Tuesday, 26 May 2009

10.099 Beats 7.412, But Not By Much

In all the euphoria over yesterday’s atmosphere at Belmont Park, where 10.099 racegoers apparently had a great time, I was relieved that I wasn’t the only one struck by how low this number really was. Just over 10.000? On a public holiday, in beautiful weather, with one of the most prestigious handicaps of the continent on the card? Dresden had 7.412 for this year’s only raceday so far. And horse racing is by no means a generally more popular sport over here.

That’s 7.412 in a city of 500.000, which (no matter how often English-language Wikipedia wants to ignore the objections by me and other editors) isn’t part of any metropolitan area. It’s for a raceday on which the “feature” was a Hcp D for 4.600€, on the same weekend on which Dresden also hosted the largest Dixieland festival outside New Orleans, among other alternatives.

For all they screw up in every other part of marketing the sport, the one thing German racecourses do well is marketing themselves as an outdoor event. There are several thousand regular racegoers (especially families) in any city with a track who don’t have any interest in the sport on any other than raceday, but who attend for the atmosphere and side attractions alone. They will usually only make a couple of spice-up bets at minimum stake amount, spread out over the day. Yet the racetracks profit from the admission and programmes paid and the revenue generated from on-site beer gardens, cafés, vendors, pony rides and other attractions.

Due to the, self-inflicted, absence of meaningful off-track handle (on Dresden’s first raceday, only 40,4% of the 108K total handle were off-site), this source of income is increasingly vital for the continuing existence of the sport in our remote corner of the Thoroughbred world.

Good attendance is great for the horseplayers too. Because a large portion of the handle comes from people who aren’t really dedicated handicappers, it’s much easier to find quality bets at a good price, the level of competition is much lower (although in Germany this is somewhat offset by the difficulty of getting meaningful information).

I’m aware that it’s easier to get good attendance figures if you only have a dozen of racedays per year to promote, but then nobody forces NYRA to run two stakes races every weekend. This way, they’re teaching the audience that a comparable product will be offered all the time, thus diminishing the incentive to attend today, or tomorrow. It would be easier to attract large crowds if they would create several racedays when the product offered (on the courses and around the paddock) far exceeds the usual levels, then promote only those days, and leave the rest to the few that will come anyway and have little interest in the side attractions. This is the way the Paris tracks do it, and it works fine for them.

Of course, it would be even better for NYRA to realize that even in the “Golden Age” they ran hardly a third of the number of races, but I’m trying to be realistic here.

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