Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway, and Jim Michaelian, president and CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, addressed attendees at the Motor Sport Business Forum North America in Orlando, explaining their marketing approaches and views on the state of the business side of American motorsports.
Michaelian noted the significant initiatives his Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach street race, now in its 35th year, has taken to stay relevant to the ever-evolving Southern California community.
“We took some rather substantial measures about a decade ago, about the turn of the century,” Michaelian said. “We took a look at our audience and realized there really was a disparity between our race attendees and the ethnic and demographic makeup of the Southern California market – which, you know is a very diverse one. We began to implement a number of programs that would have direct appeal to various segments of that audience, assets that they would find really attractive in terms of welcoming them to our event.
“We started with the Hispanic market – we had about six percent of the Hispanic market as attendees back in 2000, and we've made a very vigorous attempt to be able to attract a substantial element of that particular marketplace. With the help of such stars as Adrian Fernandez and Mario Dominguez, and working with sponsors like Tecate, we began something called Fiesta Friday, which was dedicated primarily to our Hispanic audience. There is a major concert featuring Hispanic artists, and we could see that there was tremendous movement of the Hispanic audience into that marketplace.
“We have a hotel inside, we have a shopping center inside, we have restaurants where you can sit out on the veranda and watch the racecars go by. What it does is it creates an opportunity where, let's say there's a family of race fans, you have the opportunity to bring the whole family, because the race fan comes to watch those six races, meanwhile someone can go into the hotel lobby and the kids can go participate in a go-kart race. What you see is an accumulation of a variety of different elements, all to attract those who either aren't hardcore fans or are associated with people who are and still want to come experience springtime in Southern California.”
Gossage emphasized the continuing need for marketing the sport. He also warned, however, about an over-emphasis on TV and new media audiences over traditional at-track attendance at races.
“It's a commercial every Sunday in the case of NASCAR and Saturday in the case of IndyCar, that carries the message and makes the drivers bigger stars,” Gossage explained of his track's approach to marketing races. It's critically important. I remember a time when not all IndyCar or NASCAR races were televised. One of the greatest things that ever happened was that ESPN came along for NASCAR, and NBC came along for CART, and made big names out of these drivers, deservedly. They should have been big names, and it helped the series as a whole.
“The downside is, in too many cases, we're becoming a studio audience and I think when we begin to start ignoring the live crowd, it's a dangerous thing. If there are empty seats, it doesn't look like a big event on television, so we need to fill those seats. If the consistent start times don't work for the benefit of the live event, at the gate, then it also doesn't work for television, I would argue.
“The race is the race, and it could be an extremely close nail-biter, or it could be a runaway and it falls on us as promoters to make the day exciting before the green flag drops – and perhaps for a while after the checkered flag drops. We try to do those kinds of things – our pre-race show for our Cup race was an hour-long concert by ZZ Top, we had a Chinook helicopter land on the front straightaway and in the pace car was a season ticket holder who was also the pilot of the space shuttle back in July. The fans loved that. So it's giving them the ‘wow' factor long before the green flag drops.”