Thoughts From The Cheap Seats

by Ed Meyer

posted on September 25, 2012 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, | No Comments >>

When I walk into the track I can’t believe the lack of patrons. We can’t blame it on the demographic changes or players drifting away as they get older. Competiton for the dollar has always been around, and people can look back and blame the economy at any time in the last 30-years. So what is a track to do in the face of  decline ?

Here are a few ideas that have been rolling around in my noggin. Take a peek, and tear them up. Some folks call it brainstorming and others like to just have a starting point. Either way see if any part of this works for you.

Pennies from Heaven

We have dropped the base wager to 50-cents, or even a dime. How about the same concept as penny-slots at the casino ? All we would have to do is drop the payoff to the penny version. I know, it sounds like a loser. But look at it like this, we will allow new players to get in at a bargain basement level. If you allow folks to play cheap right from the start you may get the old confidence bug biting. From the standpoint of the track, they would know that a player could make a wager in the last race with coins they found in the car seat on the way. What the heck? A little computer program dropped in, and tote does the magic. Now, players can actually play for the cost of a movie. Let me see… If  5,000 new players a year would make a visit and handle $20 through the windows that adds another $100,000 in handle to the coffers. Now, lets take half of our new players and get them to return three more times in that same year and wager $30.00. The added bump in wagering would be = $225,000 additional handle. Now, I know that this will not answer all of the questions. But if you offered up $325,000 additional revenue to the tracks I am sure they would not turn this down…

Wait a minute

If you think 60-seconds is too long too wait above and beyond post time then listen to this little story. I am sitting with John Engelhardt doing the “Regular Guy” handicapping show. We are looking at the win pool, and noticed there was $6,000 being shown on the tote board. Well, a horse needed a quick saddle adjustment, and they circled the horses one more time to get them ready for the start of the race. When they broke from the gate the win pool read $14,000. This is not a fix of problems by any means. Upon further investigation I found there were two other tracks going off at the same time. There were too many options, and you have a limited budget. So why not have your simulcast coordinator monitor the big tracks and call up to the stewards and ask for an additional minute? You would be surprised at the outcome, as I have seen the tote board jump over $20,000 on weekends. It is like dancing on your partners feet. All that you need to do is keep your eyes open. You can’t keep players held over for hours on the day, but for the extra time you added here could be taken off of the minutes-to-post for the next race. If you are looking for a cheat-sheet just don’t go-to-post with New York, Florida, Kentucky, or Chicago. Stay away from the graded races and marquee days at other tracks. Maybe, just maybe, this will start some dialogue with other tracks. Because you stay off of their post time, their handle can take a boost as well. It looks like everyone wins just by watching what you have. This is a easy fix, and the time can be arranged by calling  the stewards, to call down to the outrider, and ask them to circle the horses once more before loading. If you watch English racing they have a plan in place where one track finishes a race and there’s 5-8 minutes until the next event. It is like a well-timed dance that brings you constant action.

If there are 100 days of racing during a season in the U.S. why not try and do this three times a day? If the pool jumps $3,000 on average there will be $900,000 of additional handle for the meet. Now, this may fluctuate from race to race, but you are getting the idea. Just take that extra minute or two a few times a day and tell me how the handle is doing. I think we have too many tracks going off at the same time, and it is up to each track to monitor the situation until there is a strong governing body that makes the tracks work together. I was told by my grandfather long ago about cooperation in racing, “If we don’t hang together, we will all hang separately.”

Customer education

You have a small window when a patron rolls in to be educated about anything. They want to get down to business, and be left alone. I always say, “If the beer is cold, programs are sold, and the mutuel lines are open, then racing goes on.”  How about having some easy creature comforts. Make the plant well lit, clean, and offer free coffee to guests that come in during the early afternoon. Or how about offering a free program for the first hour as the gates open? The cost is minimal, and the regulars enjoy anything that is on the house. Small investments show you appreciate them coming in the doors.

For that tech savvy demo that is hard to reach. How about letting them play for FREE online to accrue points to be used for dining, programs, or vouchers as a prize? I know more people that feel comfortable sitting in front of the computer learning at their pace. You could have that fan education library online where they educate themselves from what to say when wagering, to learning how to use your horses in exotics. Once they have an understanding you could enlist the mobile app that allows them to wager from a mobile device anywhere in the track. They don’t have to leave their seats and wait in line behind hurried customers. Take away the fear, and they will gain confidence. This is the elusive demo that is sharp and ready and loves techno gadgets to do their bidding. S, why not give them what they need? More an more tracks are attempting to do this, and this may be a new way to reach the future of racing.

Feed them, and they will come

For years dining at the track has cost an arm and a leg. Tracks have become more in-tune with the power of food and beverage monies. Have a nice dining experience where you would be proud. People may come out for the prime rib buffet and look over and see an exciting sport taking place. Remember when you use to go to the ballpark as a kid. There was hot dogs, hamburgers, brats, and beverages. All stands were the same, and nobody cared about the experience. I have friend who goes to Bengal games and has premium seats. they offer a menu that has the foods from the visiting team area. Crab cakes from Baltimore, cheesesteaks from Philly, shrimp and Cajun dishes from New Orleans. They look forward to the food as much as the game. The stands now have sponsors and partners, and they offer everything from the old fare, to individual hand-made items. The demand has changed, and so has menu. Make your track a place where even non-gamblers can stop over and enjoy a fine dinner. They can watch the races, and who knows? – They might want to be a part of the action they are watching.

I think every track MUST have a stand or two where a family that comes out to the races can get simple grub at economical prices: $1 hot dogs, $1 small sodas, $1 popcorn and peanuts. Bottled water is a buck, and an ice cream sundae finishes out the menu for the same. Make it easy and don’t take away from the experience. If not everyday, make it on weekends, or special days. Trust you me, they will line-up and enjoy not taking a loan to get a burger.

These have been thoughts from an average fan. I have been coming for years and love the sport. Just give it a think, and see if any of this fits. I bet you’ll come up with some great ideas as well, and before you know it. We may have a new crowd growing right before our eyes.