By Rebecca Heilweil
On Sunday, the 103rd Indy 500 race will commence as 33 of the country’s top drivers begin their notorious 200 laps, ultimately rounding out a total 500 miles of track. But behind the historic competition is IndyCar, a company that’s hoping to beef up multiple business strategies as 300,000 fans descend on Speedway, Indiana this weekend.
Over recent years, the companies that facilitate American auto racing competitions ー namely IndyCar and Nascar ー have struggled to attract new fans, keep audiences engaged, and maintain sponsors, forcing them to find new ways to keep their businesses thriving.
One prospect for boosting IndyCar’s business development is increasing coordination with competitor Nascar, which just spent $2 billion purchasing the International Speedway Corporation (which owns racing tracks across the country, including some used by IndyCar).
“If it’s a good thing for them, then it’s a good thing for the industry,” Mark Miles, the CEO of IndyCar, told Cheddar. “I consider them friendly competitors and all we want to do is grow the industry.” That acquisition also comes amid champions of the two companies’ races showing up at one another’s events, and as some fans promote the idea of a Nascar-IndyCar double-header.
IndyCar is also looking to expand the VIP and hospitality experiences it offers. Miles highlighted that tens of thousands of people attend the Indy 500 not to watch cars race, but to listen to the bands that perform, which provides an auxiliary source of event attendance and a route to creating more racing event fans in future.
Meanwhile, IndyCar hopes new technologies will keep fans engaged. “For us, it’s about how we can improve the use of technology to present the sports to fans,” he said. He shared that the Indy 500 will pick up about 80 million data records from the cars while they’re racing, which will then be turned into compelling graphics. “We think that will drive the expansion in the number of fans,” he said, adding that the race is incorporating more “screens” and better internet connectivity so that fans have more immediate access to information during the race. “We just want fans to get all the content in the way they want to get it,” said Miles.
NTT, which is working IndyCar on data development, is a title sponsor of the 2019 IndyCar series. The data firm has also worked with the racing teams.
Another key partner for IndyCar has been NBC. In January, the two companies announced a new partnership that would increase the number of races that are broadcast live and secure NBC exclusive access to IndyCar content. Miles said that they’ve since seen a bump in television ratings.
One potential option: attract more female fans as the sport — hopefully — continues to attract more female drivers. British driver Pippa Mann will be the only woman competing this year. “It’s wheel-to-wheel, women against the men,” Miles said. “This is great, gender-neutral competition.”