The Indy 500 will be staged behind closed doors for the first time in its history this month as Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) backtracked on plans to admit fans, while Major League Baseball (MLB) has postponed its inaugural ‘Field of Dreams’ event due to COVID-19.

The latest announcement from IMS came after officials stated last month that attendance for the 104th Indianapolis 500 on August 23 would be approximately 25% of capacity, with face coverings mandatory for all attendees.

IMS can accommodate around 350,000 fans in the grandstands, suites and infield, and officials in June said 50% capacity would be admitted for this year’s motorsport showpiece, which has been rescheduled from its usual May date.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the world’s largest outdoor sporting venue and the original plan would have allowed for up to 175,000 fans. The revised plan halved this to around 87,500, but was still set to make the Indy 500 the biggest sporting event since the pandemic began.

However, IMS yesterday (Tuesday) announced that the Indy 500 will take place without fans following “careful consideration and extensive consultation” with state and city leadership. A statement read: “As dedicated as we were to running the race this year with 25% attendance at our large outdoor facility, even with meaningful and careful precautions implemented by the city and state, the COVID-19 trends in Marion County and Indiana have worsened.

“Since our June 26 announcement, the number of cases in Marion County has tripled while the positivity rate has doubled. We said from the beginning of the pandemic we would put the health and safety of our community first, and while hosting spectators at a limited capacity with our robust plan in place was appropriate in late June, it is not the right path forward based on the current environment.”

Indianapolis Motor Speedway last month debuted a number of new features, including 5G connectivity and a huge new Pagoda Plaza Media Wall. Plans for the upgrades were first announced back in February, a month after Penske Corporation completed its acquisition of the IMS and the IndyCar series.

The statement added: “Penske Corporation made a long-term investment to be the steward of this legendary facility. While we were very excited to showcase the investments and enhancements we have made in the guest experience, we know we have reached the right decision. Our commitment to the Speedway is unwavering, and we will continue to invest in the Racing Capital of the World.”

Individuals who still have tickets to this year’s Indy 500 will be credited for the 2021 event and will retain their seniority and their originally assigned seats. “What I hope people recognise is that we’ve done everything possible to be able to do it with fans,” Penske Entertainment Corp. president and CEO Mark Miles told the Indianapolis Star newspaper.

“This plan will go down as the model for how to do a mass gathering under these circumstances if it were possible. We’ve said all along that we had to hang in there and see if the public health situation would allow us to do it, and we’re at least as disappointed as all the fans that we can’t have them there this year.”

Meanwhile, MLB has announced that its debut Field of Dreams event, which was set to see the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals face off at a temporary ballpark on August 13, has been postponed due to the pandemic.

First announced in August 2019, MLB at Field of Dreams was to have marked the first major league game ever held in the state of Iowa, played at the tourist destination made famous by the eponymous movie. MLB built a temporary ballpark at the Dyersville location, adjacent to the movie site and the venue was originally designed to host 8,000 fans in a national broadcast on Fox.

The initial plan called for a matchup of the White Sox and the New York Yankees, who were later replaced by the Cardinals when MLB implemented a regionalised schedule due to the pandemic.

Field of Dreams stars Kevin Costner, Ray Liotta, James Earl Jones and Amy Madigan. The 1989 film tells the story of Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella, a husband and father who is tending to his cornfield when he hears a mysterious voice intone, ‘If you build it, he will come.’

MLB said it hopes to make the event a part of its 2021 regular season schedule next August, featuring the White Sox as one of the participants.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred added: “We made every effort to go ahead with a first-class event for the people of Iowa, admirers of the film and fans generally. Unfortunately, we have come to the conclusion that it would not be prudent to ask clubs to step outside their normal routines, given the evolving public health challenges. We hope to host this event in Iowa in 2021.”

Image: Indianapolis Motor Speedway