We grew up going with grandpa, or making the weekend trek with dad to see the ponies. There were kiddie areas, game rooms, and of course ice cream. The many Memorial Day picnics we had as a family, still resonate in my memory bank today. Long story short, kids enjoy the races. If you doubt my words, just take a look around at some of the tracks that really know how to keep the kiddies involved for the afternoon.
Las Vegas was first in line to set up roller coasters, and kid-friendly activities to give Sin City a make-over. It initially was received with hesitation. But after awhile they really embraced the pirate show, and the exploding volcano. It was all about the family, until Vegas figured out that it would be money well spent to make the adults feel welcome instead of hiring Ned the Clown. But that is Vegas, and they are have a whole different market.
I have some friends that like to take their kids to the races. They are watched, patrolled, and kept on a harness to keep them away from the betting windows. Tracks that do not embrace having kids on track are missing the boat. I have worked at three tracks, and painstaking efforts to focus on the family experience were paramount. If mom and dad can bring out the kids they are more inclined to become interested in the sport. Where else can you walk to rail and feed the outriders pony a carrot or a peppermint. Just like professional sports, get them close to the action and they will become the next generation of fans. Just like when your dad took you to see your first baseball game. It kinda’ grew on you, as there was nothing like being at the ballpark. The sites and sounds were well worth walking the bridge to go see the game.
I know that tracks have rules that children must be accompanied by an adult. I agree, it is crazy to allow your six-year-old to drive out so they can watch the beauty and pageantry first hand. That goes without saying, and they should always be kept with parents. But, it seems that some ovals are holding onto the “old rule book” about keeping kids out. Now that worked long ago, but the secret sauce to success is working to entertain this unique audience.
I used to work with John Engelhardt closely for a number of years. He absolutely loved the “Family Fun Day,” and I hated going through the trouble. I don’t know if it was my marketing plan to spend money more wisely, but after awhile I began to see the light. Heading down to bounce-houses, face painting, games, and pony rides brought out a whole new demo to the track. We could have never reached these folks with advertisements, but if we put on a show where the family was all included it always turned out to be a success. I changed my ways, and wanted to expose our venue to a brand new demo. Now for me, that is money well spent.
So, if you are heading to the track. You might want to call ahead and ask policy. If they don’t seem too family friendly, you may want to choose another option for your entertainment dollar. I have seen the repeat trips for parents who used to bring their kids out for Family Fun Day, and return to have that same youngster enjoying the sport on a whole new level. With casinos popping up everywhere under the sun where you must be 21-years-old to enter, tracks really need to focus in a little harder to meet the needs of all guests. Just think, if there would have been a sign that said “no kids” at the track when I was a child. Right now I would be chatting about NASCAR or the local sports teams.