Being a long time visitor to many tracks, I feel that I have a clue to what is going on around me. Now, that doesn’t make me the “All-Knowing Professor,” but I have formulated a good feel. Just listen up to some of the stories from the days of old, and see what you think.
Kiddie day at the races
Now, after the kids have had their face painted, and ride a pony, they are ready to bolt for the doors. Las Vegas has all but abandoned the ‘bring your kids to Vegas’ push. The message is a feel good, and the idea is to build fond memories that may bring back little Johnny and Susie when they turn 18-years-old. Too much money for no return.
Take it up a notch
I was involved in a cooperative effort with the horsemen and management at Turfway Park. They came together with funds, and had a blowout day of demonstrations, exhibits, and there were cash and prize drawings throughout the day. The kids got their fix, and the parents had a blast. There were fan educators, handicapping seminars, and interviews to bring the game closer to you. I can’t call it a complete fix, but it is a step in the right direction.
The first thing to go
It was dreary winter day, and snow had kept away many of the office folks. My boss was a man who would walk ten miles to get to work at 5 a.m. He was there on this day, and I felt it was a good time to ask about my marketing budget. Upon asking him what I could count on for planning, he simply answered “nothing.” There will be no advertisement this year. I tried in vain to tell him that if nobody knew we were open, then why would they come? He just looked at me and said it was too expensive, all at the advice of bottom feeder who complained all the time. He followed that advice right into the poor house. Oh, I tried to barter with outside radio and TV for some free ads in exchange for sitting at the table next year when slot machines would arrive. We had some events, and free advertisement. But all of this hoopla was for not. Would you pull into McDonald’s if all of the lights are out? The answer is NO… As the game gets tougher to turn a profit, or at best to break even, many budgets are slashed, and fans will suffer. That fan friendly track personality you could always talk to is being replaced by a kid who will take your name, and you can hope for a call back. No more answers, just smoke and mirrors that give you one more reason to skip the races.
Try something new
The dollar beer and dollar dog nights have been popular. But here is a little something to sink your teeth into, and step back and take a look. For the tracks that have alternative gaming, or are now owned by casino companies. Why not have a “win a trip to Vegas” night? Or a three day all inclusive trip to one of their closer properties? This does work, as I used to take our top 100 players on a two-night jaunt to Laughlin, Nevada. They would fly us out, and we would have two wonderful nights with dinner coupons, show tickets, and a gift bag of goodies. The players loved it, and they immediately became loyal customers. The cost was minimal for them, as they had proven gamblers on board. Now, try sending out a mailer and hoping for that demo to arrive… One thing casinos have taught me is that people love instant action. Shorten post times, and have fewer races. In between the races, have drawings for track packs for bounce back visits, and one-of-a-kind merchandise from your prize vault.
For a $1 ticket, you could have a “Select-All” promotion. They could have lottery style wager where they could select a horse to finish first or second for all nine races. If no player hits the bet, there is a total carryover to the next racing day. At the end of the month, there could be a mandatory payout. Kinda’ has the feel of a lottery play, and if you look closely… It really is. Cheap to play, and guests hang around and get comfortable with a dollar brew. When there are winners on-track, have a “Wall of Fame” where they are posted.
As I have watched the poker scene grow, I have noticed younger players who have honed their skills in their parents basement, as they dumped off college. Now, allow horse players to wager on-line with “free” credits where they can accrue dinner packages, wagering vouchers, and prizes. There could be a tutorial library where they could learn as they go along without the fear of not knowing the game. It works for poker, and why not for racing? They could receive race time tweets with solid handicapping information. This allows folks to stay interested, and not lose patience. Just have free live race streaming, and free handicapping material for on-line players. If a few folks break the rules and download the target track for free info. Guess where they are going to be wagering?
Up close and personal
NASCAR has shown me the light. Have interviews in an easy to find area, and allow players to ask questions. This brings people closer to the action, and have paddock tours when the horses are being saddled. I once brought up in a meeting that we should take a group of some of our best fans and allow them into the winner’s circle for pictures and recognition. The idea was thumbed down by this old guy at the end of the table, and it never happened. Guess what they advertise now for special members? Yep, you guessed it. Right to the winner’s circle. Take them to see the race caller ply his trade, or sit in the room as the stewards make decisions about the races. Let them get close, and they will gain a new found love.