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Speedway officials seek new ways to attract fans

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles keeps looking for ways to fill seats.

He just had a full weekend of NASCAR and sports car races leading up to the Brickyard 400. He's kept motorcycles on the summer schedule at Indy and added road races and vintage car races. He's hired headline bands for concerts and camped inside the historic venue. But every year the challenge of keeping racing fans engaged gets a little tougher.

Race organizers increasingly compete against other sports and children's events while trying to get the fan dollars in a still-tough economy.

Boles is sticking to his master plan.

"I think our focus last year and more so this year was how do we make the fan experience really great," Boles said after Sunday's Brickyard 400. "We want to make sure it's a great experience, and we believe that if we can deliver that, we can deliver on putting fans in the seats."

Even in the self-proclaimed racing capital of the world and in a city that seems to embrace nearly every sporting event in town, it's tough.

Formula One pulled Indy off its schedule as attendance figures dropped following the 2005 tire-marred debacle. On Sunday, race organizers covered up some of the expected empty seats at the Brickyard but still had tens of thousands empty. In two weeks, MotoGP riders who have frequently complained about Indy's road-course surface will get their first shot on the track's new road course configuration in front of what they hope will be a bigger crowd. Even the track's signature event, the Indianapolis 500, has struggled to sell out the estimated 225,000 seats.

While Indy ranks at or near the top of the most attended races in IndyCar, Cup and MotoGP, Boles is convinced he can win his race to bring more fans to the track.

He points to the uptick in infield ticket sales for the Brickyard 400 on a rainy weekend even though those tickets are cheaper and allow children 12 and under to get in for free with a paying adult. The estimated crowd was about 85,000.

Some argue that moving the Brickyard to Indy's road course would help. A year ago, many of those same people thought the solution would be making the Brickyard a night race.

Boles doesn't buy it.

"I think everyone agrees that Indianapolis Motor Speedway under lights would be really cool. But it's hard to make that case from a business sense," Boles said when asked about adding lights to the track. "It would take an estimated $20 to $25 million to do it and that's on the low end.

"Our brand is, especially with IndyCar and NASCAR, on ovals, so I think it would be difficult to move it to the road course, too," he added.

Drivers don't want to see major changes, either.

"You have to get it done with a great racecar. You do it on restarts. You have to have good pit stops, pit strategy," five-time Brickyard winner Jeff Gordon said. "The significance of this win at this point in the season, what it does for you as a team, confidence, positioning yourself to try to go win a championship, I don't know how you really rank it. In my opinion, for me personally, this is it. This is as good as it gets."

The key is making fans feel the same way.

So Boles is looking to add bigger concerts and more races to Indy's already busy schedule. He already has The Grand Prix of Indianapolis, an IndyCar road race, on May 9 and the 500 on May 24. He expects the Brickyard to be back in late July, hopes to have a new deal for the 2015 MotoGP race finished by the end of race weekend and is considering adding a September race.

But it's only a start as Boles tries to bring fans back to the track that once served as Indy's biggest social club.

"The one place I was really surprised about was seeing how many people were on the infield mounds (for the Brickyard)," he said. "We put a lot of effort trying to make those a better viewing experience for the fans and it seemed to work."

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  • No the real reason is
    The real reason is IMS cheapened it's legacy by whoring out the speedway to NASCAR, Indy LIGHTS, Motorcycles, F1, Monster Tracks, Hot Wheels Stunts, Vintage Racing, TUDOR, the entire IRL era, and now the Clown Car Series...etc. That lowered the value of the track and it's worth to ANY race fan. Yes, IMS sold it's soul for a quick buck to finance it's ill-fated IRL experiment that has destroyed not only AOW, but the Speedway it's self. So, you can put up all the lights you want...it'll just make it easier for the 3 sided ghetto population to get in the empty tents and campers. To summarize, IMS killed the golden goose...now all youse deep thinkers are hoping "glamping" and some roofing structure will bring back the masses. Well, it won't. But keep spending mega $$$ trying. It's fun to watch all the flailing about....
  • Upgrade IMS
    I've lived in Indianapolis my whole and been to the track 3 times. Once for a Brickyard, once last year on a practice day for Indy 500, and once when I was a high school student to pick up trash for community service. In the past 11 years, I would say while the IMS is a great venue, there are some upgrades that would show that it's changing with the times, just like the city is. First, take out the bleachers and put in individual seats. Kentucky Motor Speedway has individual seats and they look cool. Fix up the restrooms. Add wi-fi. Like others have suggested, look at bringing in concerts leading up to events. Don't just stick with the country music genre. Pop music would work well too I believe. This will attract more young celebrities to the Indy 500 like the kind that go to the Kentucky Derby. Work with Indy Go to increase the frequency of the bus route to the track during high end events. That way people have other options than worrying about where to park and paying for parking. Then after all of this, look at getting night lights. I think the aforementioned strategies are more necessary than night racing at this point in time.
  • Try Advertising ! DUH !
    I am an Indy native and former ticketholder to all three IMS events for several years while in Indy and now 20 years in Fort Wayne. My address had not changed and I see NO marketing material in the mail, NO ads on Fort Wayne TV, No billboards on the interstate traveling to Indy... NO ADVERTISING AT ALL ! Gotta promote and market your product IMS !!!
  • Doing something right
    I have always loved the Indy 500 since my first race at the age of 4 in 1992, so I made sure to bring a group of friends to the race (6 of which had never been). They loved it and were talking about making it an annual get-together as we continue to find jobs scattered across the mid-west. You just can't beat a weekend full of music, patriotism, motor sports, and friends.
  • Additional Suggestions for Mr. Boles
    The quality of the racing entertainment at IMS is unsurpassed by any track. If the ultimate goal is to attract more fans then Boles must make their comfort a top priority. Attending sporting events outside on bare, cramped aluminum with the threat of weather that may be too hot, too cold, too wet or too close to a drunken, smelly fan (probably not wearing a shirt) has become enough of a deterrent for a younger audience that has little trouble finding other things to do. Keep the stands that fill up for Indy and do three things: 1) make them wider, 2) make them deeper, and 3) cover as many of them as you can. Remove the ones that do not sell and install alternative structures such as sponsored party decks, suites designed for smaller groups and not corporations as well as more suites for corporate entities. The new pylon is a remarkable example of maintaining tradition while completely modernizing its function. The entire rest of the track must be saturated with high quality video elements. The non-racing entertainment diversions are absolutely necessary and should be expanded. Based on recent work at the track Boles is probably the ideal guy to lead the charge.
  • Lights
    I agree that lights would add fans. I don't know how many, but if I had to take an educated guess, I would say 30k. The fact is the Brickyard has a lousy date on the schedule. "Most years" the race is just too hot! The race would be more enjoyable at a reasonable temperature. Plus, night races are just plain more suitable for NASCAR. I for one sat in the nasty sun one too many times. If they move it to a Saturday night, I would come back.
  • PPV
    Ok, as a transplant to Indy, I don't have the history with attending races at IMS. I have been to my fair share, but i am not an die hard attendee. I am a die hard TV watcher and have been disappointed for the past 12 years that I can't watch it on TV like I did for the previous 33 years. Indy is a changing populous. Change with the people. Offer pay per view. Then those of us who like to watch the Monaco GP, 500 and Coke 600 can see them all in one day on one of the best racing days in the year. I am becoming less of an Indy Car fan the more it struggles to cater to the fans.
  • Boles Don't Know Jack
    To address the epic failure of attracting race fans to both the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 would take too much of my time to write. Bottom line Boles is clueless and obviously totally out of touch with the real paying fan base. I see nothing but death spin coming for the Brickyard, just like Indy. Get somebody in a place of power that understands what race fans want.
  • Suggestion
    I am a race fan through & through. It doesn't matter if it's Indy cars or Nascar. I love a great race. I go to several other tracks each year and you can see the entire track. I know Indy has tradition, but fans want to see the entire race. I sit in the Penthouse, am almost 60 years old, and would like to see a better TV screen in turn 1 so you can see the entire race. Then I think Indy needs to install an escalator so us old folks can make it up to the Penthouse and down again if we want more options to purchase food and drinks. Just a race fans opinion. Lights won't make the race any better, but you might be able to see the TV better at night. Turn 1's screen needs replaced with a better and bigger screen.
  • Taxes taxes taxes
    The answer is obviously to use tax money to support the track, just like tax money supports all other sports in this cultural backwater.
  • Doin a lot of talkin and no listnin
    If this Boles dude is in charge, the whole thing is going to take a slow slide to nowhere. Does he read any comments people make about this stuff? I don't think so. The track needs innovation. It needs lights. It needs trams transporting those 50+ people around the track. It needs technology. A lighted Brickyard 400 on a Saturday night in conjunction with a CMA type concert, would bring in 350,000. At $100 a seat, that's $35,000,000. Does Boles expect to payoff the lights at one race? This guy has no business sense at all. Get rid of that loser golf course and it into a concert venue. Give the fans a day of country music and then a night race. Don't forget about 50 tractor trams running continuously for free. Just an additional comment. I had tickets for the Brickyard in the penthouse are above turn one. The concession stand was closed. I had to walk 100 steps just to get a beer. This is not how you get people to come back. needless to say, I won't be buying those seats again. Make concession available and easy to access. Boles talks as if a few more people watching from the mounds is going to save this thing. Crazy. They just want the cheapest seat they can find without the torture of sitting in the stands. they needs someone with innovative thoughts and concepts to get this thing back. If they don't and they keep following the likes of Boles, then do us a favor IBJ, quit writing about them.
  • Youth
    The problem is that the average race fan is 50 plus years old. They are right about attracting youthful people, but their strategy is wrong. The track needs a technology center with interactive games, high end racing go cart tracks for all ages, to get the adrenaline pumping. This hammers home the experience of the real drivers and makes it relatable. Even the great history of the museum needs a boost from technology to make the experience more fun. My two cents.

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