In the early morning hours of Sunday, September 16, 2019, the news broke that Chicagoland Speedway had closed its doors. For decades, the 1-mile track at 111 degrees West Highway 25 had been one of the most prestigious race venues in North America. The IndyCar Grand Prix, part of the Indy 500 Festival, would be the last race held there. The reasons behind its closure were many and varied. Perhaps the most compelling one was its struggle to remain relevant in today’s world of sports entertainment.
The Changing Face of Entertainment
When the news broke that Chicagoland Speedway had closed, many took it as a sign that the industry was changing. After decades of dominance, the track was unable to maintain its spot at the top of the heap. Indeed, thanks to the rise of esports and streaming, the appeal of traditional sporting events is on the wane.
The difference is that esports and streaming can exist without the need for a stadium or an arena. To engage with fans, content creators will increasingly turn to social media platforms. With millions of users, platforms like Twitter and especially YouTube provide a unique opportunity to reach a mass audience.
The Decline Of Sports Rivalry
One of the main reasons behind the close of Chicagoland Speedway is the lack of sports rivalries in today’s world. For much of its history, the track had been part of a fierce battle for supremacy between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears. The two NFL teams would each host games at the venue, with the first one taking place in 1930. Over the years, the two sides would go head-to-head for the city’s supremacy, resulting in some epic games.
The appeal of these contests was that they provided an excuse to get fans of both teams to interact. In the pre-streaming era, it was all about sitting in the stands and watching the events unfold. With the rise of social media, fans are now able to follow the games live, engaging with players and commentators via platforms like Twitter.
The Need To Reinvent
Thanks to the internet, fans can now follow the action live regardless of their location. This means that, for the first time, a track like Chicagoland Speedway can no longer rely on its established fanbase to fill the seats. Thanks to smartphones and digital devices, content creators can spread the word about upcoming events and allow new audiences to discover track stories for the first time.
Thanks to the growth of MLS (Major League Soccer), NHL (National Hockey League), AND EPL (English Premier League) in the United States, more and more fans are discovering the joys of watching sports outside of their country of origin. In other words, the globalization of sports is on the rise.
No Longer A Home For Racing
Another reason behind the closure of Chicagoland Speedway is its role as the home of Indy car racing. The series had been holding races there since 1926, originally under the name of Otto Lauer Racing. In the 1960s and ’70s, the track would play host to some of the greatest races in motorsport history, with many championship points being scored. Thanks to race drivers Steve McQueen, Al Cantwell, Rick Mays, and AJ Foyt, the track’s legacy is unquestionable.
However, the story behind the Indy cars is not completely positive. In fact, the series struggled to establish itself as a major player in the sports entertainment industry, largely due to the pennies from the fans were not enough to sustain a top-tier racing series. With the need to find a new home for the Indy cars, the decision was made to fold the racing season and hold what would become the final race at Chicagoland Speedway. In 2020, the Indianapolis Crown Jewel Cup will be the last race held at the track. With the loss of these great events, Chicagoland Speedway has indeed lost its relevance.
The Loss Of An Iconic Landmark
Finally, Chicagoland Speedway is also the site of the Indy 500 Festival, an annual car show and race that had been co-existing with Indy car racing since 1916. While the site has been a part of American cultural history for the past 100 years, its closing is a symbol of the changing sports landscape. As Indy car racing looks to create new memories and establish itself as a major force in the sport entertainment industry, the loss of an iconic landmark is a collateral damage.
What’s Next For Chicagoland Speedway?
While the track is going to be sorely missed, its legacy will live on through the 2020 Indy car season. The team owners of Chicagoland Speedway have stated that they intend to reinvent the way we see sport and entertainment in the future. Perhaps, in addition to racing, they may also look into hosting other forms of sport, such as archery or skateboarding. Whatever form of sport or entertainment they establish, they can be sure of one thing: the new Chicagoland Speedway will be a unique structure that will stand the test of time.