Indianapolis officials seek new ways to attract fans

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles keeps looking for ways to fill seats.

He has a full weekend of NASCAR and sports car races leading up to the Brickyard 400. He’s kept motorcycles on the summer schedule at Indy and added road races and vintage car races. He’s hired headline bands for concerts and camped inside the historic venue. But every year the challenge of keeping racing fans engaged gets a little tougher.

Race organizers increasingly compete against other sports and children’s events while trying to get the fan dollars in a still tough economy.

Boles is sticking to his master plan.

“I think our focus last year and more so this year was how do we make the fan experience really great,” Boles said after last Sunday’s most recent race, the Brickyard. “We want to make sure it’s a great experience, and we believe that if we can deliver that, we can deliver on putting fans in the seats.”

Even in the self-proclaimed racing capital of the world and in a city that seems to embrace nearly every sporting event in town, it’s tough.

Formula One pulled Indy off its schedule as attendance figures dropped following the 2005 tire-marred debacle. Last Sunday, race organizers covered up some of the expected empty seats at the Brickyard but still had tens of thousands empty.

Next week, MotoGP riders who have frequently complained about Indy’s road-course surface will get their first shot on the track’s new road course configuration in front of what they hope will be a bigger crowd.

Even the track’s signature event, the Indianapolis 500, has struggled to sell out the estimated 225,000 seats.

While Indy ranks at or near the top of the most attended races in IndyCar, Cup and MotoGP, Boles is convinced he can win his race to bring more fans to the track.

He points to the uptick in infield ticket sales on a rainy weekend even though those tickets are cheaper and allow children 12 and under to get in for free with a paying adult. The estimated crowd was about 85,000.

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