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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Forfeiting Exposure

Monday is Presidents Day in the States. Racetracks normally dark on Mondays are scheduling special holiday racing programs. After all, why wouldn't you be open? If you schedule a special daytime race card, fans that normally don't have the opportunity to attend the races during the week may attend and who knows? You may expose horse racing to new fans. If you are a racetrack which already races on a Monday, it is even better. That is, unless you are Monticello Raceway.

Monticello Raceway normally races on Monday afternoons. Yet, as Monticello typically does, they have decided to be dark on Presidents Day. The reason? Monticello races for simulcasting. With other tracks (primarily thoroughbred) racing on a typically slow day, it is harder for Monticello to get on the racing menu at simulcast locations. Even if Monticello get space on the menu, there is a good chance some of the gambling dollars normally wagered on Monticello will find their way to Aqueduct and other tracks.

And we wonder why we have a hard time getting people interested in harness racing. By not racing on a holiday, Monticello forfeits the opportunity to give people living in the Monticello area who typically don't get the occasion to attend the races an opportunity to do so (they don't race on weekends). Who knows, perhaps a few holiday slot players would be exposed to the races as well.

I understand racing on Presidents Day may be a money loser for Monticello. Certainly the simulcast handle will be lower. The track may lose money racing on Presidents Day. The horsemen's purse account will take a hit due to the meager handle; though with VLT revenue does it really matter? On the other hand, by not racing on a normal racing day, what is Monticello telling their loyal players? Their loyalty doesn't matter; go find another track to play? Is business so good at Monticello that they don’t need to take advantage of a holiday to attract new players?

Harness racing needs all the exposure it can get. To willingly cede exposure by closing due to competition from other tracks on one of the few holidays during the year, a day where you can actually get more people to show up at the track is being penny-wise and dollar foolish. Let's not blame track management solely for this decision. Have the horsemen told management they rather race on the holiday even if the purse account takes a hit or do they look at the dark day as an extra day off?

The Meadowlands races on Sunday afternoons in the winter and spring despite an anemic handle which is worse than it would be if they raced on a Tuesday evening. The Meadowlands is racing on Presidents Day even though attendance and the handle will be poor, even racing against Freehold. During the warmer months when Jersey residents are at the shore, the Meadowlands will even race and have promotions on Memorial Day despite the fact it will not be a financial success. Even Freehold, a track that is in dire straits is racing on Presidents Day (a normally dark day), competing against the thousand pound gorilla in East Rutherford.

The Meadowlands and Freehold realize you have to give people a chance to sample your product when it is convenient for the customer.  Maybe someday Monticello will learn this lesson as well. 

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