- Terry Blount, ESPN Staff Writer
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Only Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage can turn an announcement of a seat-reduction plan into a good thing.
In response to the economic recession that has affected most tracks which play host to NASCAR events, TMS is eliminating 21,000 seats on the backstretch -- 15 percent of its inventory -- to reduce the seating capacity to 138,000.
But you didn't really think racing's master promoter would leave it at that, did you?
Along with reducing prices on more than 1,000 seats, Gossage announced plans for new RV luxury slots billed as "Burnout Alley," which will replace the eliminated seating area on the backstretch of the 1.5-mile oval.
The project will cost $2 million to build and take 75 days to complete. The elevated ground will have room for 74 RVs to park facing the backstretch, similar to what Las Vegas Motor Speedway has on its backstretch.
But this is no price reduction.
An RV slot, or courtyard, will cost $15,000. Measuring 60 feet by 30 feet, the massive paved area sits over the backstretch seats and includes full service hook-ups for RVs, live TV feeds for races, wireless Internet, and a concierge to cater to your every need.
Each RV can entertain up to 10 guests, with patrons receiving pre-race pit passes for the Sprint Cup events, reserved parking and access to the Speedway Club, a nine-story building that overlooks Turn 1.
Gossage also addressed the slumping economy by rolling out plans for some cheaper seats. The first two rows on the backstretch, which account for 1,090 seats, will sell for $20 a seat.
"It's the most inexpensive seats we have ever offered," Gossage said. "Due to the price, we are limiting it to four per person. It's a tremendous deal for families trying to stretch their dollars in 2009."
Attendance for the November Cup race at Texas was down 6.8 percent, which was a smaller drop than many other speedways suffered. The Dickies 500 had an announced attendance of 171,000 (the number includes fans in the infield), the lowest figure for any Cup race in the 11-year history of the facility.
But, Gossage also pointed out it's still easily the largest crowd for any sports event in Texas.
Gossage also loves to poke fun at the Dallas Cowboys whenever he can. During his presentation Monday, Gossage mentioned that TMS' 138,000 seats are still 58,000 more than the new Cowboys stadium will hold.
"And parking still is free at TMS," Gossage said, adding, "it will cost $75 at the Cowboys new stadium."
Most speedways offer free parking, but it wasn't enough to stem a downturn in overall track attendance and revenue in 2008. Many tracks are taking steps to address the problem, but Gossage has managed to find an interesting, potentially profitable way to go about it.
While its RV plan isn't something for the financially strapped fan, TMS has formulated a strategy to make up for the seats it no longer has and wasn't selling anyway. The 15,000 former backstretch seats sold for $50 each for a maximum of $750,000 in revenue; by comparison, 74 RV boxes at $15,000 each would total $1.1 million.
"Yes, it's a net gain in revenue," Gossage said, "but the key thing here is these changes address something for everybody. If the average joe the race fan says the RV price is just outrageous, he can buy the $20 seats on the backstretch. We have addressed three areas that were very important to me."
First on that list for Gossage is the possibility of losing fans.
"Eventually everyone will get back on their feet [financially],'' he said, "but I don't want any of our fans to have lost interest because they couldn't come to the races. I want people to remain engaged in the sport."
Second on his list was the RV luxury courtyards.
"Our RV customers have wanted this for a long, long time," Gossage said. "They've seen it at other tracks, but of course, we made it bigger and better, as everything is in Texas."
Third for Gossage was the simple idea of supply and demand.
"Decreased capacity creates increased value for every other seat," Gossage said. "It's human nature to want what you don't have and what's hard to get. This is our version of hope and change."
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Texas Motor Speedway is eliminating 21,000 seats on the backstretch, 15 percent of its inventory, to reduce the seating capacity to 138,000 while announcing plans for new RV luxury slots called Burnout Alley.