Potential of MotoGP weekend waiting to be unlocked

August 30, 2010
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When a facility like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a capacity of 300,000 plus, it’s easy to get fooled into thinking an event like the MotoGP motorcycle race that draws 50,000 to 75,000 is a failure.

It’s oh so easy to point to all those empty seats, and scream how the event pales in comparison to the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400; the hotels aren’t as full, the restaurants aren’t as busy and the beer doesn’t flow out of area bars quite as quickly as it does for those other events.

As a business reporter, I spend more time downtown and in commercial districts on event weekends than I do at the track. I talk to more hoteliers, restaurant and shop owners than I do gearheads. And the consensus is, no, it’s not the 500 or 400.

But as far as potential for growth goes, I think the MotoGP race has more potential than the other two events at the Speedway combined. And I think local merchants might be realizing the same thing.

If you spent much time at all in the city’s retail commerce centers this past weekend, you can see something is bubbling. And it’s up to city and local convention and tourism folks to take advantage of it. I talked to a group from Ontario that was all geeked up about the race. I talked to a group from Milwaukee (the home of Harley-Davidson), and they just came to mix with other bikers. Some of them weren’t even sure they would go to the race.

The economic impact of the MotoGP weekend is $10 million. That may be a little conservative given that ticket revenue for the event is in the $2 million to $3 million range. It’s easy to forget that the motorcycle race’s economic impact is almost 20 percent of an entire Indiana Pacers season and more than 10 percent of an entire Indianapolis Colts regular season. When you think about it, for a single event, that the city has put just about zero dollars into, that’s pretty impressive.

MotoGP organizers agreed to bring the race back to Indianapolis for at least one more year in 2011. The mayor and his staff should be doing everything they can to help Speedway officials extend the deal.

The MotoGP, with a little TLC, could be much more. Anyone in the event and tourism business knows, the key to maximizing economic impact is to find ways to separate visitors from their money. By making this weekend as much a celebration of motorcycles and the folks whose lifestyle centers around riding them, city officials could double the economic impact of this event.

There’s already a dozen impromptu gatherings of motorcyclists downtown from Friday through Sunday of the MotoGP weekend, most notably on Monument Circle. Several of my gearhead friends come down to the circle with their kids just to check out the bikes. If city officials put some organization behind this, made the circle more of a mall area for the weekend, brought in vendors and more entertainment, the sky is the limit.

I, like just about everyone else in this city not living in a cave, am aware that 13-year-old Peter Lenz died Sunday warming up for a motorcycle race at the Speedway. And I don’t want to seem cold for suggesting a celebration of motorcycling in light of that. Of course, the death of any person, much less a child, is a terrible tragedy.

American MotoGP racer Ben Spies put it best about the death, when he told the Indianapolis Star Sunday, “There's nothing really that can be said right now that's positive.”

But when I was asked on the radio this morning about the death and the wiseness of letting kids so young race motorcycles—or any other vehicles, I harkened back to the early days of the Unser family. Many children in that family raced everything from go-karts to two-wheelers from a very young age. The Unser family is far from alone. Sam Hornish Jr. and Sarah Fisher were but teenagers when they first ran in the Indy Racing League.

It’s part of some people’s and family’s culture and heritage, and who am I—or really anyone—to say it’s wrong.

As an aging competitive cyclist (the non-motorized variety), I often repeat a refrain made famous by Bobby Unser; “I’ll go fast until the day I die.”

And I’ve come to comprehend first-hand the dangers of motorcycling, as my brother-in-law earlier this month hit a deer while traveling at 55-miles-an-hour on his Harley in Northern California. He escaped with a broken back, neck and three ribs, but no paralysis. We thought for a while, we might lose him.

People engage in risky activities when they think the risk is worth the reward. It shows a real dedication and fervency for what they’re doing.

I don’t think Bobby Unser’s words were a flip response, but a reflection of that fervency that may be difficult to understand unless you’ve felt it and decided to live it.

And it’s that exact fervency among motorcycle aficionados that fuels the potential of the MotoGP weekend for Indianapolis.
 

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  • Article
    Good article Anthony. Any criticism that emerges would stem from the lack of the city getting behind the event, as stated. Hopefully next year Indianapolis media outlets will cover this event BEFORE it's over.

    RIP Peter.
    • Sam was 20...
      ...in his first Indy Car race, according to his website.

      Anthony Foyt IV started his first 500 on his 19th birthday.

      Marco Andretti was 19 in his first 500.

      Sarah was 19 in her first 500.

    • moto race
      The city should look at the moto as a gift and put a little effort into expanding it. Look at all the resources used for Black Expo, nuff said
    • Moto Means Money for Indy
      Good article, Anthony. I hope the City poobahs will understand they need to pump some marketing dollars and provide local government backing for the MotoGP so as to keep the race here and not have it end up leaving due to the perceived lack of support Formula One complained about as they hit the door.

      The MotoGP may not have the local popularity as does NASCAR and Indy Car racing. But the fans who come here for the event spend lots of sorely needed dollars at our hotels, restaurants and stores. I saw bunches of them over the weekend all over the city.

      I'm hoping Mr. Belskus is working hard drumming up added support and interest for MotoGP locally. You'd think the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Bureau would target the MotoGP fans via their marketing every year.

      I'm still quite shocked over the tragic loss of the 13-year old racer this weekend. Ben Spies is so right on with his comment. There really isn't anything to be said, just this feeling of great sadness for the family and the sport.
    • crazy crowded
      I was downtown until midnight Friday and Saturday. It was crazy crowded, especially on the circle. I bet there were more than 10,000 motorcycles downtown each night. Yes, the city needs to do more to grow this happening. From what I could see, the marketing behind the event was nil. But word of mouth in the bike community has really given life to this thing.
    • Dear Lord
      Did the boss come down on you because fo your lack of coverage? :)

      SrsLy - good article, and i'll bet you didn't have to copy and paste one word from Fred Nation. Keep it up AS. You have potential.
    • Indianapolis GP
      Yes! Terrific article Anthony. This could become a great event if the city would get behind it. I do have to say I think the same of the Brickyard 400 too. These are two jewels that the City should really be pushing as well as the 500. They are terrific events and we should do all we can to not lose them. Where is the BY400 and IndyGP Festival committees? IBiI
    • MotoGP = Economic Impact
      20% of the Pacers season, 10% of the Colts season, a large % of out-of-town spenders and they are all coming to venue that is not subsidised by our tax dollars. The city and the local media should be providing greater support and turn this week end into a speed week. Move over Sturgis and Daytona.
    • Vendors And More...
      I traveled to the 2010 Indianapolis Moto GP race specifically to evaluate the event for Powerlet's sales and marketing department. Powerlet manufactures a line of rugged electrical accessories for motorcycles.

      Unfortunately Anthony, I believe you are correct. In it's present form, the event only caters to the very large manufacturers - not to smaller motorcycle parts manufacturers or vendors... and unfortunately not even to the attendee's.

      My report will include the following:

      1. The infield lacks transportation to move spectators from one area/activity to another. Much of the spectators time and energy is spent walking long distances in the heat.

      2. Both the speedway infield and downtown areas lack typical vendor display space. Setting up a trailer and/or canopy did not seem possible.

      3. Transportation or clearly marked preferred routes between the downtown events, speedway and the fairgrounds did not seem to exist.

      I also agree that the potential for the event attendance is high. Unlike many other parts of the country, the mid-west does not have a large motorcycle gathering (destination event). As a side note, the flat-track racing at the fairgrounds was incredible. For me it was the most fun part of the weekend.
      • Bike Week
        Good article and it was a great weekend. The city defitnitly needs to get behind this event. I am not so sure it couldnt become a bike week event in Indianaplois.
      • 3rd year attendee
        me and one other friend were so excited two years ago when we heard that indy was gonna be the host of a moto gp race because the only other one in the u.s. is in monterray cali. the first year was great minus the tropical depression, pounding rains and 70+ mph gusts but it hooked me to come back the following year watching hayden, rossi, lozenzo etc still turn 6 second slower lap times in a hurricane. last year was fun as well but the hype wasnt there like the innagural year. there wasnt any flyers about bikes on meridian, no radio commercials, no billboards but we enjoyed it anyway. this year was even worse. we went downtown and hit a bar or two and some locals i talked to didnt even know there was a race going on. i mean where is the marketing strategy at indy? you have the best motorcycle riders in the world coming to grace your city and you done have the time or wanna put in the effort to advertise for them and draw a bigger and better crowd at the birthplace of speed? I am from south of knoxville, in maryville tn. my front door is a quick twenty minute motorcycle ride to the start of deals gap...aka the dragon. there is more advertisement around here for the dragon in a town of roughly 200,000 people than i seen in all of indianapolis all weekend. come one indy! ill be back next year and every other year following if moto gp continues to come regardless of advertisement and media coverage but as a redneck hillbilly from east tennessee i think moto gp deserves way more attention than they have gotten in the past few years. see ya next year. go #69! wonderful article by the way!
      • Dear John
        (from 2 posts up) There were lots of garages available in the Vendor Marketplace. I saw a lot of opportunity. Each seemed to be doing alot of business. I bought some stuff geared towards spectators, bike enthusiasts, and just plain racing crap. Seems those "kiosks" were maybe 2-3oo SF garage spaces? Call the IMS office and ask. I am not sure you would get any play outside on 16th & Jonestown.
      • Dear Neil
        Indianapolis only cares about COLTS. We gave them BILLIONS to stay here and not move to LA. We gots all r eggs in one basket. Look how they blew the opportunity to host an F1 race!

        )Maybe you can write about that Anthony)
      • Big Potential for MotoGP @ Indy
        I agree with John's comments! 1.) Vendor space set-up in advance downtown on Merridian Street should happen! 2.) Transportation in the form of IMS Trams need to be made available for spectators to get around the grounds of IMS & the track has them so use them for something more than picking up the race officals then the race is over! 3.) More affordable vendor space needs to be made for smaller vendors.
        I would love to see this event stay in Indy for generation to come! Hopefully the dission makers(DORNA,FIM,MAYOR OF INDY,etc.) do everything in there power to keep this event here & most importantly "listen to the people!" Do these little things & you will truely have a maga motorcycle event! I can see this becoming a "SPEED WEEK MOTORCYCLE EVENT THAT WOULD RIVAL ANY STURGIS OR DAYTONA BIKE WEEK!" NOW MAKE IT HAPPEN!

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