The band ’63 Burnout has a song called “Trouble at the Speedway,” a very Dick Dale-ish surf guitar instrumental. Good stuff. The title made me ponder some of the current troubles at the Speedway. Money was one that came to mind immediately.
Don’t get me wrong. I am all for free enterprise and charging whatever the traffic will bear. The object of business is, and always has been, profit. I applaud IMS for finally monetizing everything in sight. It’s the American way.
For years, IMS was the best value of any major sporting event in the world. They could afford to be. The track made money every year by having massive crowds for both Pole Day and Race Day. Limited and very reasonably priced concession offerings sold well. The corporation did not own a money-hemorrhaging racing series and simply mowed, painted, and repaired the facility until the next May. Life was good. All of the Hulman family had some folding money in their pockets and seats in a convertible for the parade as well as being Midwestern royalty reigning over a rather provincial outpost. Who could ask for more?
Well, it seems the Speedway tired of being a once a year monument to speed, so they spent money like the lottery winners they were to make IMS a world class venue for other racing. They erected the Tower Terrace Suites, made a goat ranch into a world class Pete Dye golf course, built a new Pagoda and garages, and added a road course in the middle of the once sacrosanct oval. With all this building came NASCAR, F1, and the PGA. The money train was on the tracks and rolling. At least it was until F1, as it always does, found a better offer, until the golfers moved on, until the blush was off the NASCAR rose and the crowds dwindled, and until the formation of the IRL killed the popularity and profitability of the series and, to some degree, the Indianapolis 500.
There are a couple of different ways to deal with the loss of profitability. The easiest way is to cut costs as IMS did. Defer maintenance. Sell your private jet. Hire a skeleton crew to run your money-sucking series. Deny requests to add much needed personnel. Another way is to apply modern sports business knowledge to the idea of making more money. Promote the product. Hire the right people and let them work. Add events. Start charging for everything that has value. This is Indy today.
Want to glamp? It will cost you. Need preferred parking? Pay up. Need video boards? The tickets cost more. Hungry for a new cuisine or thirsty for a craft beer? Pull out your wallet. Want to watch practice? Peel off a fin and a sawbuck ($15) for the privilege. IMS should have marked everything up years ago but held onto the outdated notion of Tony Hulman that the facility and the race were public trusts. While it is true that the track is on the National Register of Historic Places, it is still a business that needs to profit. Do you really want to see the patrons howl? Wait until the Speedway decrees that coolers are no longer welcome as a safety decision. Talk about a new revenue stream! And it is right for both safety and profit. Nothing makes a capitalist happier than being able to justify profit in the name of Homeland Security. The customers cannot argue. I’m holding out hope that IMS uses a sponsor to offer a spectacular beer and cooler deal to the fans when the time comes, though.
Get used to it. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is going to get deep into your pocket for all the right reasons: profit and sustainability. The old FRAM Oil Filter commercial used to have a mechanic saying, “You can pay me now, or pay me later.” For fans of the Indianapolis 500, later is now. Pay up.