SBJ/March 14-20, 2011/People and Pop Culture

Paddock wants speedway in Chicago sports conversation

Scott Paddock spent 12 years at Gatorade marketing one of the most pervasive brands in sports. He hopes to apply many of the lessons he learned there in his new job as president of International Speedway Corp.’s
Chicagoland Speedway. After playing host to sellout crowds for eight consecutive years, the 80,000-seat track experienced a drop in attendance last summer. NASCAR and the track have made changes, including making the track host of the first race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship in September. Paddock recently spoke with staff writer Tripp Mickle.

Considering the competition in the marketplace, how do you feel about hosting the first race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship?

The upside outweighs any potential downside. It’s NASCAR’s way of saying, “Chicago’s an important market to us.” Them giving us the Chase wasn’t a random thing, and they’re providing the resources to make sure it’s successful.

What has your focus been on so far?

Rebuilding our relevance in the market is job No. 1. We’ve got to be in the same conversation as other properties. Comcast SportsNet has a weekly show and has different reporters come in and out on panels. Every Thursday night I go on the show as a motorsports expert. There’s also an awards dinner for March of Dimes every year in Chicago. They honor a Bulls player, a Blackhawks player, a Bears, a Cubs, a White Sox, a Chicago Fire player. We needed to have a seat at the table, so this year we sponsored the inspirational award recognizing a high school athlete. That gives us a seat at the table and puts us in the same conversation as other properties.

What other changes have you made or do you plan to make?

We’ve done some fan surveys in order to understand what the fans are saying. What they’re saying they want is wider bench seating, to be able to bring coolers into the race, and to break up our track pass that required buying tickets for all four events over two race weekends. We’ve done all that, and the changes are resonating with fans already. We’re seeing it in ticket sales.

What challenges do you face?

Once we get fans back on site we have to deliver an absolutely incredible experience. We aren’t like the Bulls, the White Sox, the Bears or the Cubs. We don’t have dozens of opportunities to deliver great experiences to our fans, so we have to absolutely make sure that we wow them. We have to give them a unique experience that makes them say, “I have to come back each and every year.”

How will you draw from your experience at Gatorade in this job?

I came from the consumer packaged goods world, where consumer insights drove the marketing agenda, and that’s what I want to bring here. I’m going to be more engaged with the fans. We’re creating a fan advisory council, we’re going to be doing live podcasts. We are not going to let the on-track experience and product dictate the fan experience. There are so many things we can effectuate on our own. We have to be proactive about doing that.

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