The New Creation

The giant building that could be seen for miles away is starting to crumble away quietly. Sports has changed, and Thoroughbred racing is no exception. – Fan experience in a racing environment was once upon a time based upon standing in lines. Remember when you would leave before the last race to beat the traffic ? – Race tracks never took into consideration what the fans wanted. They didn’t have to, as all they had to do was buy minimal advertising to alert the opening or a big event. – Not the case for today’s player. The failure of racing in the United States can only be blamed on the ovals themselves. They didn’t plan for the future and thought if they opened the doors people would come.


Access is essential. Bring the game closer to the player, and they’ll pay attention. Racing is a complex game that can be broken down to the basics of entertainment. – That white elephant that is empty 95% of the year needs to be examined. Fans of all sports are not that far apart, and we’ll take baseball for instance. – Once upon a time fans would pay, sit, and watch. Only a lucky handful of fans could ever think of getting an autograph. Now you’ll see fan zones, and places where kids can interactively play the sport. – Notice the fare has changed ? You used to mortgage your house to buy a hot dog and a beer, and now you can expect a wide array of fare from the tried and true, to the four star pavilion areas offering the best dining in hometown. The interactive areas for fans to drop back and relax, and peruse the history of the game is a winner. Going to the ballpark is an experience, and no longer are you expected to show up and drop a lump of cash. MLB, NASCAR, NBA, NFL, and a host of other venues has the idea. I’m not much of a soccer fan, but they impressed me the most with large venues offering a multitude of fan experiences.


Back to the race track. They need to re-think a plan, and put it into action. The good ones prepare and invest in the future, and others wilt and die off slowly. – Don’t put a fresh coat of paint on a 50-year-old building. – Knock it down, and have temporary tents that offer comfort, and wagering opportunities. Before you start to think of a campground, put that aside and remember how Fair Grounds had temporary facilities on the same property  while the new track was being built. – When it comes up from the ground, a place that once had seating for 10,000 needs to be 3,000. For most there has to be an open air grandstand with a large cover that shields fans from the brutal sun and stinging rain. – Have roving clerks available in the grandstand and apron areas. Don’t wait for fans to come to the windows, bring it right to them. Have an area of plentiful self-bet machines, and the regular players will gravitate. Have mutuel windows and more than just one beginner’s window. Now, not being a fan of doing away with jobs, but there needs to be a cash-out machine you’ll see in every casino. Players can have an ATM, cash in their tickets, get a cash advance from a credit card, and load more onto an existing account. Now you have your outdoor fans being taken care of at the windows. You need to have multiple areas of easy access where players can grab a beer, have a bite to eat from a wide array of selections. – The rail must be up close to the track where you can feel the thunder as the horses run past. The paddock should be open air, and have a place where fans can grab an autograph or a pair of goggles from a jockey. – Bring the game closer and more accessible to the fans. Make them a part of the game and they’ll stay intrigued. Their discretionary dollar is going to take a great deal of work, and in the end you’ll be happy every time you pull into the facility.


Fans can be broken into many demos like all sports. The Race Book is a different animal. There must be free seating for around 500, and you can offer a low-cost seating option to cover facility costs during the Triple Crown, and Breeders’ Cup. If you try and make a profit on where they’ll sit, you can bet they’ll just walk away. The fan experience must be enhanced. – Offer plenty of self bet machines, a handful of your best clerks, and the cash out machines that offer multiple functions will allow players the ability to serve their own needs. – Have servers or waiters roving the seats as in Las Vegas and bring the drink or food to the player. Let them keep their thoughts on the wagering. The Race Book is open everyday of the year minus the few days where religious holidays exist. – Keep it clean, close restroom areas, and the availability of servers who are walking around will keep players as long as they wish. – The television products have come light years, and you need to have a plentiful variety of screens. Individual carrel seats with screens are a must, and there must be an area where players can purchase a table of ten or more for a get together or celebrate. NO GROUP sales or large groups of newbies. This is their land, and they roam the prairie. – But, there needs to be at least two corporate areas closed off from the Race Book, and they’ll hold up to 50 or so in capacity. Don’t make too many, as this will drive the urgency to make their reservations in advance.


I don’t think there is only one answer, and I sure don’t think it’s been sitting in a bottle. Racing needs to reinvent itself like every sport or great business that has survived. Thoroughbred racing has a beauty that is rarely offered in life much less in sport. The powers that be have to put down the “build it and they will come” attitude and focus on the destination aspect. Race tracks are surely not your grandfather’s place of play, and if they think about changing, maybe life is on the horizon. – Focus on having the best bar, bands, food, and the beauty of horses all shaken, not stirred in a large mixing blender, and I think they’ll have the next generation of racing fans. Add in the ideals of the casino world, and things really take flight. – We have 157 channels on TV, 12 movies to chooses from at the Cineplex, and a variety of options to spend our discretionary dollar. Racing can be one of the top dogs again, but long is the road and narrow the way. I wonder if they’re willing to pay the cost, or just allow it to die off slowly regaling the good old days.