A 15 percent year-over-year attendance decline is rarely good news for an international sporting event.
But, in the case of the 2017 Indianapolis 500, it's likely a relief.
There was fear from Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials and motorsports business insiders that this year’s Indy 500 would see a major attendance decline after last year’s 100th running of the race.
But that decline isn’t nearly as big as some had imagined it could be.
The aim all along has been for this year’s attendance to beat 2015, which was about 220,000. Matching last year’s attendance, estimated at 355,000, was never seen as a realistic goal
Last month, IMS officials were projecting that this year’s race attendance would be in the 250,000 range. This month, Speedway President Doug Boles told IBJ his staff has already exceeded the ticket sales goal of 220,000 for this year. And while he said selling all 250,000 seats in the expansive venue remains a stretch goal, he thinks that with the sale of general admission infield tickets this year’s attendance could tickle 300,000.
If the IMS can draw 300,000, that would mean more than $25 million in ticket revenue for the track, sports business experts said. Adding in concessions, merchandise, parking and corporate hospitality, revenue from a 300,000-person crowd likely would exceed $40 million. One sports business expert familiar with motorsports enterprises said that figure is “conservative.”
Boles noted that race fans are “more energized” about the Indianapolis 500 than they have been in a long time. He thinks the experience of the 100th running of the race last year helped stoke the fire for a lot of longtime fans who hadn’t been to the race in a while, as well as the interest of myriad newcomers.
Boles added that he expects the track’s corporate space inventory—including 100-plus suites and the Hulman-Terrace Club—to sell out, as well as tickets for the concert in the Snake Pit on race day.
Local hotels are reporting robust business from this year’s Indianapolis 500.
“It’s big—not quite as big as last year, but it’s going to be a very busy weekend,” said Visit Indy CEO Leonard Hoops. “We certainly expect a downtown sellout and a lot of compression out into the suburbs and surrounding areas.”
Visit Hamilton County CEO Brenda Myers said hotels in her county—just north of Marion County—are booking fast for the Indianapolis 500 weekend. She added that Hamilton County hotels have seen an uptick in bookings for that weekend for several months and she anticipates that most, if not all, Hamilton County hotels will be sold out that weekend.
The race this year is scheduled for May 28.
Speedway officials are working on a better plan to get race fans in and out of the track on race day. The plan, track officials said, will allow buses transporting fans between the track and downtown to get back and forth more easily, especially after the race. Getting fans out of the track after last year's race was a major problem, track officials conceded.
IMS officials are also working on a deal with Uber that could involve special rates for race fans and/or special drop-off and pick-up locations for the ride-sharing service. Taxis also are given special access to the track. Many taxis partnering with the IMS will be outfitted with checkered flags.