There’s an old saying: ” the more things change, the more they stay the same.” – I’ve been reading for sometime about the importance of fan education and the efforts of taking it to street. You know, finding players and teaching them more about the game. I couldn’t agree more that the game could use a boost. But, are we missing an easy element to the message?
At a track in far away city, a long-long time ago. There were informational sessions or handicapping seminars. We would have one a month, and each loyalty card holder was admitted free, and could bring a new guest. We would give away one free program or Daily Racing Form per each card member, and at the end of the seminar it would be followed up with lunch. – It would be limited to the first 100 players, and we would have a drawing at the end for a free wagering videos and prizes. The people loved, it and we would have a special guest such as leading trainer, or a top jockey that had a horse entered that day. The people loved it even more. The only unhappy person was my boss. He used to ask me the same question, “how much is all of this costing me?” My answer was always the same, “whatever it is, you’re getting a bargain.” Needless to say, he was never happy with my answers.
The method to my madness was simple. “First, we’ll have at least 50 of our customers with a loyalty card. The new guests would be signed up for one as they checked in. This grows our database, and we’re depending on our loyal players to help extend our brand. Second, I made a great deal for a sponsorship with the DRF, and they would send merchandise, comp forms, and prizes. The money would be given to food services, who could plan ahead by keeping the lunch affordable by having it when we had a dining special. So far, there is no cost and we are entertaining our guests with education, information, and the chance to score some prizes. Third, we never had 100 guests… I set it low to drive reservations, and we always had around 200.” His answer was always the same. “How are we making money?” – “Easy, we are educating players, and investing in our future by showcasing what we have to offer.” It was about this time he would walk out shaking his head. This was long before any technology, and we had to use our imagination to reach players without going broke.
This was all stimulated by reading Keeneland’s social media request for “Betologists.” This is a person who will walk around the property and answer any and all questions, and teach you about handicapping. – This is a brilliant idea! They have some great leaders in the industry with fan education, and it sounds like a home-run. Not to throw mud on the windows, but does anyone know why on-line poker is popular? Once upon a time, they were newbies, and they could learn as they wanted, or play for free in a tutorial room. Now hold it right there! That makes sense. Just as we contacted them with social media, we could have free on-line play for prizes or loyalty points. Or, there could be a library section where they could learn at their speed and it would take away from the” not-knowing-what-the-hell-I’m-doing” factor. Poker became popular when people could sit in their pajamas and learn how easy it is to play. The same could go for racing, but the message would be an industry-wide opportunity. I know, it doesn’t make sense. Well, grab a seat next to my boss back there, and we’ll break it down.
How many people want to be “educated” when they’re already there? If they’ve made it to your venue, you’ve completed 90% of your goal. Why not have an industry wide message where all tracks would not promote individual dates, and focus on the educational aspect for the sport? There could be the recognizable faces creating the message, and it could be accessible by the many social mediums. The idea of helping fans before they got to the races could be a plus to your business. Casinos have a good idea. Folks can come out for free tutorial sessions, and play with newbies for free. But what if they entered your website, and could access how to play craps; know what a bullet workout is, or how to make a pick-three ticket? The same way you contacted them could be used to help navigate your site with an industry backed library of “how to become a horse player” tutorials. The cost could be shared by all participating tracks, and it would be the same message at Portland Meadows to Churchill Downs. I’d like to think we can help people before they think about coming to the races. People can play, access information, and learn at their leisure. If you make it easy to learn, and incent people with a bounce-back offer. I am willing to bet there will be more folks going to the races again. You can’t expect anything new by doing the same old things over and over. There is a brave new world with people who get their news, count calories, and crush candy, by reading and learning at their leisure. I couldn’t see myself playing “Farm-ville” if I had to drive somewhere and have somebody show me. Create it and put it where people can find it, and you may be surprised that some may be bringing in that web-coupon for a free popcorn and a program. That sound you hear is not a voice in your head, it is the sound of fans cheering in the grandstands again.