MILWAUKEE – “This could be the last time… this could be the last time… this could… be… the last time… I don’t know.”
The lyrics uttered by The Rolling Stones for the first time 50 years ago could well be the most apt description of the future of the Milwaukee Mile on foreseeable Verizon IndyCar Series calendars.
And the result of today’s race now see contrasting viewpoints from two members of Michael Andretti’s sports marketing group, Andretti Sports Marketing.
Kevin Healy, who is general manager of the Milwaukee IndyFest, spoke to the Business Journal serving greater Milwaukee sports business reporter Rich Kirchen and indicated that today’s crowd could be enough to save the race for 2016 and beyond.
In a brief follow-up with Healy, he termed the crowd “good” when asked by MotorSportsTalk, and observed the crowd from the press box. He also said there were a good number of people in the infield.
Andretti, however, was less than enthusiastic about today’s crowd number at first ask.
“OK, not great,” Andretti told MotorSportsTalk. “We’ll have to evaluate and make a decision.”
Regarding the weather, Andretti said, “There’s no excuse there right? I don’t know why the fans don’t come out. I don’t think there’s anywhere you could have gone in town that you didn’t know the race was on. I don’t know.”
However, race winner Sebastien Bourdais offered an impassioned defense of the race, its attendance and its grown over four years since Andretti Sports Marketing took over the race in 2012.
“I won here in ’06, and there was 1,000 people in the stands,” Bourdais said during the post-race press conference. “It’s good to see this place with a rebirth and a lot of enthusiasm in the paddock, people in the stands. I think Andretti promotions did a great job.
“I hope it keeps going. It’s the oval nobody likes except IndyCar. We don’t need the banking to make exciting racing, unlike other series.”
Bourdais called today’s crowd “good” and hopes the track, promoter and the sanctioning body can reach an agreement to sustain the race’s future.
“We had a good crowd today. I know people are trying to make it work,” Bourdais said.
“There’s a lot of energy to come twice in Wisconsin. We should have never left Road America. But the sporting side and financial side is always very challenging.
“You have to be true to your fans and your sport. It’s a deep anchor.”
On the whole, promotional efforts seemed down according to several series and local insiders, compared to previous years.
This year marks the second and last year of the ABC Supply Co. title sponsorship contract, and the race’s third different date in as many years, following mid-June and then mid-August dates the last two years.
Indianapolis ABC reporter Dave Furst estimated the crowd at roughly 12,000; however, it was almost certainly a higher number than that.
I sat in the Turn 1 grandstands for the opening half of the race and from my vantage point, the crowd seemed healthier looking than last year.
If I had to peg a number, I would say in the 16,000 to 18,000 range, counting the number in the infield as well.
This is not the first year where it feels like this could be the last race at Milwaukee. I had the same feeling in 2009 and 2011.
After 2009, the race did not come back. After 2011, it didn’t, either.
But Andretti’s group made a miracle happen in February of 2012 to bring it back, and has ran it for four years.
Was this the last time? It felt like it could have been. But then again, perhaps it wasn’t.
And thus remains the saga of the Milwaukee Mile in modern day North American open-wheel racing.