Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Miller Motorsports Park continues to shine

I recently had the pleasure of attending a weekend of motorcycle road racing in Tooele, Utah at Miller Motorsports Park. The weekend was a special occasion for those of us that enjoy the sport as it was the first FIM World Superbike round held in the United States in four years. The weekend also included AMA Superbike and Supersport as well as other AMA classes. The folks at Miller Motorsports Park really put on a great event and they should be proud of their efforts. As if putting on a superb weekend of racing wasn't enough, they have continuously sought feedback from those in attendance in order to make next year's event even better. They sent a request out to all attendees to complete a survey just days after the race weekend. Today I received another email, this one from CEO and GM Alan Wilson, providing details of what actions are being taken to correct any shortcomings that were identified in the survey responses. This place really impressed me that early June weekend and they continue to do so. If Wilson and the staff at Miller are trying to get repeat business from me, they're doing a great job. Here is the email I most recently received.

A response from Miller Motorsports Park to feedback received from the public after our first World Superbike weekend.

The HANNSpree World Superbike weekend held at Miller Motorsports Park (May 28 – June 1) has been widely praised as a great first-time event at a well-managed facility, a response that has made us extremely proud. The event, which drew some 50,000 attendees over the four days of WSBK and AMA action, surpassed our expectations and set the stage for future growth.

Despite this success and praise, we are also very aware that not everything went according to our spectator’s expectations and we are working hard to identify areas in which we can improve our operations for the 2009 event. Immediately after the event we sent out a survey to a large number of our ticket buyers and reviewed the responses together with several hundred unsolicited emails and letters we received.

In generalized terms, some 93.7% of the comments that came in reflected exceptional, high or very good experiences with less than 0.5% experiencing real dissatisfaction. This high praise was great to hear but we were also made aware of a number of issues that, while not significantly affecting these people’s overall enjoyment, still indicate that improvement and changes are needed.

By and large, these issues relate to a few common complaints.

Public Address.
The most common complaint of all was the quality of our announce team. Without going into all the different complaints in detail, these noted primarily a lack of knowledge of motorcycle racing, an inability to pronounce riders’ names and a general lack of preparedness. We were also informed of some specific comments that were made on air that were clearly inappropriate.

A secondary issue related to the lack of information provided to the fans by the announce team.

MMP has reviewed the many comments and suggestions and will be making changes both to the announce team personnel and to the way the team is provided with all the information that needs to be disseminated to the public. This involves some engineering changes within our PA office as well as better information collection within our company and it’s formatting for use by the announcers.

We received a few complaints about the sound levels of our PA speakers, almost equally for them being too loud and too soft! We are planning a monitoring program to be run throughout the event in individual grandstand and spectator areas to make sure that sound levels remain consistent – we have a very complicated and expensive sound system that has been very difficult to learn, but we are getting better at operating it to its full capacity. We are also investigating a radio re-broadcast system of our PA for 2009, so that fans will be able to listen in on radio headsets and choose their own sound levels.

Access to the WSBK pits.
We received almost equal praise for the pit lane access to the WSBK garages and complaints that no one could see into the garages from the paddock. The fact is that we provided 10½ hours on Thursday, 5 on Friday, 4¾ on Saturday and 2½ on Sunday during which the public were able to wander along the pit lane in front of the WSBK garages, even during AMA track sessions when their bikes were using the same pit lane. The problem appears to be almost entirely due to a lack of PA announcements publicizing these times and access and insufficient signage at the pit walkabout gate. Some of the fans photographs we have seen of bikes, riders and team personnel in their garages could have been staged for professional photography; such was the access and willingness of the teams to interact with the fans. Sure, there were some hitches (the SBK teams were given a different schedule than the public for one thing – quickly resolved), and some people were upset at having to be hustled out of pit lane at the end of the pit walk periods thanks to our need to run everything on a very tight, minute-by-minute schedule. While some people thought there was an extra charge for this access (over and above paddock access fees), this was not the case.

Perhaps a better understanding of the way the teams laid out their garages would have explained why nothing could be seen from the paddock. Each team subdivided their garages, with the working (show) area facing pit lane, while the rear section was used for tire and equipment storage, computer banks and working offices. Even if the rear doors were open, the public would not have been able to see the bikes being worked on from the paddock.

Access to WSBK Riders, especially compared to the AMA stars.
This is something that really shows the difference between European and World Championship and our own American way of racing. The Europeans are used to fenced paddocks and RV compounds, very little fan interaction and almost complete privacy throughout the weekend; a characteristic that the SBK series felt was needed to be followed in Salt Lake City. We worked very hard to try to soften this requirement and in fact found that most of the riders were very friendly and willing to work with us. Many attended the downtown party on Thursday night, including Troy Bayliss, who was very happy to talk to fans and sign autographs. SBK also introduced their Paddock Show, which brought riders to the fans after each end-of-race podium ceremony. These proved extremely popular and are something that MMP intends to make a regular feature at all our major events.

I can assure our fans that these SBK riders were far more accessible here at Miller than they are at other venues, and that we will continue to find ways to increase interaction.

As for the AMA stars, they are fantastic to work with and seem to really like interacting with their fans. The west pit lane, where the AMA teams operated, has the advantage of having a long fence right behind the teams’ tents, so fans were very close to the action throughout the weekend.

Lack of SBK and Event Merchandizing.
We are very aware of the need to improve this for 2009. Let’s just say that this one fell through the cracks during the hectic planning for the event and was the result of some internal reorganization that could not be completed before the race as well as some communication issues between MMP and SBK’s contracted merchandise supplier. We lost a significant revenue item so, believe me, there will be a major fix in place for next year’s event.

Lack of Event Vendors.
Many fans asked for more vendors and specifically for more motorcycle-related displays and purchasing opportunities. The reality is that we would have liked to have many more, but because MMP is still new and has slowly been building our fan base, as well as our location being so far from other major cities, many vendors chose to take a wait-and-see attitude to our inaugural World Championship event. Now that we have shown that MMP can attract a large crowd, we can expect more interest from these vendors next year. It’s not a question of the price we charge, because we set site fees that are amongst the lowest in the country.

More Concessions.
While we do have five permanent high-quality concession buildings, we recognize the need to add more event food and beverage vendors. Again, the large crowd for this event will help us draw more of these independent contractors next year. We did receive several requests to add more healthy food choices to our menus and to increase our concession opening times both of which have already been discussed and will be in place in 2009. And yes, beer was available throughout the weekend!

While we received a lot of positive comments for the fact that we have three very large jumbotrons, we did have some people complain that they could not see them adequately. This is a result of the vast size of Miller which makes it impossible to cover all site lines for all spectators. While we have no plans, at this time, to spend the $1,800,000-plus that would be needed to address all these complaints, we will constantly review these needs as we move into the future.

We have also noted that, when we broadcast the live SPEED TV feed (as stay-at-home fans would watch in their homes), it was not possible to read the tiny text along the top of the big screens that showed track positions. While we cannot reformat the SPEED signal, we have found a way to show track positions in a larger format and will add this to our jumbotron and in-house TV network at our next event.

Our intention is develop an in-house production capability, using our 22 CCTV track cameras and additional sources of content, and to add these to the SPEED feed in a way that will create what will virtually be our own, daylong TV and radio (PA) show.

This was an unexpected complaint. We received many thanks for the shuttles and nearly as many for not having enough! When we analyzed these we found that fans who had never been to any other race venue found the time between shuttles (10–30 minutes, depending on demand and internal traffic) to be too long to wait in line, while those who have been to other venues, where there are no shuttles, were thrilled that we provided these. MMP has a total of six trams and we borrowed another pair from Deer Valley, and these ran continuously from 7:00 am through 6:00 pm each day. There were some times when we had to redirect some to serve other needs, including getting corner workers out to their posts and increasing the paddock service for arriving team personnel in the early morning, which may have resulted in some of the delays.

We will review how we operate these next year and will certainly improve service as much as we can.

We had nearly 10 times more campers and RVs than ever before, so we were a little caught out in how we arranged parking, support services and entertainment for this area. As much as we would like to provide grass for everyone to sleep on, this is just not possible as we live in a desert, have very severe water limitations and use the same area during other parts of the year for car activities that would destroy any grass we might plant!

Nevertheless we are fully committed to improving facilities for RVs and campers even if we do not have yet any specific plans in place, three weeks after the 2008 race.

General Information.
It is obvious from our survey that we attracted a large number of first-time fans, both first time to Miller and first time to a motorcycle race. While almost 100% of these noted how pleasantly surprised they were at Miller, its facilities, the friendliness of its staff, the ability to view so much of the action and the real excitement of the track competition, many expressed the need for us to provide much more information about the facility, the non-race support activities and the racing.

This is something that we now know we did not do very well. We need to improve signage around the facility; we need to make sure that information is included in the race program (which was very well received, (thanks to Road Racer X for putting this together); we need to provide the motorcycle and local media with advance notice of everything that is happening; we need to ensure that all the information is collected together and made available to our announcers, information stands (we lost our volunteer information stand teams just one week before the event) and staff and make sure that the public is constantly updated.

All in all we have to be very happy with the way our first World Superbike event went.

The complaints that I have identified are by no means all that came in, but they are the ones that were most common. There were some that we simply cannot address (being asked to make sure that dust does not blow in from the surrounding desert – what, does Brands Hatch have to ensure that it does not rain on their track during an event?) and some that we would dearly love to make happen (more grass, anyone?). There are some that reflect sheer stupidity (our stunt rider who crashed through a fence during the post-race SBK public interviews); some that we could not control (our trials rider fell and broke his arm the night before the event), and some that could have been serious, required a response but which received negative comment. (Troy Corser riding his pit bike at speed through the crowd - and yes, 30 mph when there are a lot of people around is too fast - sliding it to a stop right in front of a security guard and having the bike confiscated on the spot. The security guard was absolutely correct in relieving Troy of his ride. Remember, he did not know that Troy was one of the world’s most capable bike riders; he was just looking out for the publics safety. The fact that Troy took this very well, laughing off the incident, says that our security guard handled the incident well, without animosity and certainly not in an over-the-top manner.)

Although we have highlighted several issues in this letter, we have taken note of all the other complaints and compliments we have received and will consider all of these as we plan the 2009 SBK weekend.

I have taken the opportunity to write this letter to a number of journalists (and to use it to respond to some of the people who sent us their comments) to show that we at Miller Motorsports Park are very aware of the constant need to improve the way we operate our events. We enjoy the praise and congratulations that we received for the event, but know that we have much to learn and to do before we can be truly satisfied.

I would like to thank you, your fellow media members and our fans for supporting our first World Championship event. This was a very important event for MMP, and one which we hope to grow to become the best motorcycle race weekend in America.

We will retain the file of all our responses and invite any media person to review it, if this is what you would like to do.

Best regards and we look forward to seeing you back in June, 2009

Alan Wilson
CEO/General Manager

Thanks to everyone at Miller Motorsports Park for a great weekend of racing. See you next year.

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