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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Having Their Say - Edition 4

For our last segment of Having Their Say, we have Sally, an individual who works in the industry who is responding to the question, why we can't get people to come out to the track.  We are not talking about the big gamblers, we are talking about getting people to come out to just see the races.  The genesis of this series was to find out what are we doing wrong where Atlantic City Race Course can get 9,800 people to show up for one day of a six day meet and we are lucky if we get those many people shoing up at our tracks in the United States and Canada maybe five times a year.  I asked a bunch of people involved in standardbred racing or the industry to offer their opinions.  Here is Sally's thoughts:

I’m not a bettor and never will be. At the races I bet a couple of bucks a night or maybe not at all. When there’s a big Pick 6 or Pick 4 pool, I’ll play it like I play the Megamillions when it gets to $100 million. As Herve loved to say, you can’t win it if you’re not in it. Going to the races has always been a social event for me and an entertainment choice. The racetrack doesn’t care about me and hasn’t for years, as the bottom line has dictated tracks not waste a nickel on anyone who’s not betting. 

People are sheep. Only meta-cool hipsters want to be the only person at an event. The rest of us want company, and the social validation we’ve chosen right. Some events (for example a team like the NY Yankees or a band like U2), can literally charge whatever they want for admission and continue to gouge the consumer for the ancillary costs-parking, food, souvenirs, etc because the market supports them. If you want to go that’s the price point and you can decide if you think it’s worth it or not.

Harness racing is like the Sybil of sports-it doesn’t know who it is or who it wants to be at any given time. We’re a sport, we’re entertainment, we’re a gambling option, we’re a special event….. 

I believe the general public wants decent, affordable food, comfortable surroundings and enough people who think like us and like the same things we like. We don’t want a hassle getting into a place and we don’t want to be treated poorly by anybody, on our way in, out, or during.

Racing used to attract every social strata of society as an entertainment option. Why? I think it stands to reason that young people like other young people (preferably of the opposite sex) around them, families want to take their children somewhere safe, inexpensive with some distractions for the kids and some for the adults, and be near other families…gamblers want all-access to information around them and to be surrounded by like-minded people.

One other thing that has been pounded to death is a run-down or unclean place…in particular the bathrooms.  If that has to be explained to track operators they should have their license to operate a business revoked.

Someone who goes to the track for the first time is intimidated by the info, the ways to bet and how you have to do it. I think racetrack staff should be way more interactive with people in teaching them or offering to help them bet or get closer to the horses and drivers. That’s one big reason why people avoid tellers. Every group sales group that comes to the track should be showered with young and personable people to assist them in betting and touring the track. The experience should be way more interactive. Hippodrome Blue Bonnets had the drivers come up in their colors and trainers mingle with people and point out things in the program or about horses on the track.   

If you want to be an entertainment or social option you have to compete with those around you and offer the same or similar experience for less money or have something another venue cannot have, like a cigar lounge.

Most tracks should position themselves like a minor league baseball or hockey team. That’s realistic and if they can integrate themselves into the community all the better. Large places should use their space for other options and events than racing, consolidating the racing space to what’s needed, ANYTHING to not have an empty venue. And all tracks should work like hell to convert people into bettors, one at a time!

I would like to thank all those who participated in this series.

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