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Kentucky Speedway yesterday "offered a ticket exchange to fans who were stuck in traffic and missed" Saturday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400, and that offer "came with a firm apology" from track GM Mark Simendinger and SMI President & COO Marcus Smith, according to Jenna Fryer of the AP. It was the "first apology offered in three statements" from Kentucky Speedway since the race. Smith said, "All the plans we made and all the effort we put forth didn't produce the results we wanted, and we want to try our best to make it right with fans who are understandably frustrated" (AP, 7/11). In a statement on the track's website, Simendinger said, "To those fans that were not able to attend the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event, we offer our sincerest apologies. We'd also like to apologize to all of our fans who endured challenging conditions during our event weekend. ... We're committed to working with NASCAR, state and local officials and traffic experts to address Saturday's traffic issues to ensure that we never have this type of experience again" (THE DAILY). Smith believes that Kentucky Speedway "did not have enough shuttles running from remote lots, hotels and malls to help lessen the number of cars heading to the track." He said, "The traffic was anticipated. We knew it was going to be bad and we have been saying for a couple of years that we need more roads. And we did make plans, the plans just clearly didn't work. We don't want to point fingers and make excuses, but in hindsight, there are a lot of things we have to do differently." The AP's Fryer noted, “Sometimes saying sorry is all it takes to make people feel a little better." By yesterday afternoon, the track "had indeed quietly apologized by updating Simendinger's statement on its website." The word "regrets" had been replaced by "apologizes" (AP, 7/11).
PLEASE ACCEPT OUR APOLOGY: Smith said for fans with tickets who were unable to attend Saturday night's event, SMI will honor that ticket at any remaining Sprint Cup race at an SMI facility this season, or next year's Cup race at Kentucky Speedway (THE DAILY). In Cincinnati, Amanda Van Benschoten reports eligible fans also were "offered an equal number of tickets to one of two remaining events" at Kentucky Speedway this year: Either the Oct. 1 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race or the Oct. 2 Izod IndyCar Series event. The speedway "did have a plan in place to deal with the anticipated onslaught of race-day traffic." Track officials "could not be reached Monday to discuss the plan, but they have acknowledged there was not enough parking to accommodate the 107,000 ticketholders -- and countless others -- who flocked to Sparta" for Kentucky Speedway's first Cup Series race (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 7/12). In Lexington, Brammerand & Truman report race fans "are still steaming about the traffic problems, and some didn't seem enthusiastic about the ticket exchange" (LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER, 7/12). Simendinger said, "We spent a lot of time doing traffic planning and all I can tell you is that our traffic plans failed miserably. ... I don’t know what to say other than the fact that we totally blew it and very discouraged that the plans we had in place really didn’t work at all. All we can do is commit to the fans we will take the necessary steps to make sure nothing remotely close to that ever happens again” ("NASCAR Now," ESPN2, 7/11).
GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION: The ticket offer came yesterday as Kentucky state Sen. President David Williams "called for legislative hearings and Gov. Steve Beshear said he’ll assemble a team to explore the cause of hours-long gridlock that tarnished what should have been a triumphant day for both the track and the state." Williams announced that he is working with Ernie Harris, co-Chair of the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation, to "hold legislative hearings in September on the traffic problems surrounding the race." Williams, who was stuck in traffic himself and missed Saturday's race, said, "I want to know whether it was a good plan that was poorly executed, or a poor plan." He added, "This should have been one of the best days in Kentucky sporting history. ... We took a pretty big black eye as a state" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 7/12). In Daytona Beach, Godwin Kelly notes Saturday's event "created such a bad experience that the Kentucky General Assembly plans to hold hearings about what went wrong" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 7/12).
JUMPING AT THE OPPORTUNITY: The HERALD-LEADER's Brammerand & Truman note rival tracks "pounced on the opportunity to take shots" at SMI. Indianapolis Motor Speedway said that "fans who present a Kentucky ticket can receive free track admission on July 29," and can also "park for free in designated IMS lots." IMS President Jeff Belskus said, "We have easy, efficient access to and from the track that allows our fans to participate in activities at the track and, in just a matter of minutes, enjoy all that the city of Indianapolis has to offer" (LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER, 7/12). Michigan Int'l Speedway President Roger Curtis sent an open letter yesterday under the header, "The Fan Experience Should Be Priority No. 1." Curtis wrote, "As a track promoter I am saddened and embarrassed about what happened this weekend. ... It is bad enough the racetrack went into the weekend knowing traffic was going to be worse than they had previously had with other series. But to think Bruton Smith made light of it with the media, and then pointed the finger at the State of Kentucky when posed with traffic questions is unfathomable" (THE DAILY). Marcus Smith declined to "comment directly on the comments from his rivals." He added, "It's heartbreaking when something like this happens, and you hope people give you some grace and benefit of the doubt" (AP, 7/11).
TIME TO IMPROVE: Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage, whose track was criticized for traffic issues when it opened in '97, said, "It's not any one thing, it's everything. Part of it is the fans have to learn their way to the track and where they want to park and that just takes time. That takes three-to-five years." Gossage contends that the "parking company didn’t park the cars tight enough." SCENEDAILY.com's Bob Pockrass noted Kentucky Speedway officials also believed that there "were fewer people per car than anticipated," and "making things worse, traffic tie-ups came so early that it’s likely some parking workers -- as well as ushers, concessionaires and others -- arrived late if at all." How Kentucky Speedway "responds will decide its long-term future in the sport." NASCAR Senior Dir of Communications for Competition Kerry Tharp said, "To not be able to have a good experience coming to a race, that’s something that needs to be worked on" (SCENEDAILY.com, 7/11). Gossage said, "You don't want to alienate any fans. But in some ways this is the best news our sport has had all season. Sold out. Sold out. And it's not one of those little speedways, either. That's something everyone needs to think about." ESPN.com's David Newton wrote, "He's right. For one of the few times in recent years of economic struggle, we weren't focused on the number of empty seats, at least in terms of seats unsold. It was a reminder of the days when NASCAR was at its heyday, when fans sat in traffic for hours at almost every venue." Gossage: "Fixing it at Kentucky is very doable. Bruton never cuts corners. He'll fix it" (ESPN.com, 7/11). ESPN’s Tim Brewer said Bruton Smith "will fix it." Brewer: "We’ve had issues at Texas with the pavement. We’ve had issues in Las Vegas, we’ve had issues in a lot of places. But you don’t spend that kind of money to buy a racetrack and let it go by the wayside” ("NASCAR Now," ESPN2, 7/11).
TOO LATE TO APOLOGIZE? YAHOO SPORTS' Jay Busbee noted Kentucky Speedway received "some pretty harsh criticism for acknowledging the problems but not apologizing for them in its initial statement." Yesterday's statement and ticket exchange offer is "obviously an attempt to come to fans, trucker hat in hand, seeking forgiveness." Busbee added, "Realistically speaking, a full apology and mitigation plan inside of 48 hours isn't that long. So, nice job to Kentucky for handling this crisis. The trick now is preventing the next one" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/11). But in Orlando, George Diaz wrote, "No matter how many ‘we’re sorry' e-mails get sent out, Kentucky is going to have a hard time bouncing back from this. Sporting events have one chance to get it right. Kentucky Speedway misfired from the get-go. It’s hard to judge the quality of an event when you’re stuck in a traffic jam miles from the track" (ORLANDOSENTINEL.com, 7/11).
A rollback of a Hamilton County, Ohio, property-tax break promised as part of a '96 plan to entice voters to pay for Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ball Park is the “latest in a string of unforeseen consequences from what has turned into one of the worst professional sports deals ever struck by a local government -- soaking up unprecedented tax dollars and county resources while returning little economic benefit,” according to a front-page piece by Albergotti & McWhirter of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. The deal to finance Paul Brown Stadium “has fanned the county's current struggles.” Of the 23 NFL stadiums built or renovated between '92-'10, only “two involved a single county government willing to shoulder the debt burden necessary to build costly new facilities.” The Bengals pact “was unusually lopsided in favor of the team and risky for taxpayers.” Hamilton County said that the final cost to build Paul Brown Stadium was $454M. The Bengals’ estimate “puts the tab at” $350M. But Harvard Univ. professor Judith Grant Long found that the “cost to the public was closer” to $555M once “other expenditures, such as special elevated parking structures, are factored in.” In addition to “paying for the stadium, Hamilton County granted the Bengals generous lease terms,” agreeing to “pick up nearly all operating and capital improvement costs.” Bengals VP Troy Blackburn said that the deal was “fairly negotiated.” The county in financing Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ball Park “assumed more than $1 billion in debt by issuing its own bonds without any help from the surrounding counties or the state.” Hamilton County officials “expect debt payments to create a $30 million budget deficit by 2012.” The Bengals’ stadium in ’10 cost taxpayers $34.6M -- “a sum equal to 16.4% of the county budget.” The county has had to “restructure the debt on the stadium a number of times to keep up with payments.” The Bengals “maintain that the county has made a series of financial moves that left it vulnerable to a downturn.” Blackburn: "If you make a decision to fund something, you can't try to hold somebody else responsible for that decision." Albergotti & McWhirter note the Reds' Great American Ball Park, completed in '03, “didn't go over budget and today is largely self-supporting” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 7/12).
The Marlins are "closing the upper deck to spectators at Sun Life Stadium" for the rest of the season, according to Clark Spencer of the MIAMI HERALD. Marlins Senior VP/Communications & Broadcasting P.J. Loyello said that team execs decided it “made little sense to staff the upper deck with ushers and security personnel for a section that attracted so few fans.” The Marlins “rank last in attendance among the 30 major-league teams, averaging just over 18,000 per game in paid attendance.” Loyello said that season-ticket holders with upper-deck seats “will be ‘upgraded’ at no additional cost to infield box seats.” He noted that the team may “make an exception for the season finale -- the final game ever for the Marlins at Sun Life Stadium -- when they face the Washington Nationals on Sept. 28.” Loyello indicated that the decision “had nothing to do with safety concerns stemming from the recent tragedy in Texas.” He said that moving fans out of the upper deck to seats below “will create a better visual effect” (MIAMI HERALD, 7/12).
The D'Backs have partnered with MLBAM and Levy Restaurants to offer mobile food ordering through the MLB.com At Bat mobile application. The D'Backs are the third MLB team to roll out the service following the Phillies and Astros. The mobile food ordering will involve an express lane at multiple locations at Chase Field for fan pickup of orders as opposed to in-seat delivery. The service is currently available only for iPhone users of the app. With All-Star Game events happening this week at Chase Field, the introduction of mobile food ordering was trumpeted by numerous signs posted in and around the ballpark.
A DALLAS MORNING NEWS editorial states the MLB Rangers have “behaved beyond reproach” in the wake of a fan falling to his death at Rangers Ballpark on Thursday. There has been “no finger-pointing and no defensiveness about improving safety, though railing heights in the stadium exceed code.” The editorial: “It’s good to see the Rangers organization taking a deeper look today.” The club is “pulling together a working group involving city officials, contractors and architects to do a thorough analysis of steps that can be taken.” The club’s evaluation “should lay out pros and cons of what seem like obvious safety steps, such as raising railing heights in more areas or, perhaps, installing cable above existing railings” (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 7/12). In Dallas, Tod Robberson wrote the rail at Rangers Ballpark “isn't high enough,” but a “half-inch cable running six inches above the rail would adequately address the safety problems that last week's accident illustrated” (DALLASNEWS.com, 7/11).
UP, UP AND AWAY: In Minneapolis, Kevin Duchschere notes the Metrodome roof is “set to re-emerge this week with a new look.” Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission officials yesterday said that they are “planning a ‘test inflation’ of the brand-new fiberglass roof being installed since late March.” The first public look at the new roof “will reveal a flatter profile than the puffy one that collapsed,” and it will “appear somewhat tan in color before the new fabric is bleached by the elements.” The project's target completion date is Aug. 1 (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 7/12).
SIGN HERE: In San Jose, Eli Segall reports officials at HP Pavilion arena “plan to replace 16 signs that hang in the concourse area with 16 hanging clusters of liquid crystal display screens.” The installation work is “slated to begin this summer and be completed by this fall, before” the start of the '11-12 NHL season. The new signs “could bring the Sharks more revenue and put more advertisers in front of thousands of hockey fans, concertgoers and other people who attend events at the arena.” It currently costs $40,000 per year to advertise on a pair of the existing signs. Sharks Exec VP/Business Operations Malcolm Bordelon said that with the new signs, advertisers “will be charged $50,000 per year for four minutes of digital display time at each hockey game” (SILICON VALLEY/SAN JOSE BUSINESS JOURNAL, 7/8 issue).
HERITAGE TRIUMPS: In London, Mark Ogden notes Manchester United Dir Bobby Charlton has “ruled out the prospect” of the EPL club “selling the naming rights to Old Trafford by insisting that the club’s heritage is ‘too important,’ despite Manchester City’s success in securing” a US$634M deal with Etihad Airways to rename their stadium. A naming-rights deal for Old Trafford “could hand” club Owners the Glazer family “a huge financial boost.” But Charlton said, “I can only say that it’s not our policy to change the name of Old Trafford. It’s too important” (London TELEGRAPH, 7/12).