SBJ/July 17 - 23, 2006/This Weeks News

NASCAR tracks roll out upscale seating options

Often associated with images of infield masses and chicken-bone-heaving fans, NASCAR facilities have increasingly begun to target the most discriminating of customers with lavish settings and upscale food offerings.

Patrons check out the view from Octane at Phoenix
(above) and dine at Michigan’s Champions Club (below).
Octane, a lounge featuring natural stone architecture that mimics its Arizona surroundings, opened in April in conjunction with Phoenix International Raceway’s spring Nextel Cup date. Atlanta Motor Speedway plans to open the $5 million Club One this fall, California Speedway debuts Apex by Wolfgang Puck, which was part of a $10 million improvement project, on Labor Day, and others are in the works.

International Speedway Corp. COO John Saunders said developing high-end experiences is a priority for his company’s 12 NASCAR tracks. “The Octane-type experience is something we’re going to pursue,” Saunders said.

PIR President Bryan Sperber set out in early 2004 to create something opulent, yet native, with a view of the surrounding mountains in addition to a view of the racetrack. “Scottsdale martini bar meets NASCAR,” he said, was the vision.

What he got was Octane, a highly exclusive lounge six stories above Turn 1. Only 100 tickets are available to Octane per PIR weekend and an all-inclusive weekend pass to the lounge in November, which covers the Craftsman Truck, Busch and Cup races, costs $2,400. It sold out in April, at $1,900 a ticket.

“We have some of the finest five-star resorts in the Scottsdale area and we had to deliver to that level,” Sperber said. “We handpicked the staff from the best resorts, we partnered with chefs in the valley, and we made it exclusive.”

The view of the surrounding mountains, the comfort and the food and drink established Octane at an upscale level, but the unsung factor might have been the exclusivity.

“If you get too big, you water it down,” said John Moreland, the director of ticketing at Michigan International Speedway.

The market for exclusive seating appears to be there. A sheik from the Middle East wanted to rent a portion of the Speedway Club at Lowe’s Motor Speedway last May during the Coca-Cola 600 for about eight of his friends, club general manager Wanda Miller said. He asked for six servers and an enclosure so that his party couldn’t be seen. The Speedway Club, which normally entertains a few thousand fans on race weekend, couldn’t accommodate him, even though the sheik had said price wasn’t an object. At Texas Motor Speedway, a wealthy woman bought a 64-seat luxury suite for $100,000, and never has it played host to more than eight people.

For some companies, the ability to take a group of 50 or 60 customers to the race is inviting, but others simply want to do business one-on-one. By offering more outlets for those opportunities, tracks are better able to segment their fan base.

“You see a lot of consumer segmentation in packaged goods because your audience is not all the same,” said Roger VanDerSnick, ISC’s chief marketing officer, who worked 15 years at Procter & Gamble. “On the hospitality side, you want to offer a range of experiences that consumers and clients want to purchase. … Segmenting does reflect a systemic strategy change for us.”

Not all tracks have followed the same model or even pursued the same goals. Some are looking for new revenue streams, while others hope to attract executives who otherwise might not attend a race.

This rendering shows Club One, which opens
in October at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
AMS President Ed Clark said Club One and related amenities could boost revenue by as much as 15 percent. Club One will hold 1,000 people at $795 a pop for each of its NASCAR weekends, and even though the majority of a track’s revenue still comes from overall ticket sales, sponsorships and broadcast rights, fees from premium seating can make up ground in a hurry.

“What we pay goes up annually,” Clark said of sanctioning fees and purses. “We’ve got to find revenues that offset that. We can’t just increase ticket prices every year.”

Octane’s limited numbers won’t allow PIR to experience a windfall, but Sperber has more long-term goals in mind.

“We wanted to access an audience that had not been served,” he said. “These are the movers and shakers in Arizona, the corporate decision-makers who can come in and maybe see their company as a track sponsor. This is the clientele who can green-light big deals.”

The high-end arms race appears to be just heating up. At LMS, Miller said she was replacing the 3,400 seats in her facility with 2,500 seats that are bigger and more comfortable. She’s ordered 15 new plasma TVs. In October, the Speedway Club will unveil a new magazine titled “Luxury Living” as part of its membership package.

“There is truly an art to understanding customer demand,” VanDerSnick said. “Are we at the end? Probably not.”

Upscale NASCAR seating

Atlanta Motor Speedway

  • Name: Club One
  • Cost: About $5 million; part of a $20 million facility improvement
  • Located: Above Turn 1
  • Opens: October 2006
  • Menu items: Chef’s choice menu with open bar
  • Interior design feature: Refinished antique bars with mirror backs; stone entryway with marble columns
  • Capacity: 1,000
  • Tickets: $795 for three days (Cup Qualifying Night, Truck, IROC and Cup races in October)

Daytona International Speedway

  • Name: 500 Club/President’s Row
  • Cost: Multimillion-dollar project was part of a $50 million trackwide renovation
  • Located: Infield overlooking Gatorade Victory Lane
  • Opened: February 2005
  • Menu: Chef’s choice
  • Interior design feature: Fourth-floor access for infield view
  • Capacity: President’s Row: 80; 500 Club: 500
  • Tickets: $5,000 for President’s Row; $3,000 for 500 Club, which includes Daytona 500 and Speedweeks events in February, plus Busch and Cup in July

Homestead-Miami Speedway

  • Name: Champions Club
  • Cost: Not available
  • Located: Third floor above Turn 1
  • Opened: 2005
  • Menu items: High-end carving stations
  • Interior design feature: Art deco racing theme
  • Capacity: 850
  • Tickets: $650 for three-event pass (Truck, Busch and Cup in November)

Lowe’s Motor Speedway

  • Name: Speedway Club
  • Cost: More than $4 million in renovations the last two years
  • Located: Fifth and sixth floor of Smith Tower
  • Opened: 1987; renovated in 2005 and 2006
  • Menu items: Certified Angus beef, prime rib
  • Interior design feature: Onyx-faced bars
  • Capacity: 3,500 seating — will feed about 1,400 people at a Cup race
  • Tickets: $1,333 season pass; $442-$666 (Pole, Busch and Cup in October), available to club members who pay a $2,000 initiation fee

Michigan International Speedway

  • Name: Champions Club
  • Cost: Not available
  • Located: Eight stories above the start/finish line
  • Opened: June 2005
  • Menu items: Carved and grilled meats, salads, fruit, desserts
  • Interior design feature: Large murals behind each bar depicting past MIS race champions
  • Capacity: 870
  • Tickets: $450 for June or August weekend passes (ARCA, Truck and Cup in June; ARCA, Busch and Cup in August); $120 for July weekend pass (IRL)

Phoenix International Raceway

  • Name: Octane
  • Cost: Part of a $25 million overall project
  • Located: Six stories above Turn 1
  • Opened: April 2006
  • Menu items: Sushi, pasta and meat-carving stations
  • Interior design feature: Water wall
  • Capacity: 100
  • Tickets: $1,900 for two-event pass (Busch and Cup races in April); $2,400 for three-event (Truck, Busch and Cup races in November); season package $4,000

Texas Motor Speedway

  • Name: Speedway Club
  • Cost: $30 million
  • Located: Nine stories above Turn 1
  • Opened: 1997
  • Menu items: Chef’s choice
  • Interior design feature: Health club and spa
  • Capacity: 4,679 grandstand seats
  • Tickets: $572 season pass; $265 (Truck, Busch and Cup in November), available to club members who pay an initiation fee of $1,500 and up.

Source: SportsBusiness Journal research

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