The Brickyard 400 is fighting a losing battle. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race used to draw over 200,000 spectators at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In all reality, those figures were pushing close to 275,000+ in the races heyday. But, after a tire debacle in 2008 and the summer time heat in Indianapolis, an estimated crowd of 35,000 showed up to last July’s race.
The event was one of the most prestigious races on the NASCAR schedule. In the last decade, they lost almost 200,000 fans. The biggest question is why?
Well, they made some changes to help alleviate the problem. The biggest? A new date. Unfortunately, that new date has a major conflict – the Indianapolis Colts.
On Thursday night, the NFL unveiled the 2018 schedule. My biggest takeaway from it was that the Colts open the 2018 season at home against the Cincinnati Bengals. The kickoff time? 1 p.m. ET. The date? Sept. 9.
The 2018 Brickyard 400 start time and date?
2 p.m. ET on Sept. 9.
See the problem here?
The Colts averaged 63,440 fans per home game in 2017. With likely having Andrew Luck back for this season, there will be extra interest on that Week 1 game. Plus, it couldn’t be against a worse opponent. A ton of out of state fans that embark on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are from Ohio. A lot of them are Bengals fans. Now, your dividing two fan bases with making a decision to go to the Brickyard or pay attention to the opening week of the NFL.
I wondered if this would be a problem last year. I asked IMS president Doug Boles prior last year’s Brickyard 400 if the track has asked the Colts to work with them on trying to open up on the road or have a later start time. Boles said that they had conversations with the Colts and that the Colts were in talks with the NFL, but the Colts nor the NFL could guarantee anything.
The NFL ignored them it seems. But, Boles said then that if the NFL did do what they just did, the track and the Colts would still work together in this problem.
“We’ve also been working with Visit Indy on other conventions that are here so that we’re not stepping on anything or planning on things that are getting in the way of each other,” Boles told me last July. “We think that even without some help from the NFL or Colts that there’s an every second or third year that there could be a head-to-head problem. Even if we end up head to head, the Colts and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway would find a way to market each other so we’re not hurting each other.”
“Typically when we get into TV start times, that doesn’t normally happen until the beginning of the year, but that’s something certainly NASCAR and the Speedway would take into consideration on when the Colts play,” said Boles.
“We feel like all the positive of moving to September offset the one big negative of the move and going head-to-head against the Colts.”
So, who instigated this date change? Was it IMS? Was it NASCAR? Boles said it was a combo of both as well as NBC too.
“I would tell you over the last three or four years that this track certainly and I think a lot of tracks have had a great relationship with NASCAR and NASCAR has been a great partner in helping tracks figure out the best problems from customers,” Boles said of the date change. “Ours was the heat and the second one that right now this is just another race in a series of a bunch of other races. We’d ask in the past about the potential to move and if we move to go into the Chase.
“For us there’s a lot of equity of this early August late July time frame. If we have to move, the two dates that we were most interested in was the last date before the actual playoffs or into the playoffs themselves.
“One of the options from NASCAR was kicking off the NBC season of the NASCAR year. For us that didn’t solve the heat problem and didn’t solve the problem of not getting excited about the racing for our fans. Ultimately we decided lets make this the last race before the playoffs. There’s not a better place than to end the regular season here in Indianapolis.”
I asked Boles about the possibility of adding the apron back or even the lights question that comes up time and time again and he was honest on both. He said that adding lights isn’t out of the question still citing that the original cost of $25-million has actually come down to $21 to $22-million because of LED technology.
Regarding the apron, with how good of the racing we’ve seen for the Indianapolis 500 since 2012, it’s unanimous that none of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers nor the series wants to see the apron back. The racing and angle of crashes won’t benefit them.
NASCAR is ho-hum on it. It’s split between drivers whether they think the apron will work or not. Without knowing for 100-percent fact, the apron doesn’t appear to be on the radar unless they do some significant testing.