First and foremost, credit for this idea goes to Joe Berkemeier of Trackside Online, a reader-funded news services for IndyCar fans, to which you should all subscribe immediately.
Joe’s genius idea floated many years ago, is this: every executive in IndyCar, NASCAR and all big-deal sanctioning bodies, should be expected to attend at least one race a year as a fan. No VIP anything. Choose your average fan amenities (motel, camping, day trip to the race track), enter with a ticket, sit in the average fan seats, eat the average fan food.
It’s always good for the bosses to have a first-hand customer experience. If you’re an executive for Target or something, that’s easy. Just go to a Target store where they don’t recognize you, buy stuff, pay for it. BOOM. It’s just an easy way to see the pros and cons of your customers’ buying experience for yourself.
But that’s hard in racing, because there are average fans, and then there are credentialed people and even VIPs. There are multiple levels of access and amenities at race tracks, depending on your level of cash and connection. Most senior executives for IndyCar, NASCAR, what have you don’t deal with going through the gate, standing in line for a beer and hot dog, sweating it out in the stands etc. They get chauffeured in via VIP access routes, flashing the badges and credentials, whisked right into the deluxe infield parking, getting golf cart rides to wherever they are going.
That is bad for business, because it insulates you from the fan (customer) experience, and the fan (customer) experience is the most important thing in business. Period.
So, if I’m the King of IndyCar or NASCAR, I do this: I tell my executives to pick any race — except the Indy 500 and Daytona 500 — to attend. The company will pay all the expenses, but you have to choose from options available to the average fan. So no $542-a-night hotels, no eating at the four-star restaurants, no sky box at the track, etc. You’re staying at the Holiday Inn if not the EconoLodge, you’re driving yourself to the track, you’re parking in the pasture with the other fans, you’re walking in, presenting a ticket, sitting in the mid-range seats. NO infield access, unless you pay for it. So with IndyCar, sure, infield access is usually for sale, so pony up the extra $30 or whatever and get it.
Then sit in the stands for the race, file out with everyone else, drive out of there, go home. Soon thereafter, we sit down and total up the expenses for attending the race — including everything from gas to motel to food both at and away from the track — and then we talk about if you feel fans get full value for that money.
I can’t imagine a downside to this plan, except nobody wants to let go of their VIP access, which I full understand. I would probably cling to it also in their place. But ONE race a year as a fan, surely, won’t hurt Mr. Suite Dweller, and if it does then you got a big issue from a customer-experience perspective.
You can (and should) do all the formalized customer experience research and surveys, but nothing replaces having the average customer experience firsthand.
Even a lot of us bloggers, who think we know the fan experience, are a bit tainted by our access (at least I am). Media passes from the league or the tracks let us go a lot of places average fans can’t. Media access means no tickets to buy. A place to sit with our computers in the air conditioned media center, chances to question drivers, free food on the buffet. Cruising through the grandstand side of the track a couple of times and looking at it from the pits doesn’t give us the full picture of the fan experience.
Bravo to those bloggers who also attend races as fans, which in IndyCar world primarily happens at the Indy 500. I try to go to the IndyCar race at Iowa Speedway a ticket-buying fan for race day, but still, the media access on Friday and Saturday taints my view a little.
IndyCar and NASCAR for sure should make The Berkemeier Rule law. (Note: almost positive this doesn’t happen in IndyCar, but maybe it does in NASCAR. If so, I’ll happily stand corrected.) I doubt it ever happens, because all-access and suite seats are probably viewed as a perk that goes with the league VIP job. Pity. IndyCar and NASCAR would be better if the execs sat in the stands now and then.