MIS hopes concerts attract younger audience

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Matt Kenseth does a burnout for fans after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Aug. 16, 2015.

Brooklyn, Mich. — Roger Curtis took over as president of Michigan International Speedway in 2006, NASCAR’s high point in popularity when 130,000-plus fans showed up on race day.

Things have changed.

Typically, crowds of 80,000 have turned out for the NASCAR races in June and August at MIS, and Curtis is looking for new, creative ways to attract fans.

The biggest is by adding entertainment to draw in Millennials who have grown up with X-Box, cell phones and social media.

This weekend’s race, the Sprint Cup Firekeepers Casino 400, will include night-long concerts at Turn 3 that include Third Eye Blind on Friday and Elle King on Saturday. There also will be an after party both nights from 11 p.m.-3 a.m. at the M-50 campgrounds.

“For us it’s a long-term initiative,” Curtis said of Keloorah Music Festival, which costs $60 and includes admission into Sunday’s race. “Last year the goal really was can we logistically and operationally make it work on the same weekend that we’re doing a NASCAR race weekend, and we did and we knew we could.

“How many fans did we bring in because of Keloorah? We’re not sure. ... (But) we certainly did notice a lot more younger folks, from teenagers to late 20s, that would not have otherwise been here just to see NASCAR.”

Among the other highlights of the weekend are free paint ball, go-karts, arcade games and Cornhole.

“I think $60 is an amazing value, and that’s watching the race on The Deck (in Turn 3),” Curtis said. “That’s the ticket where most of the new fans that are coming in are getting. That’s the top selling package because it’s very similar to like center field at Comerica Park, lots of bars, lots of tables to hang out. You can watch the race, visit with friends and we’ll have D-Js around there as well.

“The Deck is kind of that Social/Sports hangout more so than sitting in the stands and watching every lap of the race. ... We just want them to hang around, watch some laps, then who knows they may pick a favorite driver and get hooked on the sport.”

Curtis said the space for the concerts can handle 20,000 fans.

“We’re trying to find a unique niche,” Curtis said. “The goal is not to become Faster Horses (MIS’ three-day Music Festival from July 15-17) or Lollapalooza ... nor is it someone playing four or five songs at prerace. It’s finding something that’s not too big, but bigger than what we we’re doing to get the attention of that potential new fan.”

In the end, Curtis knows the new direction will take time.

“This is really the first year we’re really marketing it, really going out with a very specific message to that demographic (Millennials),” he said. “We know this is not a flip switch and overnight success. This is a three- or four-year plan.”

MIS WEEKEND 

FirekeepersCasino 400

1 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: (800) 354-1010 or mispeedway.com

Highlights

■THURSDAY

ARCA: Practices at 1 and 2 p.m.

■FRIDAY

Sprint Cup: Practice at 11 a.m., qualifying at 4:15 p.m.

Xfinity: Practices at 12:30 and 3 p.m.

ARCA: Qualifying at 1:40 p.m.

Entertainment: Third Eye Blind, 9:30 p.m.; after party, 11 p.m.-3 a.m.

■SATURDAY

Sprint Cup: Practices at 9 a.m. and noon

Xfinity: Qualifying at 10 a.m., Menards 250 at 1:30 p.m.

Entertainment: Elle King, 5:30 p.m.; after party, 11 p.m.-3 a.m.