Track ready for debut of giant video boardPublished May 16, 2011
Marcus Smith stood in the infield of Charlotte Motor Speedway on a sunny, warm day in late April and stared up at a five-story-tall, blue screen towering 110 feet above the track’s backstretch.
The video board features a screen that’s 200 feet wide and 80 feet tall.
He paused and chuckled. “All my son wants to do is play his Xbox on it from my office,” he added. “He thinks that would be cool.”
Of course it would. Smith and Charlotte Motor Speedway have built the world’s biggest television: a 500,000-pound screen that’s 200 feet wide and 80 feet tall. It’s tall enough to bungee jump off, and just wide enough to hold a regulation hockey rink. As Smith said, “It’s huge. Just huge.”
The screen was designed to be the new focal point of the 52-year-old track. It is a result of a unique partnership with Panasonic that made the Japanese company the speedway’s official technology partner. The parties are paying for the cost of the board by selling advertising on the screen and splitting the resulting revenue 60-40 between Panasonic and SMI.
To date, they have sold half of the inventory they have available. Toyota, Time Warner Cable, Nationwide, AARP, the U.S. Army and Blue Cross Blue Shield will all be featured on the board. The plan is to feature the companies discretely during live racing broadcasts the same way advertisers are shown during soccer games. Some of the advertisers will be presenting sponsors of elements such as lap-leader standings and car intervals.
Smith said the board has made it easier to renew existing speedway partners and has heightened sponsor interest in the facility. He credited it with delivering a one-year, $1 million title sponsorship with History Channel show “Top Gear” for this month’s NASCAR Nationwide race.
“We’ve been really pleased with the level of interest from sponsors,” Smith said. “As the structure was completed, they were able to see and appreciate the size of the screen and that’s helped. With ‘Top Gear,’ it was a difference maker.”
But Smith is more focused on the way the screen will improve the fan experience at the speedway than he is on the effect it will have on the track’s bottom line. He describes the screen as a “game changer” that will deliver fans views of the race that they would typically get only from their couch at home.
The speedway installed a control room to manage the screen and will have three cameras covering the crowd inside the stadium, allowing the speedway to offer footage of fans on the big screen the same way NBA, NFL and NHL teams do in arenas and stadiums around the country.
The track’s owner, Speedway Motorsports Inc., has no immediate plans to install similar video boards at any of its other tracks.
Some skeptics have questioned how much the board at Charlotte will improve the race experience for the average fan. At a 1.5-mile track, they have wondered just how clear and effective the board’s images will be for fans in the grandstands.
But Smith isn’t worried. He noted that skeptics also wondered why the speedway installed permanent lights in 1992 and why it built condos in 1984. Today, night races are a fan favorite and the condos have risen considerably in value.
“This is an awesome idea,” Smith said of the board. “I’ve had so many comments from fans, sponsors and people in the sport who have thanked us for making this investment. If every speedway could afford to do it, I’m sure they would.”