As IMS rubs its hands together and gleefully prepares to spend its own tax money on moving both its facility and fan engagement into the modern era, the question is how to spend the money. Since I have absolutely no qualifications to offer any suggestions or advice, I feel compelled to do so.
The obvious and easy answer is to simply maintain the existing facility. Roads need repaved, rust needs scraped, and walls need painted; money needs to be spent on this every year, and while maintenance does not necessarily enhance the fans experience, lack of maintenance absolutely devalues it. And value for the fan is paramount in attracting patrons who will continue to attend the Indianapolis 500 and other events at IMS in the future.
At sports venues across the country, the concept of “value added” is at the forefront. Go to a Major League baseball game and you can purchase tickets in a section that includes food and drink. At NFL stadiums, your tickets for the club section often includes concession servers and private restrooms. Barcoded tickets often carry extra benefits that can be redeemed at concession and merchandise stands. Basically, owners have found a way to add value, or at least appear to add value, to attending an event. In the past, this value was almost always reserved for the captains of industry and their minions sitting in the suites. Extra value cost a lot of extra money. But after these suites dwellers were mined for their cash, team owners cast their gazes at the hoi polloi in the bleachers and realized that there were ways to
extort extract more money from them. And let’s face it, the metrics of management showed that giving the plebes a little something extra once in while made them feel so good that they spent even more and came back again because their experience had “value added.” The question is how can IMS add value to the experience at the Indy 500 and other events?
IMS has already started to add value to the Indianapolis 500. The new Snake Pit, with DJ’s Afrojack and Diplo, absolutely adds value to the young people who go to the race, not to see the cars, but to see these celebrities and hear their music. Many of these people will return again next year, quite likely because their experiences were enhanced.
The addition of the zip line that will be moved around the facility during the month has been much reviled by many hard-core racing fans as a gimmick, which it absolutely is, but will it bring local fans out during practice, qualifications, and Carb Day? Yes, it will, and that is added value to the consumer.
The Bronze Badge at $100 and Junior Garage Credential for $75 are tremendous added values. Access to restricted areas and special events is an easy and relatively cheap way to make people feel special.
Those are here now. But how can IMS add value in the future? Here are some ideas:
- More and mobile video boards are needed. The current ones are dark, blurry, and out-of-date. Instead of enhancing the fans’ experience, they diminish it. The modern fan expects more. Instead of installing permanent video boards that are likely to be obsolete in a very short time, lease or buy portable devices that can moved around the facility as needed. These can be updated when necessary, and IMS Productions could become the leasing agent of these portable boards when not in use at IMS. That can add value to not only IMS but the whole IZOD IndyCar Series.
- Special sections with ticketed benefits are necessary. For an upcharge, ticket holders can get concessions and merchandise by simply having their tickets scanned. This can include special lines for patrons with these tickets. There should be club sections where fans have wait staff to take their concession orders. Fans love to feel like they have something others do not. If IMS wants to see tickets to the Indianapolis 500 be a premium again, then they need to offer premium services. And they can charge a premium for these tickets.
- Add seatbacks in the Vistas. These massive sections in the turns have fantastic sight lines and back-breaking benches. If money and space are a limitation, then add an extra cost to the ticket to include a temporary seatback. At major college venues, this is an upfront cost and the seatback is installed for you. Currently, you have to rent the seatback on-site at IMS and lug it up the Vista yourself. This would absolutely be a value added option.
- More special parking is in order. This year, the Speedway charged $75 for front row infield parking and $25 for general admission infield parking. They even offered front row parking in the North 40 lot outside Turn 3. I guarantee that every patron who paid money for these spots feels special. It is value added, baby. Find parking in every nook and cranny and charge for it.
- Make sure the facility has the best cell phone reception in the world. Your event can’t be the greatest if some things are the worst. Today’s fans demand that their handheld devices work on all networks. The Verizon IndyCar 13 app is fantastic, but not if I can’t use it at the race. If it does not work at the 500, then I walk out with my experience less than enhanced. I will be upset with IMS and Verizon. Spend your money on making sure the fans basic expectations are met.
The formula for value added is simple. Make it fun, make me happy, make me feel special. Make it seem that I get something for nothing. For me, the racing is enough, but for the vast majority of fans, it’s not. Modern fans want to have a great experience, not just a great race. Everything at the event needs to be incomparable. IMS legend Eddie Sachs said it best: “If you can’t win, be spectacular.” With its history and pageantry, IMS should have no problem making the experience spectacular for its patrons.