SBD/August 1, 2012/Facilities

ISC To Install Cellphone Towers At 12 Tracks; NASCAR Looks To Improve Fan Experience

Fans with wireless providers other than Sprint "were often left with silence" at tracks
Daytona Int'l Speedway Owner Int'l Speedway Corp. "has inked a deal to install permanent cellphone antennas at the Speedway that will boost reception regardless of a person's wireless telecommunications provider," according to Skyler Swisher of the Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL. Coverage also will "be expanded at 11 other ISC tracks, including Talladega Superspeedway, Darlington Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway." ISC VP/Multi-Channel Marketing & CIO Craig Neeb said, "If you go out to any public event, you expect coverage. That's just the expectation. This is a key investment that we are really excited about." ISC "hopes to have the new system installed" at Daytona as early as the '13 Speedweeks in February. Previously, Sprint's title sponsorship deal with NASCAR for the Sprint Cup Series "gave it the sole responsibility of boosting cellphone reception during NASCAR events." But fans with coverage from other providers, such as AT&T and Verizon, "were often left with silence on the other end of the line." When Sprint's title sponsorship was renewed in December, NASCAR "pushed to have that stipulation removed." American Tower Corp. and Corning Cable Systems "will design and install a system that ISC officials say will produce a 'noticeable difference' for race fans." Daytona Int'l Speedway President Joie Chitwood III said that boosting cellphone coverage also will "assist the sport's efforts to expand its presence in social media." He said that more fans will be "able to access Facebook and other sites through their data plans." Neeb said that talks are "already under way for a new project -- providing wireless Internet to fans at the track" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 8/1).

MAKING IT PERSONAL: USA TODAY's Dustin Long notes to "combat sagging attendance, NASCAR track operators are adding personal touches to make races more enjoyable for fans -- and to keep them from staying home and watching on TV." From "concerts to paved parking lots to improved Wi-Fi, tracks are enhancing entertainment options to fill their increasingly empty grandstands." Based on NASCAR crowd estimates, attendance for Sprint Cup points races "fell 8.5% from 2009 to 2011." Attendance through the first 20 points races this season is "down 2.4% from a year ago." SMI President & COO Marcus Smith said that fans "wanted more access to drivers, more family-friendly experiences and more comfort." He said that SMI had "spent between $30 million and $80 million a year on track upgrades in recent years" (USA TODAY, 8/1).

SPARKING INTEREST: CRAIN'S CHICAGO BUSINESS' Danny Ecker noted as NASCAR "struggles to gain ground in the Chicago market, the racing series and Chicagoland Speedway are trying to spark more Windy City interest in its events." Part of the effort "to turn that around is coming from stunts like the one NASCAR held outside the House of Blues [last] month, bringing together marketing heads from the Joliet track, sponsors, NASCAR itself and Sprint Cup driver Kyle Busch to launch its new 'NASCAR Contenders Live' event." The Sprint Cup Geico 400 was previously held in July, but Chicagoland Speedway President Scott Paddock said the race was moved to the front of the Chase For the Cup lineup in '11 "to give it the big event platform that it deserves" (CHICAGOBUSINESS.com, 7/30).
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