue long on tradition and steeped in history.

The track that once had the toughest ticket in town and that still bills its signature race, the Indianapolis 500, as the highest-drawing single-day sporting event in the world, is now adapting to the reality of a steady decline in attendance.

Empty seats have become a regular feature of the Indy 500 and some team owners have complained track and series officials didn't do enough to promote this year's race. Track officials have never said how many seats the speedway holds, though estimated attendance for the 500 is traditionally 250,000 to 275,000.

Formula One also saw its numbers dwindle following a tire debacle in 2005 and left Indy for good in 2007.

Now, NASCAR has joined the downward trend.

After drawing approximately 270,000 fans to the 2008 race, the year of NASCAR's own tire fiasco, attendance dropped to an estimated 180,000 last year and 140,000 on Sunday. Race organizers point out this year's Brickyard numbers still rank among the three highest-attended races on the Cup circuit in 2010, and it could be higher.

"We had a lot of people here and I'm telling you that when I see the graphic on whatever newscast I'm looking at that the Daytona 500 had 175,000 people there, I'd like to debate that one with anybody," Belskus said. "I know how many seats they have. We have almost double the capacity."

But 13 months after Belskus replaced longtime track CEO Tony George, are things getting any better for one of the world's greatest and most versatile race tracks?

"Between 2008 and 2009, we saw a pretty good revenue decline here, and so far, in 2010, we've been steady with 2009 so I think we've seen a bottom here," Belskus said before Sunday's race.

On Wednesday, Belskus revised the estimate, saying revenue is now projected to be "down a tick" from last year.

Even the possibility of history being made by Helio Castroneves and Chip Ganassi at the 500, and Ganassi, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon at the 400 couldn't fill the grandstands.

So Belskus and his team are still facing major challenges.

Belskus implemented the 12-and-under-free policy in hopes of attracting a new generation of race fans.

"I think we need to get young people into the sport," team owner Roger Penske said last weekend. "They're playing soccer and hockey and lacrosse and we've got to get kids here. My dad brought me to my first race here (Indy) in '51, and I'm not sure if that hooked me or not. But we've got to get kids here, that's for sure."

And Belskus would consider adding a fourth race to the track schedule.

The Indy 500 isn't going anywhere, and Belskus has no doubt NASCAR will return in 2011. In fact, tickets are already being sold for the Cup race.

Next month, the Indianapolis MotoGP will return to the speedway for the third time, and the two sides are already working on an extension to the three-year contract that expires this year. Track officials also have done away with the three-day ticket package requirements from the past two years in favor of single-day tickets.

That may not be all, either.

"We've had conversations with the Grand Am folks, F1 is always on everybody's mind though at this point they're heading to Texas," Belskus said. "We've not had any conversations about a second NASCAR race, but if we can find events that fans will attend, we'll look at them."

But the biggest concern is whether the track has been left behind by a 21st century perfect storm — more races in the Midwest, the economy crisis and HD television, which allows fans to see more racing on television than it does at the speedway.

Penske says no.

But Belskus' challenge is winning back the fans who have made Indy one of the most prestigious tracks in racing.

"I think to blame it all on the economy is not appropriate, but the economy is certainly part of it," he said. "I don't know if we had become complacent with things, that may be the word, but we have to ramp up our efforts."

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  • Back then, the "specticle" was the Race ...
    I looked forward to the Indianapolis 500 since 1961 -- the "greatest specticle in motor racing" !!

    Today, the race isn't the same. It's difficult to analyize because the changes occurred gradually but, thanks to ESPN's rebroadcast of previous 500s, these changes are pretty obvious.

    1. The announcing it's race-oriented anymore. We used to have good, knowledgable
    announcers who knew Indy, the drivers, the track, "what was happening". Their focus was on reporting. Now, even the anchormen seemed to be more concered with the proper lead-in to the next commercial then keeping their viewers informed of the race. Can anyone name the names of any of the field reporters anymore ?? There used to be a great crew of remote reporters and you trusted their reporting. It was short, concise, to-the-point, and informative. Today, these "talking heads" seem to have come from the "info-mercial school of broadcasting". Bobby Unser knew what was happening and told you so. Now, even the ex-racer reporters appear to be using this race as a stepping stone to a better reporting job. The reporting is weak and ineffectial -- I usually watch it on TV, but listen to it on radio because the radio reporting is so much better ( and has fewer commercials ). If you replaced every one of these "news analysist" every year, I wouldn't know the difference -- for all I know, they do !!

    2. I never realized how much the stands have grown !! They have so many new stands that they now block the long-familiar camera angles and sometimes, you can't even tell what race you're watching. Why did they replace the pit bleachers with a great big "blockhouse" ??? ( What a classy move !! ) Racing seems to have gotten greedy and expanded, expanded, expanded to the point that it just deluted the enterprise to mediocrity -- or should I say "media-ocrity" -- and the focus is "money paying bodies". The "more bodies", the more money we make !!!!!

    3. Commercials !! Whenever ABC, NBC, or CBS broadcasts an event it's to make money and they do this by charging money for advertisers to show their commercials. The bigger the event, the costlier the ads. These media outlet don't care if it's an American Holiday event that has been since almost the turn of the century. They see it as a "golden opportunity" to "cash in". The constant ads and breakaways to "informa us" destroy the concentration and joy of watching the race. ABC, NBC, and CBS don't care !! They haul in their remote trucks and run their cables and put some idiot MTV graduate in the control booth who "just has to" change the picture every 10 seconds or he looks as if he's not doing his job and we get a discumbobulated, incoherant mess of anticipated media event. This race isn't run by racing people or people who enjoy racing anymore. It's run by "money grubbers" who want to cash in.

    4. Indy isn't a soap opera !! It's a real-time, 500 mile long racing event. It used to be the ONLY real-time 500 mile race but NASCAR shows the same stuff almost every weekend. Instead of trying to keep the "flavor" of Indy distinct and familial, the powers-that-be have tried to compete with lessor events: bigger crowds, more expensive tickets, more TV PR ("just like NASCAR" ). Instead of keeping it the same "good 'ol race" they've "fixed it"!! Need I say more ??

    5. When it was a "one-of-a-kind" race, you had a series of broadcasts that led up to the big event. "Pole day", "carburation day", long events with limited commercial interruption that led up the big day. Today,
    these events are preempted by another golf game !! ( I would bet my butt that the program director is a golf nut !! ) This sort of "off-hand" treatment by the TV media does absolutely nothing to promote the race.
    ( Golf occurs EVERY WEEKEND !! Indy ONCE A YEAR !! ) Duh !!

    6. The speeds. Racing used to be dangerous !! You couldn'r help but admire the guys that wold jump into those cars, drive flat out, and possibly DIE in the attempt to win !! THAT was the "spectical". Nowadays, a car crashes and the driver may ruin his manicure, jump back in his LearJet, and fly to the next race. A crash used to be a very serious thing. Now, it's a "Yellow flag" and "roll the commercials !!!".

    It isn't really a "race" anymore, it's much more like an endurance contest. The vehicles have the ability to travel much faster but "God Forbid" one of these millionare racig drivers get banged up. Their lawyers would have a fit !!! It's not a race anymore, it's a 2 1/2 hour, high-speed, expensive "safe-driving" event. No thrills, no chills. Just "good hair" and LearJets. I'm not our for blood, but when a female from the University of Michigan can drive the race, finish it, and say "It was easy -- I drove with one hand !!", it's TOO EASY !! Anyway, aren't these guys supossed to be "macho men" ?? Aren't they supossed to be tougher and stronger than the average Joe ?? Limiting the horsepower is limiting the excitment. That why I still enjoy drag racing. The top classes run unlimited horsepower so that the best driver, or the best crew, or maybe even the luckiest guy wins, but they run as fast as they can ! Indy "sandbags" everything and the race excitment is gone !

    Race day used to mean a 3 hour block of uninterrupted attention: the "race" was on !!
    Everything was geared to a once-a-year event.
    Now, it's just another 3-hour TV show -- like baseball, or a good golf match. Sometimes I think I'd rather see Indy run with 33 equally prepared 68 Volkswagons and let the best driver win -- at least I'd some strategy and I woldn't get the "same 'o", "same 'o", "same 'o" vanilla open-car stuff.

    No, Indy "ain't the same" !!. The individual is gone. You've got to have "big money", "big sponsor-ship", big everything to compete nowadays and all this extra everything has led to a boring, over-commercialized event that has lost it's "specticality". It's more and more looking like a common "spec".
  • American GREED
    Tracks like Chicago Speedway are guilty of changing racing. Who wants to be forced to buy all the tracks event tickets to see the one race YOU want? Track Pack? Who's kidding who? Die Chicago, die.Forget TV coverage running the show.........more greed.Drivers getting multi-million dollar checks are also guilty. Racing just is not what it used to be.Until it changes back the fans will find something else to be entertained,no doubt!
  • IRL Road Race
    I would love to see a second IRL road race using the F1 part of the track. I'm also in favor of the Grand Am or the American Le Mans.

    It might be neat to do a 12 hour ALM race at the track. It's a different customer.
  • unfriendly fan experience.
    I arrived at the Speedway at 6:40AM to park in the North 40. Was told by police to "doodle around" park on a side street because they were not letting you into a lot until 7. WHY? Why not get the traffic off the streets? At 7, I returned and they tried to force me to park in the infield which I will never do again because it takes forever to get out. I was then told parking in the North 40 is only for employees. A LIE since i have parked there many times. When I left the race, I drove past the North 40 and it was full of public parking. So by 8AM, I finally got parked in the Coke lot after trying to just get parked for 80 minutes. No wonder why traffic is so bad for the 500. I am tired of being hassled by IMS employees that have no idea what they are doing. I paid 150 a ticket for penthouse tickets and did not mind but the experience outside the track leaves me in doubt on whether i will ever return.
  • 20 years from now...
    NASCAR will be a 20 race semi-pro series at OLD or semi-old tracks like Daytona, Bristol, Charlotte, Atlanta, Richmond, Las Vegas, Texas, and New Hampshire. Gone will be the 1.5s, all bulldozed years before, the road courses (reverted back to club racing venues), and tracks that just could not hold on anymore in the ne environment such as Pocono, Michigan, Fontana, Homestead, and IMS. Indy Car racing will have died long ago, back in 2012. A start-up aimed at reviving the sport in 2014 will have sputtered along at dusty, weed-infested tracks like Phoenix, Iowa, and Homestead for three seasons before goign the way of the old American Indycar Series. In 2035, we will read about Life After Racing as the sport will have ended altogether, save for hobbyist activity in the form of Vintage and Goodwood type gatherings.
  • Note to Stacy
    Stacy - ESPN is only showing 3 of the 17 cup races on broadcast TV (ABC) this year. A greedy tragedy, if you ask me.
  • Good Comments
    Mostly great comments here. I gave up my seats at $140 each when the person that i took, refused to pay. Yes row B of the "deck" were good seats and it was 20 degrees cooler up there BUT it was barely worth half of that price.

    A 24 Hour sports car race would be cool, on Labor Day weekend! Have a carnival $30 seats and $20 GA. It would not be full but it would be a party. Would love to see the sun coming up and see race cars at the same time.
  • No longer fan friendly
    We had greats seats from the first race on and we gave them up a couple of years ago. Too expensive and they kept changing the race time. They moved it from Saturday which was perfect on a non-holiday weekend and kept scheduling it later in the day on Sunday. By the time the race starts it is in the hotest part of the day. All the changes were for network television coverage. Guest what ABC broadcasted it on ESPN and not on network this year. All those changes for nothing. Make it more fan friendly and popular and network will broadcast the race whenever it runs.
  • Zzzzz
    Great effort by the Speedway to identify the problems....but I believe they (as usual) miss the most important points they need to tackle: the racing SUCKS.

    Nothing has captured the interest of the fans recently...maybe the safety cell can do it. Smirk...

  • Declining attendance
    The Speedway should work with the convention and visitors association and promote Hotel and track packages and market them all over the south. It would help
  • Hmmm
    I've always been surprised how IMS doesn't view or treat their customers like customers. They act like we're lucky to have a ticket.
  • What they just don't understand is
    If they reduce the price of a ticket by one hundred percent, the place will still be more than half empty. Too many seats for a sport that is returning to third-tier, niche status. Make it a 100,000 seat facility and hope for the best. And they may not even get a hundred thousand fannies in there! Racing is overwith as a major player in sports. People have moved on. Ten years from now it will be so far off the radar screen it will be liek where the WoO is today. Has a core group of fans that follows it religously, but 99 percent of the sports public doesn't even know it exists and major media doesn't care. That is where all of auto racing is headed. So give it up. The sport had its years and is going the way of the minor league.
  • It's not for the fans at the track!!
    Move the race back to Satuarday like it was orginally!!! The Indy track is know for good times and who wants to drink beverages and go to work the next day. Thats if you have a job and can afford the $100 plus for tickets that you can't see all the way around the track. If you are not from the area you have to take a vacation day on top of the high dollar tickets. If you want people to come to the track make it friendly to the fans not the TV!!!!!
  • Grand-Am, that's funny!
    This clearly shows how out of touch with reality the IMS management continues to be. Grand-Am isn't a draw at any venue. At best, it's a cheap support race. Now, if they want to think out of the box, why not run the 400 on the IMS road course? That would spark some fan interest and the racing would be worth paying to watch.
  • under lights
    I agree with the article the other day suggesting put the Brickyard 400 under lights. It would really be special and the heat would be less of an issue. On how to get young people interested, I would suggest more interactive features. Like free racing simulators or low cost ones, and a building devoted for such activities. Also NASCAR is over exposed. You are watching a race and every commercial has one of the drivers pushing some product. The sponsers would be fine in my opinion to leave the racing connection out. They are good race car drivers, not good product pushers.
  • It's the Economy
    To you White Collar , six figure a year people scratching your heads at the Indy Speedway. If Blue Collar workers have been hit hardest by this economy. Who do you think attends Brickyard 400 and the other races?! If we can't afford to feed and cloth our kids what make you think we will spend money at your race track. Come on it doesn't take Eistein to figure this one out. Cut the prices offer free family events till things get better. That is how you win back your fans.

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