Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

June 16, 2014

Trying To Solve Attendance Problems at Oval Race Tracks

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 10:11 pm

EmptyAs I viewed weekend racing on television and noticed the increasingly chronic level of lack of bodies in attendance at race tracks an obvious reason why hit me. Most of the stands are not covered, are made of shiny aluminum and events tend to take place under hot sun. Even for rare night races humidity is still there, and tracks have a tendency to want to cram people as close together as possible.

In society today the notion of personal space, which is usually occupied by multi-tasking, self-absorbed folks who have difficult times paying attention to their surroundings and usually involving electronic communication devices, is cherished and valued.

The NASCAR race at Michigan was a shining example of a venue that has reduced their seating capacity by almost half but remains plagued with abundant aluminum. The problem is not the reduction of capacity, it is seats that remain continue to be subject to the elements and lack of meaningful personal space.

Instead of just tearing grandstands down a better long term approach may be:

  1. Great ideaErect roof structures that keep at least 50 to 75% of an individual stand shaded or protected from rain.
  2. Provide more open space both horizontally and vertically. Humankind has never been as physically large or more self-absorbed than they are today. For many going to a race track has become as unpleasurable as going to the airport to catch a flight. Once you run the security gamut you are crammed into seats too small and close together as whatever joy folks used to feel gets sucked away in a short amount of time.
  3. Take cues from modern baseball parks. Provide sponsored party decks. More group suites. Picnic areas with great views of the track. Covered open areas that cater to ADD-addled beings.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway already has a high number of covered stands, but extend to turns. Milwaukee used to have it right but not now.

In short, the notion of large swaths of uncovered stands is hopelessly dated. It is why things like having an oval race at Fontana at the end of August during the day is stupid. Here is hoping enough brains prevail across the entire business to enhance existing race tracks to accommodate a contemporary crowd.



  1. (Off topic commentary relocated to comment thread of 12/19/13 blog)

    Comment by Big Earl Fan — June 17, 2014 @ 7:43 pm | Reply

  2. Well, you could always put a top on IMS, put in a massive HVAC system to keep the temperature optimal, and replace the aluminum stands with Barco-Loungers and have a wait staff tend to everyone’s needs and then put up aome nice Jumbotrons. Wondr what the ticket prices would be? Or, you could just stay home and watch it on TV.
    Editor’s Note: Hey….more fantasy world stuff. What a surprise. Realistic goals are much less grandiose. Wider and deeper seats. More shade. As long as rehab in inevitable why not use common sense?

    Comment by Youowemeabeerasshole — June 18, 2014 @ 1:54 am | Reply

    • I figure 100Million from the Indiana Taxpayers would be a good downpayment for a retractable roof. Worked so well for Lucus Oil Stadium!
      Editor’s Note: Actually, the proceeds of the $100 million loan based on future tax generation revenue would be far better spent updating more mundane aspects of the facility such as ADA compliance, coats of paint and rust remediation. But having fantasies is cool in a childlike way.

      Comment by Youowemeabeerasshole — June 18, 2014 @ 1:42 pm | Reply

  3. Some good comments. Cover to protect from the sun is the #1 priority.

    You mention party decks, etc. I attended the Milwaukee Indycar race last year and was amazed at the restaurants and other businesses along the front straight area. Have never seen that at the other tracks I’ve been to. If other tracks could do something similar I think they would draw more people. I wish Milwaukee was closer to where I live. I would attend that race every year.

    An easy one would be to re-number the aluminum seats to, for example, have 14 people per section instead of 16. They are not selling out anyway and it solves the space problem if nothing else. And it would be a very inexpensive improvement.

    Comment by Bob F. — June 18, 2014 @ 1:38 pm | Reply

  4. They could always try lower ticket prices.

    Comment by spreadoption — June 19, 2014 @ 8:37 pm | Reply

  5. (Off topic commentary relocated to comment section of 12/19/13 blog)

    Comment by Big Earl Fan — June 20, 2014 @ 12:39 am | Reply

  6. Covering grandstands would have no positive impact whatsoever on attendance. The product is poor which is why attendance is declining.
    Editor’s Note: Effective debate technique: In addition to some random, blanket indictment you might consider offering alternatives. In other words when you state ‘the product is poor’ it would be helpful to state what, in your learned opinion, would make the product not poor.

    Comment by Bob Chinn — June 22, 2014 @ 12:45 am | Reply

    • I’ve never once sensed you were seeking a “debate” so much as a following of like minded fans who share and validate your views of the series and how it should be. It’s why you’re so consistently intolerant of opposing opinions. But, you asked for an alternative, so here it is: End the spec car series that is repelling fans, sponsors, viewers, drivers and prospective team owners. This is a partially open wheel version of IROC, where foot to the floor “racing” is the skill most valued on ovals, and follow the leader parades are the norm on the streets and roads because of the tame engines. It’s a Boy Scout trip to Malibu Grand Prix, where the driver’s ability matters least in the entire equation. Put more power in, take a chunk of the downforce out, open the wheels, test the skill of the drivers, and then you have a product that people might be interested in watching, supporting and identifying with on some meaningful level. But neither covered grandstands, bacon on a stick, grid girls, frisbee dogs, rehabbed 80’s bands, or even reasonable amenities like modern video boards, edible concessions, digital connectivity and sanitary restrooms will overcome the poor product that people clearly do not choose to purchase. Fix the product first (or at least simultaneously) rather than looking for phantom solutions to phantom problems.
      Editor’s Note: Very good. Now…who pays for this? Oh, and have you ever driven into turn one at Indy at 230 mph with cars in front, back and on either side for one turn much less 800? I get a kick out of Internet experts who tell me how easy they believe this stuff is. LOL. As a fan I really enjoy what few ovals exist and the racing is pretty good on most of the non-ovals. I see the product itself as much less a problem than the presentation of it, which really stinks. So what’s the answer? Who foots the bill? How long would it take?

      Comment by Bob Chinn — June 24, 2014 @ 5:28 pm | Reply

      • Who pays for this? Who’s paying now? The “spec’ DW-12 hasn’t been the cost saver that it was touted to be, and in an article in the May “Racecar Engineering” magazine, a pretty extensive overview of the new Indy Lights car (gee, also by Dallara) discussed the “modest” increase in costs for campaigning a car in the 2015 Light series. The “modest” increase? From a reported $700K per year to just shy of $1,000,000 per year. A roughly 40% increase. This is what happens when there isn’t any competition between engine suppliers, chassis manufacturers, tire suppliers, etc. The cost savings, and “economies of scale” that are supposed to happen NEVER occur when there is no competition-the single source supplier ALWAYS ends up costing more than projections.
        Editor’s Note: So then we can expect a Lights field of perhaps eight cars again? Maybe then the series will get the message.

        You think the product isn’t the problem? Sure, the racing is generally pretty close, so why are fans staying away in droves? You say Indycar will draw ~ 1,000,000 fans this year. First off, your projected attendance numbers don’t have much of a connection to reality. (for instance-Detroit. 20K on Saturday? Sure. Then 35K on Sunday? A better than 50% increase from the previous day? Not a chance. I watched both races that weekend, and there were as many, if not more empty seats on Sunday as there were on Saturday. So if there were 15K more people in the joint Sunday they must have been hiding under a rock-a really BIG rock). And considering where open wheel was a generation ago, or even when CART and the IRL co-existed, ~1,000,000 fans isn’t exactly something to write home about. So if the product isn’t the problem (and it IS) does anyone think that better marketing is the answer? I’ll give you that ANY marketing would be better than what’s going on now, as you yourself have repeated many times over the years and months, but you can only fool some of the people some of the time…
        Editor’s Note: And yet 1,000,000 per year remains accurate. But to your point, I would like 2 million at some point. Who wouldn’t? The primary reason why fans stay away in droves has nothing to do with racing. It is the reality that there has never been the amount of choice for the entertainment dollar as there is today, along with lots of means of consuming alternatives. Racing as a whole is suffering. NASCAR venues are approaching half empty every time, Formula 1 has lots of aluminum and you can pay for an overpriced Austin ticket today and sit anywhere you want. Legacy sponsors Home Depot and Nationwide are saying adios over there. Any positioning of IndyCar as isolated with commonly taunted problems is in denial of reality. So no…I do not believe the product is the problem. Presentation of the product is. Not to say most of us are not all for more diversity and innovation. We are.

        Watch a NASCAR event. Or MotoGP, or F1, or LeMans. Is the “presentation” that much different. No. At this point, the audio, video, graphics, etc are stunning. The talking heads do what they do, although I contend that Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear should win an award for creating a mobile “borefest” everywhere they go. The detail captured on widescreen HD is just amazing. EVERYTHING looks great. The sounds are great (although you can’t get that “feel” in your gut as when you’re there live).
        Editor’s Note: And only NASCAR’s ratings are higher in the USA. And no one event draws more than the 500. And all that HD detail actually accentuates glaring aluminum for all of them. Any indictment thrown at IndyCar is actually valid for the sport as a whole. It does not resonate as it once did.

        The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. You’ve had spec cars FOREVER. Spec engines FOREVER (although I’ll give some credits for allowing some development over this off season). A focus on non racing items, like carb day concerts. Nothing has moved the needle much, overall, over a number of years. And yes, there has been some modest increases in ratings this year, although you don’t pay much mind to them. But what would make anyone think that’s the answer?
        Editor’s Note: ‘Forever’ seems rather permanent. We haven’t. It’s cyclical. When I first got interested everyone drove a roadster with an Offy. The arrival of the rear engine revolution began a golden age of innovation and that was great. More recently I enjoyed IndyCar when there were Dallaras, G-Forces and Riley & Scotts powered by a variety of uncrated motors. In other words I am all for diversity in the chassis, engine and tire areas, and recommend such diversity often. Lack of it won’t kill the sport, however.

        So back to the beginning-who foots the bill? The owners (and their sponsors, if they have them) as always. Open up the rules, go back to a more “run what you brung” environment (as long as you meet certain safety minimums). How many former drivers and owners have said this? Too many to count. Let them have more power, less aero, less tire. Make the driver important again. And yes, we know that it takes a special kind of courage to put your foot flat to the floor and keep it there. But that isn’t what it’s supposed to be. The heros of the past DROVE their cars-steering, braking, lifting off, getting back in it, all of them using the computer in between their ears. How long does it take? How long did it take to get to this point? 15 years, 20? Better start somewhere.
        Editor’s Note: Cool. Let’s do it. I’d watch.

        Comment by Skeptical1 — June 25, 2014 @ 3:26 am

  7. Who pays for it? That’s Mark Miles’ job to figure out, isn’t it?
    Editor’s Note: So no specifics as to how he should do his job? Figures.

    And while it’s a tall order, he really has little choice given the declining attendance, television ratings and sponsorship that the current formula has produced.
    Editor’s Note: To some, the mantra of ‘declining attendance, television ratings and sponsorship’ is beaten like a drum with no cognizance whatsoever of actual reality. Which is that attendance remains strong at over a million every year, ratings are actually rising and hold the same relative position in the pecking order as they always have, and sponsorship remains strong; e.g., Verizon as a title sponsor, long term team sponsors such as Target, ABC, etc. Now none of this is to imply that most fans wouldn’t like to see more attendance, ratings or sponsorship. It’s just that Internet critics have been screeching the same dire epithets for twenty years only to have reality expose such hysterical doomsayers as frauds.

    So rather than saying that the series should be happy with mediocrity, perhaps the bar should be raised to actually re-create a top flight racing series that sponsors want to support and fans want to see. It’s what prospective and existing businesses do every day in a competitive world, often against great odds. Indycar should be no different if they want to be considered elite (or even survive).
    Editor’s Note: The fact that IndyCar may not be considered ‘elite’ in the mind of the average squatting crapper makes little difference to me. IndyCar has always been a great sport to me, and I am a 50-year consumer of it. I enjoy not jumping on and off bandwagons and see the bigger picture. Perhaps the critics should give that a whirl.

    As for my criticism of the current high down force, low horsepower, cookie cutter cars, please see what guys like Will Power and Al Unser think about the current formula. Do you think they know something about it, or are they merely unknowing “internet experts”, too? Or should a Nascar “journeyman” driver (your term), with zero Indycar experience, be able to enter and drive to a fifth place finish in the premier race in the series?
    Editor’s Note: Sixth. I respect the opinions of Will Power and Al Unser. They have points. That said, Will Power is able to drive today’s formula for all it’s worth. The average Internet squawker who tells me how easy it is to drive flat footed on an oval in traffic would most likely kill him/herself within half a lap of a green flag drop. In other words, Power and Al have credibility (except when allowing their words to be twisted by intellectually dishonest crappers like Gordon Kirby) and Internet comment section squatters do not. Speaking of Kurt Busch, he impressed me. He is like a throwback to years I enjoyed when NASCAR legacy drivers with last names like Allison and Yarborough mixed it up with IndyCar stars and Formula 1 one-offs. I got the same sort of feeling. I really admire Kurt Busch for the effort he put in and the respect he showed. He gets it.

    And blaming the presentation of the product, rather than the product itself, is like blaming the plate for a bad meal. Serious, casual and curious fans have sampled the product and rejected it rather decidedly. I seriously doubt a roof over their heads will change that fact.
    Editor’s Note: We’ll never know until a serious effort is made at presentation. That has never occurred during the period of time IMS has controlled the sport, ever. The product is fine; we just wish there was more innovation and diversity. There is a right way and a wrong way to express the sentiment, and squatting Internet comment spouters usually take the most inappropriate route possible.

    Comment by Bob Chinn — June 25, 2014 @ 2:38 am | Reply

  8. Attendance, ratings and sponsorship are at or near all time lows for the series (I’ve already conclusively disproved your Rexas figures as being impossible to achieve).
    Editor’s Note: What is a ‘Rexas?’ If you mean ‘Texas’ then I will take the word of Eddie Gossage, my own attendance and published numbers more than the opinion of some random, anonymous guy on the Internet, thank you very much.

    If Miles can’t figure out how to address that (and if you are unable to offer any ideas in this regard), why is he running it? As for the undeniably poor product, it has been rejected by the vast majority of race fans. If you like it, presumably you’re one of those internet squatters who will ride it all the way to the bottom. Figures.
    Editor’s Note: Since you are unable to become engaged in intelligent discourse, when will all this bad stuff lead to the end of the sport? Be specific. Your kind has been scattershotting in every direction ever since ‘Tony ruined everything’ in ’95. So when, exactly does it all come crashing down? (LOL)

    Comment by Bob Chinn — June 25, 2014 @ 12:46 pm | Reply

    • The Texas figures were based on the actual capacity of the facility, not invented figures which were undeniably false. Sorry, but you were simply and unquestionably wrong.
      Is this really worth continuing to argue about? If you have a problem with the numbers take it up with Eddie Gossage, media outlets that reported higher numbers than me, or others who actually attended. I get it. You do not believe 47,000 people were there? That is your right. I remain confident of the count regardless of the number of sellable admissions you believe exist.

      And Indycar exists solely because the Hulman George family has elected to operate it at a loss.
      Editor’s Note: I would be interested in knowing how you are privy to the specific accounting of a private company. Wht is your position within Hulman & Company?

      Anyone with a brain understands that. As a going entity, it is a commercial failure given the lack of appeal to fans, sponsors and viewers. The numbers don’t lie (well under a million fans in attendance, low television ratings, and minimal and declining sponsorship). Only those with an agenda would dare argue otherwise (and they’re not fans of the sport in any rational way).
      Editor’s Note: So if I’m always wrong and you’re always right, when does the end arrive? Specifically? That seems to be the only logical conclusion based upon your repetitive yelping.

      Comment by Bob Chinn — June 25, 2014 @ 3:11 pm | Reply

  9. The end arrives when the Hulman George family decides they’ve lost enough money on a dying venture and elects to either shut the doors forever or sell it to someone who chooses to make a go of it with their money.
    Editor’s Note: ….and being the sophisticated financial maven you obviously are, what is the anticipated date of this collapse?

    It’s why Mari, her daughters, and the BOD ousted Tony George after he demonstrated his inability to run the business and have since installed two others to run it (neither of whom have met with much success). Like the rich kid racers who run on Dad’s wallet, they own a series and track on the family’s pocketbook, and they get to decide how much lighter said pocketbook will become before they decide to cut their losses and move on.
    Editor’s Note: 1945 through 2014 is a long stretch. Hell, give me at least a year. You know, based upon your financial acumen.

    Comment by Bob Chinn — June 25, 2014 @ 5:30 pm | Reply

  10. Well, Tony George strongly hinted that 2013 would be the end, but no one believed anything he said (with good reason, obviously).
    Editor’s Note: That, and 2013 wasn’t the end.

    Comment by Bob Chinn — June 25, 2014 @ 10:43 pm | Reply

    • (Off topic commentary relocated to comment section of 12/19/13 blog)

      Comment by Bob Chinn — June 26, 2014 @ 2:54 am | Reply

  11. (Off topic commentary relocated to comment section of 12/19/13 blog)

    Comment by Bob Chinn — June 26, 2014 @ 12:23 pm | Reply

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