How much do IndyCar’s own marketing efforts overlap with yours?
GENE HALLMAN: We collaborate a great deal with IndyCar on marketing, and we go and visit them in Indianapolis and sit down with their marketing teams and share idea, and I believe we’re actually giving them some thought leadership, and they indeed give us a great deal. Especially in this area of digital targeting, but also in creative things, which particular drivers have the highest appeal and which ones to push… Josef Newgarden is a natural here in Birmingham because of his Nashville roots. Helio Castroneves isn’t racing this year, but after being our first winner he was very popular for many years.
So we work closely with the series on our marketing efforts, and I tell you, in my business I deal with a lot of sanctioning bodies, from the NCAA, to the Southeastern Conference, to the PGA Tour, the LPGA, the USTA, and frankly the best sanctioning body I work with is IndyCar. They get it the most, in terms of working with… so many times it’s a push and pull relationship when you as a promoter are dealing with a sanctioning body. It is not that way at all with IndyCar. You call them and it’s a collaboration, a partnership. It’s been a very good relationship. I’m very comfortable with Mark Miles and his team.
What can other events learn from yours?
GENE HALLMAN: It’s hard to replicate our facility, but creating the different tentacles of the event to try and draw in non-race fans and try to turn them into race fans. We sold 100 cases of wine last year, and Sunday was a rain-out. And it’s not our primary purpose to sell wine. We keep developing these different aspects. The Grand Marshal has been the face of our event – we’ve had Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Bo Jackson, last year we had Channing Tatum. And that Grand Marshal creates and appeal and draws in someone who might not otherwise be drawn to the IndyCar message. So appealing to all folks… like parents – we allow kids 15 and under to get in free, because if they’re 15 and under they can’t drive, so somebody’s got to bring them. And they’ll have to buy tickets. It fits right in with the park theme – to have art, wine, the Museum, kids activities, and then the great racing.
JIM MICHAELIAN: Putting on a street race is difficult, for lots of reasons. One, it requires a tremendous coordination between the host, which is in most cases the city, and the promoter. Two, you have to have a venue that is attractive, and we’ve said that around here for years. In theory you could run a street race anywhere there’s a street that’s wide enough, and can accommodate the paddock and do all those things. But to get the crowd you want, the people you want, and then as a product of that, the sponsors you want and the coverage you want, you need to do it in an environment that’s attractive. You need people to say, ‘You know what, that sounds like a cool place to go. I’d like to go there and see the races’. Or in some cases, ‘I don’t care if I see the races, it just sounds like a neat place to be at’.
Then putting together the operating team… and that’s really important. We have people who have been here for 20, 30, 40 years. This isn’t one of those things where you open the gates and let people in and then shut the gates when they go. You’re building a city within a city. And how that’s done is critical in terms of people’s perception of whether the event is a success or not.
And lastly, you need to have the financial resources to make it work, because those first few years are difficult unless you have tremendous resources – which most people don’t. Those first few years, it’s very difficult to make any money at all. You have to survive for two or three years, and then the event starts to grow in terms of its attractiveness, and people’s awareness, and sponsors wanting to be involved. And then as time goes on, then you get the potential to start turning it into a financial success. But until that time… these events cost a significant amount of money, and you have to be able to put on a successful event, because unlike a permanent circuit, you can’t reopen in two weeks and put on a club race or a track day. We don’t have that. When Sunday night is done, we’re done as far as the event is concerned. Although since we’ve acquired so many assets over the years, we have a whole special events division that takes all those assets the rest of the year and uses them, whether for a volleyball or a concert. Just a couple of weeks ago, we put all of the seats out for the Academy Awards in front of the Dolby Theatre. So in some ways, it’s a little analogous to having a permanent circuit and being able to generate additional business. But in most cases, you’re pretty well dependent on that one street event to incur not only all of the revenue, but also to cover all of your overhead for the rest of the year.
KEVIN SAVOREE: People – fans, event-goers – want to be entertained. They want to come out, enjoy some food, enjoy the camaraderie, see the sights, hear the sounds, have the kids drive in a simulator or get to walk through the paddock… those are the things that create lasting memories of an event. For me, there’s nothing like the start of a car race. It’s just so special. Kim [Green] and I have such a thrill, such an excitement, for every one of them. Every one of them is going to be different; every one is going to make its own history, and that’s the part that we love. And once fans see that, they’re going to come back. And in the markets we’re in, that’s come to bear.