This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Steven Crist of DRF.com…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!
Racing needs to improve its product and change with the times
Some of the most interesting remarks made at last Sunday’s Jockey Club Round Table on Matters Pertaining to Racing were on a topic sometimes overlooked at such industry gatherings: Matters actually pertaining to actual racing.
Martin Panza, nearly a year into his new position as the senior vice president of racing operations for the New York Racing Association, has already made a series of welcome changes to the game in New York – not in the frequently overemphasized areas of marketing or medication, but in the nuts and bolts of the racing product.
He has emphasized quality over quantity, banishing the 13-race Saratoga cards that used to overflow with turf sprints, maiden claimers, and complicated conditioned-claiming races.
“Race day schedules have to be reduced,” he told the assemblage in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. “Our fans deserve and demand better wagering opportunities. If there is not a reduction in race days, then at the very least there must be a reduction in the number of races offered. The days of carding 11, 12, or 13 races may be over. They should be. It’s just not working.
“As our economic environment has changed, we need to reevaluate our circumstances and our strategies. Instead of scheduling cards with 11, 12, or 13 races, because that’s what we did last year, maybe it is time to look at the equation from the other side. How many races can we run on a given day and average eight, nine, or 10 horses per race? Set the standard from a requirement of what we want the product to look like, and then determine the amount of races that can be offered to meet that standard.”
Setting a standard for racing, rather than having it set for you purely by economics, is exactly the kind of attitude that makes our sport different from managing a casino floor. It’s been a while since anyone paid more than lip service to the idea of setting high standards for the sport of racing in New York, and now is the ideal time to be doing it.
Promoting quality over quantity sounds good, but doesn’t work if you can’t pay for it. When Monmouth Park went upscale with an “elite” meeting, everyone liked the boost in quality, but the increased business was not enough to offset the higher purses. The whole experiment turned into a massive giveaway that was discontinued after one year.
Due to its huge, casino-fueled purses – maiden races on Whitney Day were worth $98,000 – New York can afford to do the right things for racing instead of focusing entirely on the bottom line. Panza believes that the declining annual foal crop makes such changes necessary as well as desirable.
“It is difficult to maintain a quality racing program for the long term by running lower-level races,” he said. “The economics of ownership is not really sustainable with the lower-level purses.”
Rather than card as many five-horse fields as possible, he suggests, less could be more.
“Having spent most of my career in California, we enjoyed a certain amount of isolation from other racing circuits,” he said. “Now working on the East Coast, I am amazed at the amount of racetracks trying to compete with each other in such close proximity. With the foal crop situation, horsemen, owners, and racetrack operators may fare better with coordinated 60-day meets shared amongst three states rather than the current schedules being offered. Perhaps breeding programs could expand to tristate or multistate opportunities rather than remaining unique to each individual state.”
These are the kinds of ideas that are going to be necessary for the sport to survive, much less thrive and grow. An increasingly vocal and critical fan base is voting with its feet against smaller fields and higher takeout. Racing tends to spend more time worrying about abstract ideas about customer creation and retention rather than doing the best marketing of all – improving the product being sold.
“The game is undoubtedly going through a transitional period,” Panza acknowledged, but found some reason for optimism there:
“It seems to me with thought and proper planning, we may have an opportunity to reinvent ourselves.”
WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?