Brickyard 400 attendance becoming major concern

Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Jeff Belskus told me last week that attendance for this year’s Brickyard 400 was between 100,000 and 150,000.

For those at Sunday’s NASCAR race, it’s difficult to imagine attendance wasn’t closer to 100,000 than 150,000. Not even ESPN’s effort to minimize cameral angles that show bare grandstands could hide the fact that the crowd at this year’s Brickyard was not great.

NASCAR’s attendance estimate for the race was 138,000. NASCAR’s estimated attendance for the 2010 race was 140,000. In 2007, NACAR estimated the crowd at 270,000. IMS doesn’t release attendance figures.

Many in attendance noticed how easy it was to get in and out of the track on race day. A far cry from the scene at the Indianapolis 500 in May, which has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years.

Belskus said renewal rates from 2010 to this year among ticket buyers were above 80 percent and that he expected attendance at the 2011 race to equal that of the 2010 race.

Maybe the hot weather kept some people at home. The fact that the race is on TV live probably doesn’t help.

But it would appear from the crowd at Sunday’s race, the Speedway has some serious work ahead to revive this race. A number of observers said NASCAR’s attendance estimate seemed high.

While current ticket buyers must be the Speedway’s first responsibility, attracting new ticket buyers clearly must also be a high priority to re-build the event.

Former Speedway CEO Tony George, who is still on the board of the company that runs the track, said the Brickyard would make money even if the Speedway was half full. “For sure, it makes money,” George told WFNI-AM 1070 this May.

My math shows the facility may no longer be half full for the Brickyard 400.

At this point, though, officials for NASCAR and the Speedway say they are totally committed to continuing the race. It’s still one of the top three in attendance on the NASCAR circuit.

And help is on the way. Starting in 2012, Crown Royal will be the new title sponsor for the race. CR officials have committed to spend $7.5 million over the next five years to promote the race. The whisky maker will jump in later this summer with renewal efforts.

CR will pay another $7.5 million in cash to the Speedway over five years.

The NASCAR Nationwide and Grand Am races also have been added to the three-day weekend—starting in 2012—to bolster attendance.

But it’s important to note, NASCAR and the Speedway are on a year-to-year contract. It’s been that way since the inaugural race in 1994.

That deal means the stock car series could pull the plug at any time. Same goes for the Speedway. At this time, neither side has given any indication they’ll do that.

If NASCAR and the Speedway can’t rekindle this event with the Crown Royal deal and other enhancements that are in the works, a difficult business decision will have to be made. If the board members that control the track have shown one thing in the past three years, it’s that they’ve lost their patience with money-losing causes.
 

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