The Indy 500 may be the most famous race in the world, but the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s (IMS) consumer products team knows better than to drive around in circles. Steeped in tradition, the speedway has found a way to package both prestige and history into products that constantly appeal to new demographics.
Established in 1909, IMS and the Indy 500 have been around almost as long as the concept of the horseless carriage. As the world’s largest spectator sporting facility, the IMS celebrated its centennial in style. With eyes on the road ahead, as well as always keeping an eye on its history in the rearview, the speedway demonstrates how to come out on top in any industry.
The IMS hosts three annual events: the Indy 500, the Brickyard 400 and the Red Bull Indianapolis GP. The first Indy 500 was held on May 30, 1911. Ray Harroun won the first race in the famous Marmon Wasp, which featured the world's first rear-view mirror. A total of 18 drivers have won the race more than one time, with A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser tied for the most career Indy 500 wins with four each.
The first Brickyard 400 took place in 1994, won by Jeff Gordon in the DuPont Chevrolet. Gordon has won the Brickyard 400 four times in his career, the most of any driver. Jimmie Johnson, Dale Jarrett and Tony Stewart have also won the race more than once in their careers.
As for the Red Bull Indianapolis GP, the inaugural event occurred in 2008, 99 years after the previous motorcycle race at the track in 1909. It takes place on the speedway’s infield road course, which was modified in 2008 to include an additional infield section for motorcycle use.
The speedway’s merchandise may not be the couture desired by fashionistas, but it certainly has its own flair. The creative team at the IMS designs and develops crowd-pleasing products, logos and artwork that capture both the eyes and the hearts of its race fans. With a facility of more than 100 years of history, the tradition of the speedway is the marketing team’s starting line. “Everyone in the stands can tell you exactly how many years they’ve been coming to the Indy 500,” says Vice President of Communications Doug Boles. “From a marketing standpoint, the IMS needs to take an experience and make it into a tangible product.”
“The Indy 500 is more than a race that happens once a year,” says Mark Bridges, director of operations for the consumer product division. The speedway is truly a unique environment where men aren’t branded as unemotional. When fans come to the speedway for 35 or 40 consecutive years, the racetrack becomes a tradition immersed in emotion. “We have to capture that emotion and translate it across many lines of appeal as we celebrated our 100th anniversary,” Bridges adds.
The IMS needs vendor partners and licensees that understand its history because it is such a significant aspect of what the facility is today. The speedway has more than 60 quality licensees, and some of its notable, long-standing relationships are with iconic names in their own right, such as IZOD, Mattel, Reebok and Nike.
Moving in the same fast lane as the speedway’s tradition is the history of the racers who have competed on the track. Fans are not only able to take home a piece of brick or asphalt that was once a part of the racetrack, but they can take home memorabilia of the legends who made their names competing on it. “The cars have personalities of their own,” Boles says. “The IMS design team has done well tying in our iconic cars like the Marmon Wasp, the first Indy 500-winning car in 1911.”
At the end of the race, when it’s about retail, it’s about fashion trends. “Because the IMS is a nontraditional retail environment, we find ways to relate fashion to the racing community with color and creative artwork,” Bridges says.
The speedway knows a thing or two about leaving its competitors in the dust. Like anyone in the retail industry, the IMS keeps its marketing strategies and products relevant and worthy of 21st century consumers and competitors. This means social media. “Through Facebook, Twitter and bloggers, we now have teams at the Speedway that are constantly shouting out a message for tickets and retail,” Bridges says.
Though the IMS has a healthy male fan base, it has shifted its gears to accommodate both female and a younger generation of supporters for the sport. The speedway has been giving its apparel a feminine twist. “We’re definitely looking at more fashion-forward designs like new and trendy colors, different fabrics and fabric treatments,” Bridges says.
The IMS wants to continue its legacy into and beyond the new century. For that kind of longevity, the speedway needs to constantly captivate the next generation of fans. Some of the design team’s strategies include changing up its colors and standard designs to appeal to kids.
Multichannel marketing has been a vital process to reach both longtime racecar fanatics and new lovers of the sport. With merchandise sold at the speedway, an online store, museum shops, and with the help of social media and collateral mailing, the IMS gives all consumers ample opportunities to purchase goods. “Our goal is to make sure a consistent message is sent from the Speedway at every opportunity, from merchandise to tickets and suite rentals,” Boles says.
With a tough economy making it a challenge to rev up consumer engines, the IMS is keeping its resources in mind. “As an organization, we had to rethink everything from ticket purchasing to family affordability,” Boles says. Through family value packs, a 12-and-under-free program and the opportunity to bring coolers and drinks into the facility, the IMS has made the tradition easier on the wallet.
Mindful of both the past and future, the IMS has developed key marketing strategies and product designs to make the speedway and its races a winning experience. “Because every fan has a story to talk about, we have to constantly listen and stay true to the history of the facility and focused on the machines, architecture and people that define the speedway,” Bridges says.