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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Start Times, Speed Racing

Hoosier Park is experimenting this year with post times in an effort to develop a greater live audeince and maximize handle. So far it has been 'challenging'. With post times being moved from 6:45pm to 4:45pm (12:45 on Saturdys), over all handle is down roughly 25% (13% on-track). Management at Hoosier noted the vast majority of their handle came from the 7 to 9m window with wagering decreasing afterwards. The thought was to get the later races earlier to increase the handle but this has not occured. No doubt some of the drop off is due to the economy.

Kudos to Hoosier for attempting to grow their live audience. Not only does a track get to keep a greater share of the amount wagered on track, it is important to build fans that will fill the grandstand and keep interest in the sport. Other tracks have already given up on attracting a live audience and schedule their races merely where they can maximize their signal concentration; those tracks have given up on the future for their immediate goals.

That being said, a different approach may make more sense. By all means, race Saturday afternoon. Here is a chance to bring the casual fans (and families) to the track and build their interest in racing. It may mean sacrificing handle, but it is a price to pay to get people interested in the sport.

As for during the week, starting at 4:45pm doesn't make sense; their original start time works best. The local heavy hitters who play Hoosier will continue to come to the track at the 6:45PM start time; the issue is how accessible are you making the races for everyone else? Many people who gamble on horses still have regular jobs. How many people get out of work in time to make the track at 4:45? Not as many as management would like to think. By starting at 6:45, people have the time to either go home after work and come to the track or to head to the track directly from work.

Yes, the wagering drops off after 9:00PM; that is probably because some of the people have to get home and go to work the following day. Rather than shifting the races so you start earlier, the answer is to compress the time it takes to complete the card so more races are run during the period you have your greatest attendance. Last Thursday, it took almost four hours to complete the 13 race card. Why not complete the card in 2 or 2.5 hours instead? People want action, they don't want things to drag out. Look at Baseball, they have made rule changes to get the games to go quicker. Shouldn't we?

I hear the arguements now:

  • People need time to handicap and place their bets. Give people 20 minutes, give them 30 minutes some will wait to the last minute to wager. If you give them 12 to 15 minutes between races it will be enough time.
  • People wager more than one track and we have to give them time to do so - Any smart gambler knows you can't bet more than one or two tracks successfuly at a time. You can offer them twenty tracks, but they will stick with the same ones most of the time. They will be able to continue to wager on those tracks.
  • Those that play more than two tracks? They are not playing every races; they are picking their spots so a short time between races should not impact them.

People crave action. Running an accelerated card will give people their action (and who knows, some of those simulcast dollars may actually stay at your local track as thye may be wagering on the simulcast signal to kill the time. Many people don't bother coming to the track because it is a long night. Tell people that the races start at 6:45 and will be over by 9:00? More people will be coming because it is not a long night.

Please take a look at the poll questions on the right side of this blog and respond. They relate to this topic and it would be interesting to see what you think. Of course, feel free to comment as well.

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