Running a race track is quite a bit like running a race team. If you want to make a small fortune doing it, you need to start with a big one. The recent closings of Dover Motorsports tracks, North Wilkesboro again, and several short tracks around the country have brought the issue of race promotion to the forefront. There are different methods of driving traffic to a race track, but one thing is a constant–people have to know you’re holding races at your track or they won’t visit your venue.
In the aftermath of Nashville Superspeedway announcing that they wouldn’t seek Nationwide or Truck Series dates for 2012 a couple of weeks ago, there were several articles written in speculation of why the crowds didn’t show up in droves like the promoters anticipated. While there were several different theories, one underlying fact continued to surface–people didn’t know there were races going on. The track is not exactly IN Nashville, so enticing people to make the trip from the metro area to the facility required some effort to make sure people knew events were going on. Many of the accounts spoke of motel employees and gas station attendants who were within a short drive of the track who had no idea that races were taking place. While NASCAR does some advertising for races the ultimate responsibility for getting the word out lies on the shoulders of the promoter.
The same problem plagued North Wilkesboro during their recent attempt to reopen the facility. Wilkes County is roughly an hour from Charlotte, NC, the hub of NASCAR and home to a couple million people. The promoters never advertised their events in the Charlotte metro area, citing the higher cost of advertising as a factor in their decision. Unfortunately, that meant that the closest major metropolitan area had no idea events were taking place. During the Media Tour this past January, several different well known figures in the sport who would have loved to be part of the resurgence of the track had no idea when races were taking place. People are not going to just magically show up at your track unless they know that something is going on.
A similar issue is affecting the Polar Bear 150 at Rockingham Speedway. Last year they made the decision to change the date of the race to the end of November from January in order to cut back on the cost of winterizing the speedway twice a year. Similar to North Wilkesboro, the Rock is roughly an hour and a half away from Charlotte, an hour and 45 minutes from Winston-Salem and two hours from Raleigh. When speaking to people about possibly participating in the Polar Bear, they thought the race was New Year’s Day. If the word doesn’t get out to potential participants about the date of the event, there is no way they’ll get a car ready in time to race.
Competing against larger venues is certainly an issue for smaller tracks purely from a resources standpoint. Tracks like Charlotte Motor Speedway have much larger advertising budgets than facilities like Rockingham, but the little guys still need to get the word out in the bigger markets. The area around Rockingham has been hit extremely hard by the economic downturn, so pulling from the local area for fans is difficult, and attempting to pull from the Charlotte area can become a battle due to the advertising power of SMI. If Rockingham attempts to run ads in the Charlotte market, Charlotte Motor Speedway can, and will, run three ads for every one that the Rock runs. While the smaller track has a limited budget, it is better to get their name out there in limited amounts than not at all. The key is putting on good races for the people who do attend and making the experience enjoyable. If the product is good, the word of mouth will enhance the future advertising impact.
Race tracks are not like baseball diamonds in a cornfield in Iowa. Just building the facility will not make the fans show up in droves. Getting the word out, no matter what the media, will allow people to become aware of events and, providing the events are well run and competitive, the fans will show up. Race fans are willing to spend money and travel provided the product is good and the value is provided. However, they aren’t going to show up for events if they don’t know they’re going on. Race tracks of every size need to get the word out when they have events coming up to create a buzz and entice the fans to come out and attend, even if some free tickets have to be offered. The bottom line is, an empty seat is revenue lost, even if that revenue wouldn’t have come from ticket sales but rather ancillary spending.
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