SBJ/April 10-16, 2017/Events and Attractions

Indy 500 to build on energy for 101st running

Attendance topped 350,000 last year for the Indianapolis 500’s 100th running.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
With fewer than two months to go before the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500, race organizers say they’ve already exceeded their ticket sales goal and are making slight tweaks to the event.

Last year’s 100th running drew around 355,000 people and more than 6 million TV viewers. The novelty of the event, which is a 2017 Sports Business Awards Event of the Year nominee, proved successful for Hulman & Co., which owns Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar. But it left organizers cognizant of the fact that their goal for this year would be to top the 2015 attendance, which media reports pegged at around 220,000.

Doug Boles, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said this year’s attendance will easily top 2015’s, and added he’ll be disappointed if the figure doesn’t crack 300,000. That would represent at least a 36 percent uptick from 2015, though it would be an approximately 15 percent drop from the attendance last year.

“The longtime 500 fan, when they got in the venue for the 100th running, that really made them realize what made them fall in love with the place,” Boles said. “So in my conversations with people, they’re almost more energized to come back and start the next century; maybe not as energized as for the 100th, but certainly more than the years leading up to it.”

While not ruling it out, Boles does not expect to fully sell out the 250,000 seats that comprise IMS’s sprawling grandstands. But he does foresee a sellout in corporate inventory — including just over 100 suites and the Hulman-Terrace Club — and at the Snake Pit music festival that takes place on IMS’s grounds on the day of the race.

This year’s event will see a tweaked plan for egress, a marketing promotion that will incorporate taxicabs in the city, a yet-to-be-announced deal with Uber, and new community initiatives to energize local residents.

IMS changed its egress plan for this year after some fans went through “excruciatingly long” waits last year to leave the venue, Boles said. The tweak will make it easier for buses that transport fans from the track to downtown to get back to the track to pick up more people.

The taxicab promotion, dubbed “Taxi Advocates,” will see registered taxis in Indianapolis outfitted with a checkered flag on their windows during the month of May. Boles was not ready to reveal details of the Uber partnership, but it could involve special deals or pickup locations for the ride-hailing app.

IMS officials said they’re also continuing with the more robust community outreach effort that started last year around the 100th. The effort once again includes the porch parties theme from last year that saw people around the state host more than 500 Indy 500-themed parties in the weeks leading up to the race, said Allison Melangton, senior vice president of events for Hulman Motorsports. IMS historian Donald Davidson is doing around 200 events statewide to drum up support — and nostalgia — for the race. Decor at the Indianapolis Airport and the downtown area will highlight IMS’s 2017 marketing campaign, “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” and another large wrap will be plastered on the J.W. Marriott downtown.

IMS also has a new event called “Check ’Yo Self,” where the track is asking people to wear something checkered on the four Fridays during the month of May. IMS is working with establishments in the city to provide discounts or other rewards to people who participate.

ABC’s plans are still coming together, but the longtime broadcaster of the event expects to continue to find new ways to showcase the race and to focus more on the future of the series this year after focusing more on the past during last year’s 100th running.

“The 101st we’re sort of looking at as the first of this next century and, ‘What is the next step for IndyCar?’” said Kate Jackson, coordinating producer for ESPN’s Indy 500 coverage. “Any time a sporting event has occurred 100 times, you’re always going to be connected to the history. But … I think now that you’re looking at the 101st, you have a little bit more freedom to look at the future.”


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