Lack of Fans at 500 Creates Economic ‘Sting’

Inside INdiana Business is reporting that the senior vice president of marketing and communications at Visit Indy says the decision to hold this year’s Indianapolis 500 without fans will create an “economic sting” for central Indiana. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced the decision Tuesday, citing safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Chris Gahl says while the move will have an impact financially, it is important to put the health of residents and visitors first.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Gahl said while a specific number isn’t known, the 500 typically generates an eight- or nine-figure economic impact annually.

“If you could magically pick up the famed oval and move it to any city as a major event, we know that other cities would be clamoring to bid to host the Indy 500,” said Gahl. “It’s a very desired event with an international TV audience, all the makings of an event that any city in the world would want and here we are as a city…being able to host this annually. And so long-term, to ensure the health of the event, taking a pause this year in terms of fans in the stands, is something we support.”

Gahl says while there will be short-term economic pain, Visit Indy believes the move will be healthier for the event and the city from a tourism standpoint.

“The notoriety of the event coupled with no fans will draw attention and that attention will lead to demand for attending next year, we believe. This will be a hot ticket come 2021 because it’ll be off of the heels of the COVID pause. We believe from a viewership perspective…there will be a curiosity factor into tuning in to watch this event without fans because of the abnormal amount of fans that would normally attend in person.”

Gahl says the curiosity factor of watching the Indianapolis 500 without fans for the very first time will lead to “desire and action” which hopefully will be people buying a ticket to see next year’s race.

IMS had previously delayed the race from its usual Memorial Day weekend position to August 23 because of the pandemic. Speedway officials then announced the race would be held at 50% attendance capacity, which was later reduced to 25%.

A spike in COVID-19 cases in Marion County and throughout the state led to the decision to remove fans from the event completely.

“We said from the beginning of the pandemic we would put the health and safety of our community first, and while hosting spectators at a limited capacity with our robust plan in place was appropriate in late June, it is not the right path forward based on the current environment,” IMS said in its statement Tuesday.

The decision received support from both Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Governor Eric Holcomb.