Events and Attractions – Sports Business Journal

Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be at or near full capacity for the first time since Roger Penske bought the track when “more than 300,000 people descend on the track” on Sunday for the Indianapolis 500, according to Nate Ryan of NBCSPORTS.com. After a “muted start without a crowd in 2020, the Speedway came back to life last year with a limited crowd,” setting the stage for an “even bigger splash” this year. A few days before the ’21 race, Penske proclaimed he wanted to “blow the roof off this place” with the 106th running in ’22. Ryan wrote the “signs have been trending positively since.” Under Penske’s stewardship at IMS, the track’s 110 suites have been “sold out since the middle of March, and advance grandstands sales have been trending double digits ahead of three years ago” — raising the possibility of the track’s “first sellout since the centennial race” in ’16. Penske has been “making regular visits” to IMS over the past few months, and he “stopped by weekly (and sometimes more often than that) to ensure his famous ‘Penske Perfect’ brand is being honored as a couple of hundred thousand experience IMS under the auspices of ‘The Captain’ for the first time.” IMS President Doug Boles said that many of the improvements “bear special touches” by Penske. Boles said that the “biggest complaints” from the ’21 Indy 500 crowd were about long concession lines, so self-serve express lanes “have been added” along with “reverse ATMs” so fans can put their cash on cards to expedite purchases, as concession stands are cashless this year. A new multipurpose performance driving center (with BMW as a major client) has been added between Turns 3 and 4, and Penske has “revamped fan tram traffic flow” around the infield. There “could be even more work next year” with a possible expansion of suites. With a waiting list of clients and companies in the double digits, Penske said that IMS “considered adding temporary structures this year” (NBCSPORTS.com, 5/26). NBC’s Mike Tirico said the race is called the “greatest Spectacle in Sports” because it’s “just a quarter million people, that’s all, and the place will be full for the first time in quite a while” (“Today,” NBC, 5/27).
MAKING THE HARD DECISIONS: NBCSPORTS.com’s Bruce Martin writes Penske “had to make many difficult decisions” and prepared for the first full-capacity Indy 500 since ‘19. One was dropping the Freedom 100 from the Carb Day schedule. Penske: “We want to keep the Indy 500 weekend (about the Indy 500), not some other race. It takes away from the history and the iconic impact that it makes for the sport.” This year, there were “just enough entries” to make it to 33 this year. That meant no “Bump Day” but there was “a good reason for that.” The full-time field for most NTT IndyCar Series races “has increased to 26-28 cars.” Teams that “used to field an extra entry for the Indy 500 are fielding extra full-time teams in every IndyCar race.” In a sense, the Indy 500 entry list “became a victim of IndyCar’s success, particularly with a team member personnel shortage.” Penske: “I think 33 is history, but it’s a good problem to have because it shows you the quality of the existing teams” (NBCSPORTS.com, 5/27).
NASCAR’s schedule in the last two years has “undergone radical changes,” but Speedway Motorsports President & CEO Marcus Smith indicated that the Coca-Cola 600 will “remain unchanged,” according to Alex Andrejev of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. Andrejev said that it “seems fair to raise the question of the future” of the Coke 600, which is set to run Sunday at 6:00pm ET. It is the “longest race on NASCAR’s schedule” that over the last five years has “averaged a time of more than four hours to complete, giving it the reputation of being both unique and tedious.” However, the race format is “likely to stick around in the long term, as well.” Former longtime Charlotte Motor Speedway GM Humpy Wheeler said that last year he thought the race should “feature an earlier start time and 10- or 20-lap heat races rather [than] its evening start (which prevents it from overlapping with the Indy 500) and four-stage race.” Wheeler was also “partial to the suggestion of a mid-race intermission,” which was a feature of this year’s Clash at the Coliseum in which rapper Ice Cube performed during the break. But according to Charlotte’s current GM Greg Walter, those changes “likely won’t happen at the 600.” Walter: “I don’t foresee us changing the race and the competition.” Walter said that the speedway is “on pace for a sellout.” Last year, leading up to the race, he said that Charlotte Motor Speedway was “expecting to host a crowd of around 50,000.” NASCAR and the tracks “do not disclose attendance figures.” He called this year’s ticket sales pacing “impressive,” and estimated that ‘22 Coca-Cola 600 attendance would “reach close to the speedway’s capacity of roughly 95,000 people, including in general admission areas” (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/27).
The F1 Monaco GP is “out of contract after this weekend and while the promoter is adamant that a new deal will be signed,” there is “no guarantee any more that it means a race every year,” according to Rebecca Clancy of the LONDON TIMES. The idea of rotating the grand prix is “being floated.” Monaco has appeared on the calendar since the start of the modern championship in 1950 and has “missed out on only a handful of races, most recently in 2020 because of Covid.” It has long been a “blue-riband event and a firm favourite among the drivers who feel it is one of the greatest challenges of the year.” The problem for Monaco is that the track “has remained relatively unchanged” while F1 cars “have continued to develop.” They are “much bigger and heavier now, unsuited to the narrow streets, and the result is usually a dreary procession on the Sunday.” Monaco was once the place where teams brought partners and sponsors to “impress them as multimillion-dollar contracts were agreed,” but the inclusion of places like Miami this year and Las Vegas in ’23 means Monaco “does not have a monopoly in that regard now.” And then there is the “financial side.” In the era of former F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone, Monaco “did not pay a fee to host the race, unlike every other circuit on the calendar.” That has changed under F1 owner Liberty Media, but the fee is “still very low” and with the likes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar paying $50M+ a year, Liberty Media “will be closely looking at the business model to determine if Monaco is worth its spot” (LONDON TIMES, 5/27).
LEAVING THE ROCK? In N.Y., Luke Smith writes as F1’s calendar expands to new markets, Monaco’s future is “suddenly not assured.” F1 is contractually limited to 24 races per season, meaning “some events would need to make way for new ones.” Traditionally, Monaco has paid F1 a “minimal hosting fee, reportedly about $15 million, largely because of its history and status.” These fees can be $60M per year. F1 and the promoters of the race are “still negotiating its contract.” The consensus from teams is that “history alone is not enough of an argument for the hosting fee to be so small, especially when new races and markets, such as South Africa or Asia, are showing interest in joining the Formula 1 calendar and can offer sizable sums.” F1 driver Lewis Hamilton said that “although ‘the racing itself is not that spectacular,’ Monaco still has ‘that icon status’ to appeal to fans and drivers” (N.Y. TIMES, 5/27).
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