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Tuesday, September 30, 2014
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Published: Tuesday, 8/19/2014

Attendance slumps for MIS race

Track president says weather played role

BY RACHEL LENZI
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Roger Curtis, the president of MIS. Roger Curtis, the president of MIS.
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BROOKLYN, Mich. — Roger Curtis acknowledges that the dynamics of the NASCAR race weekend in June at Michigan International Speedway are much different than those for the NASCAR race weekend in August.

Curtis, the president of the racetrack complex, provides some statistical evidence to that point.

“The crossover of fans that come to both races is only about 15 percent,” Curtis said. “Eighty-five percent of the fans you’re seeing are not here in June, so this is fresh for them. The June crowd, it was fresh for them, as well.”

MIS hosted NASCAR’s Pure Michigan 400 on Sunday, two months after it hosted the Quicken Loans 400, and Curtis said that while ticket sales for NASCAR events at the track have generally stabilized, ticket purchases in the days immediately before Sunday’s race had dipped from previous years. Curtis attributed that to the weather — rain hit Brooklyn early Sunday morning, but Curtis said dipping ticket sales have affected many NASCAR tracks.

“Tracks used to sell out months in advance,” Curtis said. “Now we’re not selling out, and so many people are waiting to the last minute to buy tickets. Either hanging on to their money, seeing if they have money, or waiting on the weather forecast. We were doing really, really well until this week. But year-to-year sales have not been the same.”

International Speedway Corporation, which owns MIS, does not release figures for ticket sales for its 12 auto racing facilities. The Charlotte Observer reported in May that federal security filings showed a overall decline in NASCAR ticket sales in 2013, though at a slower rate than previous years, and that ISC lost 4.6 percent of its admission revenue to $129.8 million after losing 6 percent in 2012.

The June NASCAR weekend at MIS is different than the August NASCAR weekend, which can be attributed to several factors, including the end of the summer giving way to the start of the school year, as well as the overlap with other major sports including the NFL preseason and the start of the playoff hunt for baseball.

Even the media presence appears to decrease — in part because ESPN held primary broadcast rights to this past race weekend, and other television crews are not allowed to broadcast on-track activity.

Still, Sunday’s race kicked off a four-week period many call “the chase for the Chase” — the four races prior to the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship. Curtis said the revamped format of the Chase — in which wins are vital to a driver’s pursuit of making the field — has generated national interest in NASCAR.

“Twenty-five percent of our fans have never been to a NASCAR race,” Curtis said. “But something’s working to get people to at least try NASCAR and see what it’s like.

“Now, I think the challenge for us and for NASCAR is, how do we keep the people interested? How do we keep them interested in the nuances of the sport?”

In addition to two NASCAR weekends, MIS also hosts the Michigan Wine and Beer Fest in May, the Faster Horses country music festival in July, high school proms, corporate driving events, and the Michigan state high school cross country championships — for which MIS offers suite rental at the track.

“We’re reaching a lot of new fans, but a lot of NASCAR tracks have lost their older fans, so it’s on us to keep regenerating and repopulating that fan base,” Curtis said. “We need to keep talking about NASCAR, and that’s what generates interest in our races. It’s about keep following the sport and keep educating new fans about the sport year-round.”

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.



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