A Vision Of Our Sport’s Future – Part 4
Fan Interest, Entertainment, and Youth Engagement
There are two ways to increase fan appeal:
- Lower gate prices
- Increase value
Lowering prices is a very nice idea, but it is not always possible depending on the race facility in question. So this vision statement has much more to do with increasing the value that each visitor receives for the cost his or her ticket.
The top source of income for a short track is ticket sales, and if a speedway does not provide adequate entertainment for their fans they will lose out on repeat and word-of-mouth visitors. On the other hand, if a speedway is able to make a noteworthy experience for their guests and expose the beautiful side of the sport, it will gain longtime supporters.
This is a broad area for track promoters to show their creative imagination. Countless ideas and concepts can be employed in order to improve their facility’s layout, design, and surroundings. Fan appeal is the most important subject of all.
Too many track operators expect people to sit in one spot and be content for 3-4 hours watching cars go around in circles. Hardcore fans can endure it but even they could use relief from the monotony every so often. There is an urgent need to attract new fans, and new fans need more stimulus. It is important to focus on the future generations of attendees and to keep an emphasis on steady growth of the racing community. Extensive, exhaustive, repetitive race night schedules and a lack of mobility at a venue is often a turn off for existing fans, and quite possibly a repellent for new fans.
Track promoters/operators should be spending time in the grandstands reading their audience. They should be examining the crowd’s enthusiasm and observing the energy of the show. Length of caution periods, in-between race breaks, and driver introductions should be frequently evaluated. Keeping fans content is important during event downtime because there isn’t much excitement in watching track clean up.
Modern day fans need mobility. They prefer movement rather than to sit in one spot for an extended period of time. Facilities should seek to create explorable and social activities than simply watching the cars on the track. This includes gaming areas, historical displays, track stores, up close pit viewing, beer gardens, and social areas distant enough to temporarily remove themselves from the volume of race car engines.
Our facilities should be persistent in demonstrating absolutely outstanding customer service to increase repeat customers. In order to strengthen a speedway’s brand and to set its experience apart from other entertainment venues, customer service should not only be exceptional, but should also be a significant aspect of the facility’s operating plan.
Ticket counters, food and beer concession stands, and souvenir vendors should be staffed by enthusiastic employees who want to serve their guests with the utmost care in order to create the best possible experience. Guests will appreciate being treated with hospitality and it will become part of the race facility’s identity.
Connecting emotionally and delivering sincere value to paying guests is of absolute importance. If we show the consumers courtesy and respect, we will build a positive image and energy.
Modern day attendees seek simplicity; in order for fans to understand the events, they need the ability to view division info, driver and car number references, and race info with ease. Five-dollar track programs have become inefficient for generating revenue and only end up in the hands of a few attendants. The distribution of a clean, free handout and/or simple mobile phone access would be more effective.
Up-to-date payment systems should include on-site ATMs and credit card payment options for ticket and food and beverage sales. Additionally, present-day fans despise the look of long lines so track operators should be constantly analysing and improving their wait times for entrance and food and beverage purchasing.
Fan engagement is a key concept for modern day entertainment venues and this can be established through interactions. These interactions don’t have to take up event time either. Pit area access should be open to all guests after the final checkered flag with a “no trailer move” policy. Victory lane viewing also allows fans to witness the excitement in close range. Accessibility is desired by present-day fans. Many people find these areas of a race track interesting and up-close access gives them opportunities to connect with the racers and gain education in the sport.
Social media is one of the most crucial components of a race track’s ability to progress. All facilities need a social media plan that connects them with their followers and allows fans to engage. It’s essential for speedway executives to understand the importance of online interactions. Track operators don’t have to like social media but they have to either understand and manage it professionally or hire somebody who does because it’s the top method of engaging with their followers. Social media is not going anywhere and its functionality is constantly changing and evolving so it’s important to build and develop an online plan.
The Wow Factor
The entertainment aspect is already present in short track racing and fans will come to the track if they’re convinced of a magical experience. Track operators just have to add a “Wow” factor to create a memorable night in order for people to return. If the track announcers are lively, yet professional, the racers will take care of the show theatrics. The track is a stage and the racers are actors. It just all has to be brought to life. A speedway shouldn’t be putting on a race, they should be creating an experience. It’s important to give fans powerful memories to bring home and talk about.
A large portion of fans nowadays need some enticement or extra incentives to leave the comfort of their homes and attend the speedway. This can be achieved through special promotions targeted to a certain demographic. These campaigns gain effectiveness if they are recurring. If folks are reminded of these repetitive events then they may take advantage of the multiple opportunities to make an appearance.
To have sustainability with race track attendances, facilities have to study the wants and needs of youths. We have to grow them into the sport. Certain activities such as interactive rides, meet-and-greets with the drivers, up close viewing of the race cars, and frequent prize giveaways are ways to give younger fans captivating experiences.
Track management quick reference
-Is the crowd mood being frequently surveyed?
It’s important to notice the crowd’s emotion throughout a race night. Take note of the preferred time of the final checkered flag. 9:30-10pm seems to be a favored end time for a regular event night.
-Are methods in place to to reduce downtime of the show?
The track clean up crew should frequently be evaluated for their performance.
-Are there entertainment fillers during the downtime?
Wireless microphones, upbeat music, and big screen TVs are beneficial tools that provide opportunities to boost crowd interaction and participation.
Many semi-professional and professional hockey organizations interact with the crowd with promotions like “Chuck-A-Puck Night”.
-Can fans get up to date event info?
Programs are dated items that seem to generate little interest and income. Most are non-color and poor quality. A seasonal, high quality, full color collector’s item program could be a hit but fans should have event info for free. A single paper “Playbill” type handout could provide all info needed for a guest of the speedway. Mobile phone apps could be beneficial but big screen TVs are preferable because it will keep the fan’s eyes up at the stage.
-Is there a premeditated social media plan?
It’s essential to connect online with the fans during the off-week and off-season. Most racers are more than willing to participate if they know it will help the speedway.
Stafford Motor Speedway has weekly Snapchat takeovers showing views behind the scenes with drivers and people of interest from their race track.
-Is there a mascot of the speedway?
A mascot plus a sidekick is often seen at semi-professional and professional sporting events and can be fun and effective if used correctly. Mascots have to be approachable and charismatic so it’s important to read the audience during fan interactions.
-Is the speedway cast members highlighted?
Beyond the racers, speedways are typically full of characters. Make local celebrities out of the flagman, pace car driver, tow truck driver, trophy girl. Many eyes are on the flagman so encourage him/her to be animated. Highlighting these people of interest will create a greater connection between the speedway and fans.
Some characters of the race tracks are more appealing than others.
-Do fans have the ability to see the race teams and cars up close?
There has to be availability for the fans (especially young fans) to get close up views of the cars and stars they are witnessing. This could be in the form of a pit exhibit or extended access to the pit area.
NHRA allows close up viewing of the cars and stars of drag racing which is a considerable factor in their fan popularity.
-Is there frequent customer service assessments and training?
Striving for excellence at every interaction takes training and frequent performance evaluations with the track service team.
-Is there mid-week and off-season track updates?
Keep fans in touch with the latest news and track improvements. Also a simple, online weekly “Pick Em” contest or track fantasy league is a great way to keep fans interacted throughout the season. Year end prizes make these contests even more interesting.
-Is there a special deal, promotion, and/or theme for every event on the schedule?
Special promotions entice fans to attend the speedway if used correctly. Unique activities and discounts for families, couples, and/or ladies. Discount nights for college ID, military ID, fire/police, distant travelers, civic animal clubs, and groups. Dollar hot dog nights and/or specialty food items. These nights should be scheduled more than once per year and recurring.
Bowman Gray Stadium’s schedule includes 3-4 “$2 Ladies’ Night” promotions per season. Many weeks they also have fan giveaway prizes contributed by a track sponsor.
-Are there any pre-race activities?
Certain members of the race track family love to make full day events of race night. Tailgating should be embraced. A speedway could create a weekly car club show in the hours leading up to race night which could provide free entry to everybody contributing and showing off their rides.
-Are heat races and a handicap system system in place?
It’s widely agreed that group qualifying races are more entertaining than time trials. Handicap systems are generally favored as well. Faster cars should start towards the back of the pack. This generates more passing which increases intensity and enhances the show.
-Does your premiere division have a powerful and theatrical feel?
Some sure ways to get the crowd pumped up for a main event is to play upbeat music. Pyrotechnics, smoke, and theatrical lights are other dramatic effects that can spice up driver introductions and warm up laps. The racers are local heroes and the fans can build connections with the racers if there is a lot of built up hype to their names and rides.
-Are National Anthems performed live?
Quality sound and no pre-recordings.
-Are there plenty of activities to increase youth engagement?
Youths should be given the ability to see elements of the race track up close to create lasting memories.
Kids love rides on “The Bunny Bus” at Beech Ridge Speedway.
Fans at Silver Bullet Speedway throw water balloons at the track flagman.
Stay tuned for Part 5: Divisions and New Racer Captivation