This year we are doing a classic #Staycation for our spring break. That means we stay in town, but we do something touristy or fun each day, while still working most of the time. Today, we took a trip down south of town to Atlanta Motor Speedway for “the ten cent tour”, as our guide called it. This genuinely nice and sassy southern lady has been a NASCAR fan for 52 years since her daddy brought her to AMS when she was just six years old. She knew everything there was to know about the facility, including why it’s empty most of the time. Atlanta Motor Speedway has forgotten who its customer is.
NASCAR is Huge
One of the many facts that our lovable guide passed along to us is that “last year, in one week, AMS brought more money into the Georgia economy than all other Georgia sports combined.” While she left out actual numbers, even if that’s only half true, it’s pretty amazing. The acreage afforded to camping, RVs, and parking alone is impressive at more than 880 acres. One weekend a year (it was two a year until 2010), the property is full of cars, trucks, RVs, campers, and thousands of NASCAR fans.
NASCAR Customers are Working Class
One doesn’t have to do a demographic analysis to know who NASCAR fans are. They are mostly southern, mostly blue collar, and mostly middle or lower middle class. They are the working class of America who love fast cars, loud pipes, screaming engines, and squealing tires. The loyal fans of NASCAR racing have been loyal for decades. Much like College Football rivalries, these fans have their favorites, and they have the drivers they just love to hate. They know each driver like they know their own kin, love them or hate them, and they never, ever forget when their favorite car wins or loses.
Has NASCAR Forgotten Its Customer?
Halfway around the three laps we got to take around the 1.54-mile quad-oval with our guide at the wheel, we got into some interesting conversation about how much it costs to attend race weekend. By the way, race weekend at AMS is in late February. It used to cost $60 to camp (in a tent) by the pond for the entire week. A few years back, AMS raised that price to $100 without pre-announcing it or warning any of the loyal fans who camp there every year. The result was an empty campground around the pond.
Then AMS raised the cost of parking an RV in the farthest reaches of the facility to $2,500 for the weekend. A weekend of RV-ing parked around the outside of the oval is $4,000. I asked our guide how much it cost to park your RV on the infield. “I’ve been working here 11 years, and I’ve never even bothered to ask. I simply do not want to know, but if it costs $4,000 to park outside the stadium, how much do you think it costs to park in the middle of the race?!?”
There was some silence, and then another person on our tour asked, “Why are all those seats up in the stands painted red and blue and other colors?” Our guide scoffed, laughed, and said, “To fool the cameras. Those seats haven’t been used in years.”
Here Endeth the Lesson
Bruton Smith purchased Atlanta Motor Speedway on Oct. 23, 1990. Mr. Smith owns several other NASCAR sanctioned raceways, and he’s a billionaire, so he obviously knows what he’s doing. The facility is rented to transportation companies to do driver training in the parking lots. There’s a car show there at the end of April. “Used to be, this place was packed 300 days a year. Now, it’s empty most of the time. I don’t see how any regular folks can afford to come to race weekend anymore.”
The lesson here, while I do not know the finances of AMS, is don’t ever forget who your customer is. A great example of remembering is the tactic that Arthur Blank implemented at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta. It’ll cost you more for a coke and a hot dog at your local movie theatre than it will at The Benz. Classic case of lowering prices to drastically increase volume and, more importantly, customer satisfaction.
Not every case is like The Benz. The empty seats at a NASCAR facility just seems like a problem that’s way too easy to fix. NASCAR events draw hundreds of thousands of very loyal fans! It seems like AMS forgot who its customer is.