SBJ/October 15-21, 2012/Facilities

Bristol track may build VIP boxes

Bristol Motor Speedway is reviewing plans to convert its lower-level seats in Turns 1 and 2 into open-air, VIP boxes, a move that track executives believe would improve the fan experience while also reducing the track’s total capacity.

Bristol Motor Speedway is in the “evaluation phase” on converting lower-level seats in Turns 1 and 2 into open-air, VIP boxes that would offer a premium and exclusive experience to fans.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
The proposed VIP boxes, which were drafted by designers at Bristol’s parent company, Speedway Motorsports Inc., would be similar to what is offered at many outdoor concert venues. They would offer a premium and exclusive experience to fans who still want to be outdoors and close to the racing action. There’s a possibility that the boxes would provide access to a nearby party deck that would be 10 feet back from the fence around the track.

“It’s not something we’re moving forward with but we are going to measure demand,” said Bristol general manager Jerry Caldwell. “There are individuals attending races that want an enhanced experience. … That’s really where our thinking is coming from. How do we provide different entry points for people to have a premium experience and more fun than they had the last time.”

NASCAR tracks have seen significant declines in attendance over the last five years, and a recent study funded by NASCAR found that many of its facilities have fallen far behind other professional sports in terms of what amenities and services they offer. That’s led some tracks to begin to look for ways to improve the fan experience. Daytona International Speedway, an International Speedway Corp. facility, is looking to renovate its grandstands, and Charlotte Motor Speedway, an SMI track, recently installed the largest video board in professional sports and a row of new, outdoor suites along pit road.

Bristol is one of the largest and most respected venues on the NASCAR circuit. It seats 160,000 spectators and sold out 55 straight races between 1982 and 2009, but attendance has fallen in recent years for both its spring and summer races. The official attendance estimate for its Sprint Cup race last March was 102,000.

Track operators haven’t made a major change to the facility in two years, and the last change it made — converting the roof of its infield media center into a viewing place for suite ticket holders — was designed for corporate customers. The outdoor boxes would be designed to appeal to small groups of fans looking for a more exclusive experience at a lower cost than suites.

“Anything that is going on in the last few years is a response to the economy,” Caldwell said. “We’ve continued to have very strong corporate and fan involvement, but there are times when you have to step back and say, ‘What else is out there? How can we improve?’”

Caldwell said that the outdoor VIP boxes are still in the “evaluation phase” and will require SMI approval before the track goes forward with the plans.

Bristol also is in the midst of downsizing several of its 16-person suites. The track last spring partnered with Scripps’ DIY Network, which has a show called “Man Caves,” to convert one of its 64-person suites into a man cave complete with leather recliners, pub tables fashioned from Goodyear tires and racing simulators. The converted suite was so popular that Bristol is now converting three of its 16-person suites into eight-person man caves.

The new man-cave suites cost $25,000 and are being converted on order. Caldwell expects more orders in the future.

“The demand is not as great for [entertaining large groups of people] as it was,” Caldwell said. “There’s more demand from people who want a premium experience but want to bring fewer people and treat them top notch. That’s what is driving it.”

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