For photos from the Meadowlands contact Lisaphoto@playmeadowlands.com

Monday, November 25, 2013

It's Not Your Father's Racetrack.

Gallo Blue Chip 'cutting' the ribbon.
For the most part, opening night at Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment was a smashing success.  Sure there were a few opening night 'oops', but tell me something which opens the first day without any bumps and I will suspect you weren't looking close enough.


Parking was a bit of a challenge as some signage was missing but that will be forthcoming shortly.  Parking is laid out well though the facility could contain a little more handicapped parking.  As you can imagine, the regular lot was filled to the brim an hour before post time but not to worry, there was an overflow lot and shuttle buses were running constantly.  Yes, there is one road in/out to the facility which is a change from the past but while some people were complaining, I chalk that up to opening night curiosity.  With overflow parking and shuttle buses available, there shouldn't be a big problem and come Hambletonian Day, I suspect even more parking will be available.   

The start of the first race.
Some people were reportedly complaining about it being hard to find things like bathrooms, elevators, and other things.  Part of the problem is the place was mobbed.  It is hard to see things when the track was swamped with people (a reported 15,000 when the building was built with 10,000 people in mind).  However, my one recommendation is a floor plan should be included in the race program or posted on every floor so people would know where everything is located; that would solve a lot of problems (Note: It turns out there was a pamphlet with the floor plan available).

My biggest complaint was the place was too crowded, at least initially.  I was up in The Lounge area in the Grandstand and the place was packed like sardines making it hard to walk around.  Then again, I don't know how many brave souls were going to sit outside in the outdoor seats in with the wind blowing pretty solid and snow squalls coming through at times, one time causing near white out conditions. However, let's be realistic, once the curiosity factor has been satisfied, we will likely find the building is right-sized.  It does make you wonder what will happen on a day like Hambletonian Day, but let's not kid ourselves, you can't build a facility which holds 25,000 which you will need one day a year.

First race winner Alexie Mattosie (David Miller)
The view from the indoor seats was very good except for the tent outside to the left which obstructed the view of the upper stretch.  I imagine this tent is one of the tents being put up for the Super Bowl parties which will be occurring and once the game is played it will disappear.  The outdoor facility (known as The Outfield is still under construction which will expand capacity by another 10,000).

Once the crowd thinned out, I realized The Lounge is a cool place to hang out.  There is carpeting and lounge chairs all around, making it a very relaxed atmosphere; as if you were hanging out with friends in your living room.  I belong to a group and I am already talking to them about having an outing there (once the initial curiosity seekers are gone.

Betting was easy.  Those who use self-wagering machines will have no problem.  The tellers were busy but the lines were not ridiculous though you did run the risk of being shut out.  Not that there weren't enough tellers, if you remember the old facility there really weren't more tellers available either, they were just spread out in the larger facility.  I for one had no problem as I took advantage of the traveling tellers with the yellow vests.  I would suggest if you don't want to risk getting shut out and you have a smart phone, take an advantage of the ability to wager from your phone.  You go to the teller at the start of the day, make a deposit and get your pin number and you wager from the comfort of your own seat and at the end of the night you go to the teller and collect your winnings.

The indoors grandstand seats were comfortable with drink holders and more importantly, the rows are not like the ones at Freehold Raceway.  You can sit comfortably and actually get up and get out of your seats without being a gymnast.  Best of all, there is no charge for seats  Above the windows in the lounge grandstand seating area are monitors which show the Meadowlands races and in between shows various races from simulcast tracks as post time approached so if you have a desire to bet on other tracks you may follow the action from the comfort of your seat.

Later in the evening, I took a look at the Sports Bar/Night Club and it looks great.  This should be popular with the younger generation looking for something to do after the races and even on non-racing nights.  Let's face it, this building is designed to generate income and that is key to building any new facility these days.  Buildings need to be multifaceted, used on days when they are not being used for their primary function.  Plans are for the bars and restaurants to be open on non-racing days and with the Meadowlands allowed to have concerts when the rest of the complex is not having concerts and a partnership with Hard Rock Cafe, except to see concerts at the track on dark days.

Many of us are not fine-dining people, our idea of food is grabbing a burger or hot dog and going back to our handicapping..  The burgers are made fresh and somewhat  surprisingly, there are no hot dogs.  No hot dogs at a sporting event?    There is a method to their madness. the whole idea is whether you are someone who eats in their upscale restaurants or a person who grabs a bite at the concession stands, you are entitled to decent food, not the same old gruel typically served at racetracks.  That being said, if there is enough demand for frankfurters, they probably will return.  However, before screaming for that hot dog, I would try their other menu items first.  I for one was pleased with the food offerings for I am a vegetarian and in the past my typical dinner was an order of fries.  Now they actually have vegetarian offerings. I found the prices reasonable (though taxes are added to the price, not included as in the past).

Bottom line is the track is geared to the younger generations, those who embrace technology and want an upscale experience  In some ways you can say the new Meadowlands is like a casino without casino games.  The place is comfortable, upscale yet homey.  That being said, those resisting smart phones or even cell phones will still find the track appealing.  Maybe a little more signage could be added, especially in the parking area but that will be coming.  From what I have seen thus far (the outdoor section known as the "Outfield' still is being built), I would grade the new facility an 'A' for the younger, tech savvy crowd.  Those who resist things like cell phones will probably rank the track a "B-", availing themselves of the more traditional parts of the track instead of the modern sections.  I expect those looking to build racetracks in the future will be stopping by to see how this facility was built.

If you are in the area, you need to give Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment a try, it's worth the visit.  Of course, the bottom line is how many first-time visitors will return?  Management appears to be on the right track. 


As for the racing, I plead ignorance.  I was so in awe of the new facility, that I didn't pay all that much attention to the racing.  From what I did see, it is going to take a little time to see how racing plays out on the track, let's face it final quarters of 32 seconds is not what we are used to.  Contrary to what some people say, it will take a week or two for the drivers to figure the optimum racing strategy; it's not as simple as starting a race in the old backstretch.  The wind and how the turns are banked will all come into play.


 

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

PG,

Were you and I in the same place Saturday night? The new Meadowlands is a nightmare for racing fans. I have been attending harness races for over 35 years and never before have I been so dispirited and repulsed as I was on Saturday night at the New Meadowlands Racetrack. The amenities at the place are not at all conducive to anyone interested in horse racing. The place is woefully too small to comfortably accommodate people when only 200 people are at the races let alone 2000 or more (like on Hambletonian Day or Meadowlands Pace night). There are maybe 7 or 8 sections of two (count ‘em 2) rows of seats maybe 15 seats wide in the grandstand for the horseplayers viewing pleasure. This cannot be a serious attempt to present harness racing at the level that we expect in the NY Metropolitan area. The distance from the betting windows to the outside entrance is so small that it was often unclear who was actually on line and who wasn’t. I walked among the place in stunned disbelief trying to accept the fact that attending harness racing, something I look forward to every weekend, is now going to become a thing of the past. There is no way that I could ever convince myself to go back there again after seeing this place. It is not big enough to handle my family reunion let alone be a host to (which it no longer will be) the premier harness racing in North America. But there are plenty of bars and couches (not facing the track) and large screen TVs with sports on to attract those customers that will come there once every three years for a night out!!! Yee ha, the people that think “I Partied At The Meadowlands Pace” is an appropriate slogan for harness racing fans now have their mecca!!! The truth is that a new era has not just begun at the Meadowlands but one certainly has just ended.
And if the place cannot accomodate a Hambletonian Day crowd then it has no business hosting it either. A mere, relatively weak, opening night crowd of less than 15,000 looked like 15,000,000 inside this pathetically inadequate building. It is hard for me to believe that the Hambletonian Society isn’t going to seriously reconsider their decision to keep that great race at this facility after seeing this fiasco.

Anonymous said...

P.S. And couldn't they have at least just moved the old tote board to the other side of the track. The new one looks like it was bought at a 99 cent store.

Pacingguy said...

No doubt, the first night the place was swamped. I suspect if you were to come back a month from now you will find a totally different situation and it would be a far better experience than you had last night.

Ny review is based not only on what I saw Saturday night but also based on what I expect the typical attendance to be.

I had a nice experience as did the people who sat around us. Maybe it was tougher on the ground level.

The question which needs to be asked is what constitutes what we expect for harness racing at the track in the year 2014? I suspect we have much different expectations. When you figure you will typically see maybe 2-3,000 people, I think the building is right-sized.

The outdoor facility has not been completed and will handle 10,000 more people. I suspect on a May night you will find those in attendance more spread out also reducing the density of those in attendance.

I myself do wonder how they handle Hambletonian Day. We shall see but being i don't know all their plans I will give them the benefit of the doubt.

That being said, if you have constructive criticism of what you experienced Saturday night you contact Meadowlands management. They want to here what people think.

Pacingguy said...

Anon, what I would like to know is what is your ideal vision of racing these days?

If you think in attracting newcomers to racing we can have them sit in a grandstand, wait 15-20 minutes between races and have them be happy, I fear you are seriously mistaken. This is a recipe to further shrinkage of the fan base.

If you think the key to attracting newcomers is having a place where friends can get together, have a good time, distracting them between those 15-20 minute breaks and making bets as they seem fit is more likely the model then the new Meadowlands grandstand is the right design. Let's face it 95% of those people who are happy the way racing has traditionally been presented are either 'older' or already betting via an ADW, seldom ever stepping foot into a racetrack.

Of course time will tell which vision is right.

Pacingguy said...

Most new tracks these days are using smaller tote boards. That being said, I would like to see them show pool totals, Win, Place, Show by horse. How else am I going to know if there is a bridge jumper to go against?

Anonymous said...

I think that your take on this would be better argued had the racing been the side amusement and not the main event. Anyone that needs to be amused instead of studying the horses or the performance sheet or the betting (which you can't do with the K-mart special toteboard)is not going to come back on a continueing basis anyway. They will never become fans of the sport. Catering to those people as opposed to those that actually are true harness racing fans is the best way to reduce your fan base, not extend it. Sadly, they've lost me and I am sure that I am not alone. Like you say, time will tell. And there's no way that the place can accomodate 2000 people comfortably, let's face it. It's a glorified sport's bar. Good luck with your new clientele Jeff.

Anonymous said...

Pacingguy:

What we have here in the comments is a failure to understand or accept what racing has become. I'm not saying I like it. I understand it.

The majority of people who bet The Meadowlands will rarely, if ever, set foot in the new facility. So much is bet on line and at simulcast centers that the live fans are almost irrelevant.

Granted, the track keeps more of what's bet at the track, but the real money is off-track and no amount of promoting will change that.

I wasn't there Saturday night, but the frustration of regular horseplayers who were comes through quite clearly. So does your message that The New Meadowlands seems right sized for nearly all racing nights.

Was anyone at Pocono Downs for the Breeders Crown last month? I'm sure that track can handle the live attendance most nights, but it wasn't up to accommodating the large crowd on that one night. There's no covered grandstand seating and it rained.

Should Pocono Downs host a Breeders Crown when its facility has such limitations? Of course not, but what's the alternative? No other track was willing to put up the money and spend the hours of preparation by a small racing staff.

The New Meadowlands is now in the same position with regards to The Hambletonian. It won't be a great place next year for large crowds on that one day. What's the alternative? Return to DuQuoin? Would DuQuoin want the race? Could DuQuoin afford the race?

To the detractors, name a track that has a large enough facility that would be better than The New Meadowlands AND is willing to front the money to put on the show.

Remember, the Super Bowl could probably get a million people to fill a stadium to watch the game, but who would build such a place for one day out of the year?

Be angry, be frustrated, swear off going to the track, but try to understand.

Marv S. said...

I've never understood why Hambo Day is the last card (or near last) of the season. They get 20-30,000 people out to the track in good weather, including many families with kids -- and newbies. If they like what they saw (it's usually a good card), what is offered to them? Come back in 4 months in the freezing cold? Or come back next year? And it's not just M1. Many tracks have their big race on closing day. It's a waste of a good marketing opportunity.

Pacingguy said...

The Hambletonian is always the 1st Saturday in August and while the Hambletonian Society has been willing to make changes, so far changing the date is taboo. It is like the Derby is the 1st Saturday in May.

How the Meadowlands handles Hambletonian Day is something I am very curious to see. Will the infield open up? (How many drunks will go swimming in the pond shaped like NJ?). It should be interesting.

I disagree, on-track handle is very important. You need $6 bet off-track to equal what you make on $1 bet on track. Let's no kid ourselves, you will never see the money moved back to on-track and racing apparently will never set up their own TVG like entity to compete agsinst ADWs as a non-profit organization where the money wagered through them will be funneled back to the tracks with only a small percentage is taken out for operating the company. That being said, you have to try to get more money bet on track if possible because that is where your biggest bang is.

I know people care about themselves but in a market where you have upscale gaming facilities, building a traditional racetrack is foolish, you need to build something similar to a casino. No, you can't offer the games, but you can try to offer the same atmosphere.

Anonymous said...

The crowd that the casino atmosphere sans the casino (why would anyone like that?) bet an average of less than $40 a person on track. This total includes the real horseplayers that were there so think how little this new crowd actually bet if anything. Now that management is bent on dissuading real horseplayers and encouraging people only out for a few drinks (Obviously NOT betting or even interested in the horseracing - why should they - there's giant TV screens! Loud music! Speakeasies! YAY!!!) there will be MUCH LESS on track wagering. Vernon Downs is now better equiped to host the Hambletonian (and harness races in general) than the Meadowlands. Are you happy? Btw, the Hambletonian used to be run around Labor Day before it got to the Medaowlands. The first Saturday in August is a Meadowlands creation and is not etched in stone.