As the Meadowlands readies itself for the opening of the first Championship Meet under new management, it is a good time for a progress report on the Meadowlands after the first four months of the meet. Overall, it has been a success, realistically better than many doubters thought yet the detractors are still out there being critical of the Meadowlands. Are these doubters right?
Hardly, remember how far down the Meadowlands had fallen? The last few years the Meadowlands had been running on a shoe-string budget while still running a race meet supplemented by subsidies except for last year when the meet was raced without subsidies and the bottom fell out. Going to the Meadowlands felt like going to a mausoleum for a burial as you couldn't help but feel the somber mood. As for the racing, once the Pennsylvania tracks opened up, the quality of the race meet went down the tubes and last year you were hard pressed to fill a race card and the many short fields made for unbettable races. Attendance? If you were on the grandstand level of the facility, the seating was probably 90% empty even on Hambletonian Day..
So where are we this year? Let's take a look. To be fair, since there was no racing last year in April, we don't have an apples to apples comparisons and the region was blessed with the lack of a real winter this year.
Attendance - The tracks still looks empty, but let's not kid ourselves, attendance could have doubled and the track would have looked empty. The track grandstand is way too big for modern day racing. The fact is attendance was up 5.2%. When was the last time the Meadowlands showed an increase in attendance?
Handle - Over the first 41 days, overall handle on Meadowlands racing was up 8.8% with wagering on live racing being up 15.3%. That is 15.3% more of live racing commissions. The average handle was 2,304,167 a night. with $304,124 being bet on the Meadowlands on track. The 15.3% increase means $40.372 was bet more on the races at the Meadowlands which is the same as an increase of $80,745 bet on Meadowlands races off track. Any other expectations are simply not realistic.
Racing Quality - The racing quality was pretty good at the start of the meet until the Pennsylvania tracks started opening up. Then the quality droppped, but so far the Meadowlands has been able to card the normal number of races each day and more importantly, the fields have been for the most part, full. There has been some innovative attempts to keep horses at the Meadowlands with the Survivor series and overnight virtual late closing series. While we have been seeing $10,000 claimers, the $7,500 claiming races have been kept to a minimum up to now. Did anyone realistically expect racing quality to improve? Racing with no subsidies of any kind, how is the Meadowlands going to compete against slot-fueled purses at Harrah's Philadelpia, Pocono Downs, and Yonkers Raceway in New York? As long as Pennsylvania and New York have slots and the Meadowlans has to do without, nothing is going to change unless the Meadowlands races even fewer dates (something no one wants to see) or handles explode..
Perhaps the most important thing at the Meadowlands right now is hope. Where there was doom and gloom at the Meadowlands, the attitudes of customers are changing as there is hope for the future. Yes, the track is still for the most part empty, but there is optimism for the future, especially when the new grandstand opens, a grandstand which is appropriate for the new racing environment. With the Championship meeting starting Friday, there will be more promotions to make the track a more friendly environment including some new events to make the track part of the community and to continue drawing more people. Hopefully, this will translate in getting new people interested in racing and gambling.
Will there be mistakes? Absolutely. If anyone thinks every single promotion is going to work, they are kidding. Some events are going to do better than others; at least there is a willingess to try. The key is to learn what your customers want and be able to deliver it. No sense bemoaning the quality of racing as it is out of everyone's control. With the Bayonne OTW opening in July, hopefully more revenue will be coming into the system to increase purses.
Bottom line is the Meadowlands is off to a good start. Here's hoping the growth continues.