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Volume 21 No. 6

Events and Attractions

NASCAR tracks continue to get creative in developing events that could make up for dips in admission revenue.

Whether it’s Auto Club Speedway hosting an attempt to bake the world’s longest pizza, Daytona International Speedway staging an episode of NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior” or Richmond Raceway prepping for a women’s professional bowling event, tracks keep finding new ways to gain exposure and put their vast real estate to use.

Track executives said that as more events are held at their facilities, more sports and entertainment decision makers are realizing the potential advantages of hosting events at the mammoth facilities.

The Electric Daisy Carnival provides a colorful addition to the infield of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“The more that you see kind of non-traditional events at speedways, the more it opens up other people’s minds like, ‘Oh, huh, we hadn’t thought about doing our event at a speedway,’” said Mike Burch, chief strategy officer of Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns eight speedways. “Then you have successful events like the Battle at Bristol and it fuels the visionaries like a Dana White [to think]: ‘Could we do a UFC event there?’”

Amid attendance declines in NASCAR, racetracks are working harder to diversify. The concert industry continues to be drawn to tracks, where the availability of vast parking lots, camping areas and other amenities can provide an ideal setting for music festivals. But that’s only part of the story.

Last year’s Battle at Bristol college football game at Bristol Motor Speedway was an extreme example of out-of-the-box thinking among tracks. But you’re more likely to find much smaller events such as the American Royal barbecue contest hosted by Kansas Speedway last October. Tracks are mulling events such as first-person shooter games using paintball guns, or hosting Topgolf’s mobile Crush driving range.

Richmond this fall will host the season finale of the Professional Women’s Bowling Association tour. Frank DeSocio, executive director of the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America and co-commissioner of the PWBA, said the event will build off other bowling activations that have taken place in NASCAR and will be a boon to Smithfield Foods, which is title sponsoring the event and based in Virginia.

“We have seen how NASCAR fans connect with bowling through the success of our GoBowling 400 race sponsorships the past few years,” DeSocio said in a prepared statement. “By building a championship bowling venue at Richmond Raceway, thousands of fans will connect with our players and see in person how fantastic professional women’s bowling is.”

Tracks that are situated near major markets are among those having the most success with special events. Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which is about a 15-minute ride from The Strip, hosts more than 1,400 non-NASCAR events a year, with several taking place on the same day. Kevin Camper, LVMS’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, said non-traditional events still make up less than half the track’s annual revenue, but the figure is growing. He declined to give specifics.

Dave Allen is president of Auto Club Speedway, which in June this year hosted the ultimately successful Guinness World Records attempt to concoct and cook a 1.3-mile-long pizza (which was later donated to food banks). Allen said his venue is earning revenue in the low- to mid-seven figures annually on non-traditional events and agreed that slice of the pie is growing.

Other venues that are seen as leaders in the space include Bristol Motor Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway, which is leveraging its recent $400 million renovation to bring in events like NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior.”

SMI’s Burch also highlighted Atlanta Motor Speedway, which has worked hard to add non-traditional events since it moved down to only hosting one annual Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. Events Atlanta has hosted include the Imagine Music Festival, Atlanta Air Show and Summit Racing Motorama.

Auto Club Speedway made use of its vast space by playing host to an attempt to bake the world’s longest pizza.
The deal structure for non-traditional events can vary, executives said. A track can rent out event space to an organizer, collect a fee and let the organizer do the rest, or the venue can work more as a partner with skin in the game. LVMS’s most notable non-traditional event is likely its Electric Daisy Carnival, which has become one of the largest electronic dance music festivals in the world since it moved to the track in 2011. Carnival organizers rent the track for the event, and LVMS sees additional upside from food and beverage sales.

SMI’s Burch said the idea of staging a paintball competition that mimics shooter video games is one of many being mulled by track executives. He expects Bristol to host more major events, both college football and otherwise, in the coming years, though it’s possible the next one won’t be until 2019. SMI President and CEO Marcus Smith concurred on an earnings call last month, telling analysts that “we’ve got several that we would characterize as on the line — but they’re very complex and take time to put together, so we hope to have something announced sooner than later.”

Still, perhaps the most popular type of event for tracks to host remains concerts. Michigan International Speedway and Dover International Speedway host the Faster Horses and Firefly festivals, respectively, and each event attracts large followings. Michigan promotes Faster Horses with Live Nation, while Dover works with Chicago-based Red Frog Events. As part of a partnership that its parent company struck with AEG Live, Daytona hosts the Country 500 music festival during Memorial Day weekend.

But not all such events are successful; Auto Club Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway are among tracks that have had events canceled or moved to another venue within the past few years. No reason was given, but lackluster ticket sales was a likely culprit. And New Hampshire Motor Speedway has run into issues with local laws that have stymied plans for a music festival.

Burch said that with so many music festivals going on at venues across the country, “there is a very strong but not unlimited appetite” for the shows.

Burch said some event organizers mistakenly judge successful concerts as easy to replicate. “Any time you go over getting 10,000 people to go to an event, it’s really hard, and so many people do it successfully that some probably think, ‘Oh, I can capitalize on it.’ I think we saw that in the festival business quite a bit,” Burch said.

Still, when done right, big music events “can open up a lot of people’s eyes” about the potential that racetracks hold, LVMS’s Camper said. LVMS just hosted the Electric Daisy Carnival for the seventh time. The event typically attracts a crowd in the low- to mid-six figures.

“We continue to see growth, and for us, [we have] 1,100 acres, a bunch of racing surfaces and applications,” Camper said. “All of a sudden, an event can be unlimited to whatever your creativity is.”