New Indy 500 date could come just when tourism industry needs it most

The Indianapolis 500 (IBJ photo)

Local tourism officials and sports industry experts are praising IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for moving this year’s Indianapolis 500 mile race to Aug. 23, rather than canceling it or trying to move ahead with the original schedule.

The postponement, which followed weeks of questions about the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the race, could be a lift for local businesses and a central Indiana hospitality industry that have been hit hard by the closures and cancellations caused by the pandemic.

“Looking at the calendar and knowing how quickly May is coming up, I applaud them for proactively making a decision like this so quickly,” said Jim Dora Jr., president of Indianapolis-based General Hotels Corp. “That had to have been an incredibly hard decision to make, so they should really be congratulated for that.”

General Hotels Corp., which owns and operates multiple local hotels including the Crowne Plaza properties downtown and at Indianapolis International Airport, has seen extreme occupancy challenges in recent weeks, as have the rest of the city’s hotels.

Those challenges began with the cancelation of the Big Ten and NCAA men’s basketball tournaments and the postponement and cancellations of more than a dozen major conventions scheduled for the city through early June.

Combined, those events accounted for more than $140 million in economic impact, which takes into account money spent by visitors on hotel rooms, food, travel and other items.

Had the Indianapolis 500 been canceled, it would have likely meant the loss of more than $300 million in revenue for local businesses and hotels, as well as an estimated $60 million for IndyCar and its teams.

Dora said by having this year’s race in August—on what would have otherwise been a blank date on the city’s event calendar—his and other hotels may be able to recoup some of the revenue they’ve lost with the cancellation of other events.

He added the Indy 500 may end up serving as a celebration of sorts for the area and its businesses.

“By the time in August that the 500 is run, maybe it’s a reunion, maybe it’s a pinnacle event showing we’re completely turning the corner” on the pandemic, Dora said.

Ken Ungar, a former Speedway chief of staff and IndyCar executive who now runs local sports market firm Charge, said he was pleased to see the race was rescheduled, rather than canceled altogether.

“This is a very positive development at a time when there aren’t many positives to be found,” he said. “I don’t know if it will be the singular focus, but it’ll certainly be a major addition to the excitement that live sports will have, hopefully, returned by then.”

Larry DeGaris, a sports marketing professor at University of Indianapolis, said he is cautiously optimistic about the new date.

“At this point, I just hope it happens,” DeGaris said. “Going on the assumption that it will … it could function as a welcome back to the sports world. With all the cancellations we’ve seen, you’ve got to look at this as a real bright spot.”

Even so, it’s possible the Indy 500 have a different atmosphere than in the past, said Tim Gropp, economic development director for the town of Speedway. After all, it will be the first Indy 500 ever run outside the month of May.

“I think having the race and having as many events surrounding race is better than canceling it altogether,” he said. “It probably won’t have the same feel as it has in the past, but I know they’re going to do everything they can to make it a stellar event and a spectacle like it always is.”

Mark Miles, president of Penske Entertainment Corp., which owns the IndyCar series and IMS, said the series wanted two consecutive weekends over which Indy 500-related events could be held, including practices, qualifying and the race weekend.

The decision to hold the race and its ancillary events—minus concerts, all of which have been canceled—on the weekend of Aug. 21-23 came following extensive discussions between IndyCar and IMS executives, city tourism officials, race sponsors, and NBC Sports, the series’ broadcast partner.

It also meant shifting the MotoAmerica Superbikes race at the Brickyard, originally scheduled for the late-August weekend, to the weekend of Oct. 9-11.

The GMR Grand Prix, another part of IMS’ May lineup, was shifted to Independence Day, where it will be part of a doubleheader with a NASCAR road course race and help bookend the Brickyard 400 weekend.

Chris Gahl, vice president of Visit Indy, said a variety of options in the summer and early fall months were presented to track and IndyCar officials to which the Indy 500 could be moved, but the late August dates made the most sense for all parties.

He said the new date will give the race “ample hotel availability”—in recent years, most all central Indiana’s 33,000 hotel rooms have been booked for the Indy 500—and provide the event the opportunity to be a center of attention in the city for that weekend.

“We’re relieved that the event will stay safe and sound in 2020 and still be held during the summer months, as that’s still at the height of our normal travel season,” he said. “We feel that weekend in particular, allows for great weather, enough hotel rooms and enough appetite to have visitors travel to come see the world’s largest single day sporting event.”

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2 thoughts on “New Indy 500 date could come just when tourism industry needs it most

  1. I am glad that the face has been rescheduled, rather than cancelled. However, the crowds in August (assuming the race can be held then) are likely to be smaller. I had tickets to the Memorial Day race, and was going to be joined by four friends from the East coast. They had booked airline tickets and three nights of lodging, and I had made dinner reservations at a pair of high-end restaurants for the five of us. All that was possible because it was a holiday weekend, which many people can easily make a four day get-away by taking off the preceding Friday. Sadly, the August day does not easily accommodate that, especially with college move-ins also occurring then. So the five of us will not be at the rescheduled race. I am guessing many others will face similar logistical obstacles.

  2. While I am sure they are heart broken over everything that is going on, I would be willing to bet the Hulman-George family is incredibly relieved over the timing of their sale.