Brickyard 400 profitable despite falling crowds, experts say

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Despite sharp attendance declines in recent years at the Brickyard 400, the event remains hugely profitable for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, motorsports industry experts say.

NASCAR officials estimated attendance at this year’s race in Indianapolis at 125,000, down from 138,000 last year. In 2007, race attendance was more than 200,000.

The Speedway makes enough television revenue—close to $6 million—to pay its NASCAR sanctioning fee, according to industry experts, leaving the track with most of the revenue from ticket sales, concessions and parking.

Motorsports business experts estimated that the Speedway made at least $9 million in ticket revenue from Sunday’s Brickyard 400 and another $1 million to $2 million from Saturday’s Nationwide Series race, which until this year has been held at Lucas Oil Raceway a few miles to the west. The IMS also for the first time hosted the Grand Am Series, but that wasn’t likely a big moneymaker since attendance was only about 10,000.

A new Brickyard 400 title sponsorship deal with Crown Royal added another $2 million to the Speedway’s take.

Speedway spokesman Doug Boles said the race remains a good event for NASCAR and the track, and he expects it to continue into the future.

“There is no thought internally or within NASCAR that this race shouldn’t continue,” Boles said, adding that track officials are constantly looking for ways to improve the event.

IMS officials in the past 18 months have even pondered installing lights to allow for NASCAR night racing, Boles said. But Speedway CEO Jeff Belskus said the cost of erecting lights—$20 million—would be a major concern.

While some food vendors said sales were down for Sunday's race, several merchandise vendors said business actually grew over the entire NASCAR event, which was expanded from two days to three this year.

“Our business with the track was definitely up, about 10 percent,” said Dave Moroknek, CEO of locally based MainGate Inc., which provides the IMS with NASCAR merchandise.

The biggest factor in any business increases at the track this year, Moroknek said, was the addition of the Nationwide race, which helped draw a crowd estimated at more than 40,000 to the track Saturday. In addition to Nationwide Series qualifications and race, spectators on Saturday also got to see Brickyard 400 practice and qualifications on the 2.5-mile oval.

While NASCAR officials said they were pleased with the first Nationwide race at the IMS, others were split.

“When it comes to the Nationwide race, I’m a bit of a traditionalist,” Moroknek said. “At Lucas Oil Raceway, you got a completely packed house, and it created a lot of energy and excitement.”

While many fans prefer having the race at the more intimate Lucas Oil Raceway, sponsors and NASCAR officials definitely benefit from having it at the Speedway, said Zak Brown, president of Zionsville-based Just Marketing International, which represents several NASCAR sponsors.

“Sponsors like having the Nationwide race at the Speedway because it’s much better for hospitality, it has a higher profile, and it's just easier to navigate,” Brown said. “It’s good for the Speedway because they have an opportunity to bring in more revenue without a lot of added costs, and it’s good for NASCAR and its sponsors because it’s so much better for corporate hospitality and has so much more potential to grow that aspect. If the Speedway can bring in more sponsors and those sponsors are entertaining at the track, that has the potential to bump up ticket sales.”

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