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Friday, August 8, 2014

How to Substantiate Fees and Better the Bottom Line

As a result of the Meadowlands pricing scheme on Hambletonian Day, the old argument whether gamblers should be paying to get into the track to gamble has arose again.  As everyone knows, you can walk into any casino and gamble without having to pay a dime yet some racetracks still charge admission, you have to buy a program, and in some instances such as the Hambletonian, pay for a reserved seat.

For those who  go to the Meadowlands this past Saturday, there was a $5 admission fee (normally there is none) and the outdoor seats in the grandstand cost $10 while inside seats cost $15 (in the past the seats went for $5 on Hambo Day). Certainly more expensive than in the past, but reasonable in my eyes. 

First of all, considering the the size of the crowd, additional staffing was required; staffing which needs to be paid for .  For the $5 charge, you also got a premium item (which I realize most consider a freebie).  Seats were more expensive than in the past but the fact is there simply aren't as many seats available as in the past.  So considering the demand for those seats available went up, the increase in cost was certainly reasonable and logical.  It should be noted compared to the thoroughbred triple crown races, the Hambletonian is a bargain. 

The funny thing is no one complains when professional sports teams raise ticket prices as they advance through the playoffs.  Yes, there is a difference between a day at the races versus a baseball game as baseball is not a gambling sport (legally, that is).  The question asked by some is why should a regular attendee of the races have to pay to spend their money gambling?

Because Hambletonian Day is not a typical day at the races; it is an event.  Personally, I have no problem paying to go to the track as for me, a night at the track is an event, something special even if there are no stake races on the program.  This is where racing needs to aim for.  It needs to make a day/night at the track an event, not just a night at the track where you can make your wagers.  After all, if all you want to do is make a bet, you can just as easily log on to your computer and make your bets.

Let's not kid ourselves, those who look at racing solely as a gambling sport are likely watching the races from their laptop, playing the races via their ADW where the sending tracks and horsemen split a whopping 3% of the handle; money which isn't exactly rolling in and making anyone rich..  The majority of those who want to go to the track are looking to experience an event; from special events on and off the track.  Many of them are not exactly betting high volumes of money but they don't really object to paying admission and other charges; charges which help offset the expenses of the day and improve the bottom line.  

And this is where racing needs to go.  It needs to make every racing day special; a day which those people looking for something special to do and are willing to pay to see want to attend.  While there will always be wagering on track, betting alone isn't going to cover the expenses.  Racing needs to add the pageantry back into the sport.  In Japan at JRA tracks, you find live music between races; ceremonies when awards are presented to winning jockeys and trainers. In other words, racing needs to be entertainment as much as gambling. The key is to make going to the races fun again with alternative activities in addition to racing, make it a social event.  While the largest bettors are likely lost to the ADWs, the more lucrative on-track handle should increase and be bolstered by the ancillary fees and food charges. 

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