Get Ahead Of The Technology Curve At IMS
This week, the Indiana Motorsports Commission announced approved preliminary plans by Hulman & Comnpany on how they plan to spend the $90 million provided by the bond issue authorized by the Indiana House. Rather than focus on the points that everyone else is talking about – the return of the apron for NASCAR, but not IndyCar; the new video style scoring pylon (uggh!), the improved video boards and many new amenities – I’d rather discuss something that was barely mentioned, but could be key in vastly improving the overall fan experience at the track.
This past Wednesday, Trackside had two very interesting in-studio guests. The first hour was a fascinating conversation with Paul Page, who has recently been named as the lead anchor for the IMS Radio Network. Although I could have listened to Page talk for hours, this post is not about Paul Page. It was the guest I had never heard of until he was on in the second hour that gave me something to think about. Roger Curtis, the President at Michigan International Speedway, stopped by and paid a visit with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee.
Mr. Curtis had an interesting viewpoint when discussing track improvements as they related to his own track, as well as IMS. He said what fans want most are not the biggest and most obnoxious video boards on the planet. Instead, his contention is that the future of the fan experience involves the five-inch screen that more and more people are holding in the palm of their hands.
The biggest challenge facing tracks today is providing a strong Wi-Fi signal for all fans to access. His theory is that fans would rather watch racing content that they choose on their smart phone rather than gazing at a giant billboard-sized video board showing only what some director thinks you should see.
The idea is to have an app or fee-based Wi-Fi available so that fans can choose different camera angles or select in-car camera views for their favorite driver. The technology is there, but the cost must be affordable to make it worthwhile. Otherwise they will be laying out the infrastructure for a select few to enjoy. Most importantly – it had better work. Nothing will turn off fans more than charging a fee, regardless of how modest, and have the Wi-Fi or the entire service be sluggish or not work at all.
I am not technical at all, so I am already speaking above my head when talking about a strong Wi-Fi signal. But this much I know – whenever I am at a race, a football game or even a hockey game – cellular service is terrible. In fact, it’s almost non-existent. I can be showing five bars inside the venue – but many times, I can’t text, tweet, send an e-mail or sometimes even make a phone call. And no, I don’t have some low-cost carrier you’ve never heard of. I’ve got an iPhone 5 on AT&T with LTE coverage.
When we were at Fontana in October, the general consensus is there were less than forty thousand people on the grounds. Yet, I could not text or tweet at all. I had planned on tweeting throughout the race, but my phone was practically useless. At Indianapolis last May, I tried texting a friend of mine before the race. It never went through. Supposedly, improved Wi-Fi capability is part of the plan at IMS. My hope is that the powers-that-be understand that this is part of the future they need to focus on and not something to just give lip-service to.
Mr. Curtis was right when he said that strong and working Wi-Fi is not just important to the teens and twenty-somethings in the crowd. It also matters to those of us in our mid-fifties and beyond. Personally, I don’t think that I’m going to be trying to watch the race on my phone while the race is going on in front of me. I’m enough old-school that I prefer the video boards to my phone. But I know that an app and choosing your own camera angles will appeal to a great many people – just not me.
But I do want to have the ability to text, put out tweets and send e-mails during races to some of my low-tech friends and relatives. My oldest brother still swears by his flip-phone. My eighty-nine year-old mother does just fine with e-mail, but texting and tweeting is something she has no interest in (although she is on Facebook).
Again, I have no idea of the cost or how to go about making Wi-Fi available and actually work quickly and smoothly in an area as large as IMS. But if they are planning on spending some money on it – they need to do it right, even if that means spending a lot more money on it. If they don’t get it right, they will have a ton of angry fans on their hands and will further enhance the perception that a bunch of out-of-touch suits are running things now.
If the future truly is making all video available in the palm of your hand, this is one chance for IMS and IndyCar to get ahead of the curve and have a totally unique fan experience. There are enough in all age groups that will benefit from this. IMS needs to get this one right.