After The Masters: America's Greatest Bucket-List Sporting Events
It’s going to be a great May for sports fans!
February had the Super Bowl, and this week in April kicks off the Masters, both of them huge TV draws for the couch surfing crowd. But when it comes to fans actually attending, neither holds a candle to May’s two blockbuster events, the Kentucky Derby and the Indy 500.
With record attendance of over 165,000 last year, the Kentucky Derby attracts more than twice as many fans as the Super Bowl, and more than all four days of the Masters combined. But the Derby pales in comparison before the Indianapolis 500, the biggest single day sporting event on earth, with capacity of around 400,000 and typical attendance in excess of a quarter million. The infield alone can handle about twice as many spectators as filled the Mercedes Benz Super Dome for the Super Bowl.
Of course, numbers aren’t everything – these are incredibly fun and festive events. More importantly, you can actually attend, and it is not especially difficult, even at this late date.
I’ve written here in detail about how to best attend the Super Bowl, and while it is a blast and a Bucket List item, it is also very expensive, and frankly, the game is better on TV. Still, if you are interested in next year, it is not too soon to start booking. Because I am a passionate golfer and traditionalist and have been covering golf for nearly 20 years, for personal golf purist reasons I have little interest in the Masters and still can’t figure out how and why it was been granted Major status when it is not the Championship of anything, unlike all the other Majors. But I understand that a lot of people want to go, and that tickets and lodging are very limited. For these reasons it is widely considered the hardest ticket to get in all of sports, and likely the costliest. By comparison, attending the Kentucky Derby or Indy 500, both of which predate the Masters by many decades, is a cakewalk.
“The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports,” aka “The Run For the Roses,” The Kentucky Derby is always held the first Saturday in May, this year May 4th. I wrote here at Forbes.com last year about why it is such an awesome event to attend and a must for anyone who likes having a good time, horse racing fan or not. In fact, while I consider the Super Bowl a bucket list item that must be experienced once, the Kentucky Derby is something I’d be happy to attend every year if I could.
This year it is easier than ever: Churchill Downs just unveiled an entirely new seating area, called Section 110, which bridges the gap between just a seat and the more expensive lounge hospitality packages. In a first for the vaunted track, the all new Section 110 features modern stadium style seating with drink holders, and seats include unlimited food and drinks (alcoholic and non) from a new venue just for the section. This seating was constructed at the first turn, also known as the “Clubhouse Turn,” which had before been home to a group of temporary tents known as Trackside Village. These are the only reserved seats readily available right now that are not part of a larger package. About a third of Section 110 is covered, and those tickets are $799, while uncovered seating is $698. Both, like all reserved seat Derby Tickets, are actually good for two days, and includes Kentucky Oaks Day on Friday, an equally thrilling and equally fancy dress rehearsal for the main event. Each ticket includes two full days of racing with all food and beverage.
General Admission tickets for the infield have always been the easiest and cheapest way to go, but it can be really hot, really sunny, really crowded and somewhat unpleasant unless you love a Spring Break atmosphere. Unlike reserved seats, these standing room only tickets are sold by the day and are $25 for the Oaks and $40 for the Derby, but the good news is you can get them right up until the race.
However, neither of these options is the optimum choice. To really do the Derby right, it makes sense to buy a complete hospitality package, which includes private betting windows, better food and drink, and all sorts of perks, along with the option of good rooms at otherwise sold out top hotels, attending pre and post Derby balls and VIP parties, transfers to the track, and much more. These packages are still available and I wrote here at Forbes.com last year in detail about how to do the Derby in style.
The Indy 500, “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” is always held the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, and this year is the 97th running on Sunday May 26th (if rained out, it is postponed one week). Two years ago when Indianapolis hosted the Super Bowl, I attended and wrote here about what makes the city so great for visiting sports fans, and how user friendly the Indy experience is, and this holds true for the Indy 500 every single year (along with NASCAR’s annual Brickyard 400 and the 2015 NCAA Men’s Final Four).
Last year I wrote about attending the Indy 500, and considering it is the largest sporting event on earth, tickets are surprisingly easy to get and affordable. While the very best seats are sold out, a wide variety of reserved trackside options are available, on both the inside and outside of the track, in stands, the backstretch, paddocks and terrace seating, with more than a dozen different areas to choose from, at prices from $40-$90. Infield General Admission tickets never sell out, and these are just $30.