Auto Club Speedway President Gillian Zucker gets a daily email detailing ticket availability before the track’s annual Sprint Cup race. When she scanned the email on the Saturday morning before this year’s race, she was surprised to see that fewer than a half-dozen tickets remained available at prices ranging from $40 to $120.
“Guys, we have a problem, and I’ve never had to deal with this before,” Zucker said to her direct report, Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood, who was in California for the race.
The track reached out to Hispanics, youths and the military.
“I think we ran out of tickets,” she said.
Later that afternoon, Auto Club announced its first sellout of a Sprint Cup race in a decade. The next day, March 23, the 70,000-seat facility was full for the first time in years. It was only the second sellout for a Sprint Cup race at an International Speedway Corp. track since the recession, and the first at a track that had reduced its capacity significantly, from 90,000 in 2005 to 70,000 today. (ISC-owned Phoenix also sold out a race last year.)
The sellout was the result of a seven-year marketing push by Auto Club Speedway to diversify its fan base and attract new spectators. It developed programs targeting Hispanics, youth, military personnel and first responders, and it increased total ticket purchases across those groups by more than 10,000 units collectively.
Zucker and her staff traveled to Daytona last week to present those efforts to executives at ISC, which owns Auto Club Speedway and 11 other tracks on the NASCAR circuit.
The track’s biggest success came in the Hispanic demographic. Seven years ago, Auto Club Speedway developed a family four-pack of tickets that it promoted through Hispanic radio stations. It sold just 50 packs that first year, 200 tickets total, but it didn’t abandon the program. Instead, it looked for ways to improve it.
“The goal with any of our programs is to generate 500 units [of tickets sold],” Zucker said. “When we find something that does that, we build on it.”
Over the last few years, the track partnered with Cardenas Market, a leading Hispanic retailer, and King Taco, a local quick-service restaurant, to develop promotions and programs targeting Hispanics. Cardenas sponsors a Hispanic music festival at the speedway every year that attracts 70,000-plus spectators, and King Taco placed promotional materials in stores and sponsored a science and math program that brought 600 students to the race.
The track also built out experiences to cater to Hispanic spectators when they arrive, adding food options and Latino music, and it has brought in Lucha Libre wrestlers to entertain spectators. All of it has combined to help attract more than 25,000 Hispanic spectators for the Sprint Cup race.
“[The Lucha Libre has] become so popular that we need to move them because the crowds are too big where they’re located,” Zucker said.
To attract more children to races, Auto Club developed a reading program for elementary schools. Teachers determine the number of books or chapters students must read in order to advance on a racetrack and complete a lap. Children who complete a lap get a free ticket for a parent to attend the Saturday Nationwide Series race at Auto Club. The student gets in free.
The program had 14 schools participate when it began in 2008. That total rose to 200 schools this year, and 120,000 students completed their laps. Close to 5,000 students and their parents redeemed tickets.
Racetracks have always done well in selling tickets to military personnel, but Auto Club didn’t have much success in that area despite there being 30 military bases nearby. It developed a program offering 50 percent off tickets to military personnel who purchased tickets at bases like the Marines’ Camp Pendleton, and it sold 25,000 to 30,000 tickets to military personnel this year.
The speedway complemented the military program with a first-responder initiative it borrowed from Dover International Speedway. It developed a special ticket for police, firefighters and EMTs that included access to a hospitality area at the track with food and beverage included. They sold more than 1,000 of those tickets.
Not everything Auto Club tried has worked. It launched a program aimed at Asian residents in Southern California by partnering with a brand called Hot Import Nights, which hosted a car show at the speedway. It attracted Asian spectators, but they weren’t able to convert them to NASCAR ticket buyers. Zucker said they haven’t given up on that segment and will continue to look for ways to reach that demographic.
“Sellouts are not as common as they used to be,” Zucker said. “My hope is that this is a clear sign of what’s going to be coming across the country for NASCAR.”