A management shake-up at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has some in the motorsports industry thinking major changes could
be on the horizon at the fabled race venue—maybe as soon as next year.
"I think you’ll see the Speedway management going through each and every expense category
from top to bottom," said Tim Frost, president of Frost Motorsports, a Chicago-based business consultancy.
"And they’ll look closely at every revenue opportunity."
On July 1, Tony George was removed as head of the Indy Racing League and the Speedway, and replaced
by Jeffrey G. Belskus, a Terre Haute native who began working for the Hulman-George family in 1987. George,
49, had been in charge of the IMS since 1990 and launched the Indy Racing League in 1996.
Belskus was most recently the chief financial
officer of Hulman & Co., which oversees the family’s racing interests and various other holdings,
including the Clabber Girl baking powder brand. Belskus is a certified public accountant who graduated from
Indiana State University in 1981. Curt Brighton will replace George as head of Hulman & Co., overseeing the Hulman-George
family’s non-racing enterprises.
George will retain a position on Hulman & Co.’s board and thereby retain some influence over the Speedway and IRL, but
he will be primarily focused on operating his IRL team, Vision Racing.
Sports business experts estimate that each of the three events that the Speedway hosts is profitable,
but they believe they could be more profitable. Besides the Indianapolis 500, the Speedway hosts the
Brickyard 400 NASCAR race and the MotoGP motorcycle race.
"I think they’re going to be forced to weigh the tradition of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
and some very difficult financial decisions," said Zak Brown, CEO of Just Marketing International,
a locally based firm that represents some of the biggest sponsors in motorsports.
For instance, Brown pointed out that the IMS
is the only major racetrack in the United States with no advertising on its surrounding walls. He said
the new regime might also consider a naming-rights sponsor for the Indianapolis 500.
"Those two things alone could bring in easily more than $10 million a year," Brown said.
"Selling that inventory would be relatively easy. And those are just two examples of ways the Speedway
could generate more revenue.
"They are sitting on millions of dollars of assets due to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway history and tradition. They
have some very difficult decisions in front of them."
On the expense side, Belskus and his lieutenants—most of whom have been at the Speedway for
a number of years—will also begin examining everything from infrastructure maintenance to utility
bills, sources close to the track said.
"You can bet the month of May will get a hard look," Frost said. "It’s a long month with significant operational
expenses. Some of the events they’ve traditionally held during May simply don’t attract the crowds and
generate the revenue they did two decades ago."
The Brickyard 400 has seen a serious decline in ticket sales this year, and the new regime will
likely scrutinize those operations. IMS officials credited a downturn in ticket sales—especially
for the Brickyard 400—with causing cuts of about 50 jobs at the Speedway and the IRL combined in
December. The management change has some wondering if more job cuts will come after the racing season
the off-season could be a time for serious introspection and would be a natural timetable for change," Frost said.
IMS and IRL officials were working the phones
the morning of the management change to reach out to corporate partners to allay fears about potential
changes, said Speedway spokesman Fred Nation. IMS leaders still support the IRL and the events currently
held at the Speedway, Nation emphasized.
Just Marketing’s Brown said there are some concerns on the part of sponsors about the future of the various races held at
is supportive of the current direction," Nation said.
Whether to pursue the return of a Formula One race to the track, which has been discussed in the
past year, will be "a financial decision," Nation said. He said that conversation is still
IRL spokesman John
Griffin said there are few fears on the part of IRL brass that the change will hurt the open-wheel series.
But it is well-known within motorsports circles, Frost said, that Speedway revenue has subsidized the IRL to the tune of tens
of millions of dollars annually.
"I think there’s a big question about the level of financial support that the board and the new leadership will be willing
to commit going forward," Frost said.
IRL officials say the league will maintain the course it was on prior to George’s departure.
"We know what he have to do here, and selling sponsorships is priority one," Griffin
said. "There’s a lot in the hopper, and we think we’re just a couple of moves away from breaking