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The Unbearable Lightness of Being There

This past weekend the North America Cup charged $10 for entry, for the first time in a long, long time.  As most know, with slots tracks, the doors were thrown open for anyone to enter, big day or small, and this is simply the way the (harness sport) works. The full story, with some thoughts, was penned here.

Most people like the idea of not charging admission to the races, because of one simple premise: If you don't let people in free you are limiting the audience, and racing needs an audience. Further, this audience - if only one person out of 1,000 loves the races and comes back - is positive for growth.

I never really get this line of thinking.

Google is google, not because of flying cars, or Motorola buys and sales, Google Glass, Google Home, or Android operating systems. Google is google because when people visit their search engine they are prequalified to do something, and google gets them where they want to be for a fee. Out of $100B in revenue for Google, about 90% comes from this amazingly simple business plan.

In general, and this does not only apply to Google: When people are looking for you they're worth something. When they aren't, they're dead traffic.

Similarly, when someone spends $10 to see your race, or event, they telling you they are prequalified to be a fan, or bettor. If they've never bet but want to, you show them how to fish. If they were once a fan or bettor, tracks are given a ready-made market to recapture. If they're a regular, this is the night to make them feel appreciated.

When someone walks in off the street, for free, they mean almost nothing. The conversion rate for these folks is probably less than the cost to have them use the port-o-potty. They're dead clicks.

When a track has prequalified patrons adding, say, $40,000 revenue into the til it's more than a new revenue stream for a business badly in need of it. That $40,000 can be sunk back into the event to market and remarket. Maybe it's free bets, maybe it's a giveaway pick 4 ticket, or big race scratch off ticket. Maybe it's even a concert.

Racing, in my view, we too often play checkers. Whether it's jackpot bets or takeout rates, or in this case, throwing the doors open, it's always hit and hope based on something that sounds good, but may be no good at all. Racing hopes things get better, hopes the 77,000 people at Oaklawn for Arkansas Derby day in the infield who don't bet - and don't want to bet - somehow magically take up betting. This never works, but they do the same thing over and over again.

Prequalifying people, finding what they want from racing, investing into them and capturing them to either play more, or play again, is chess, not checkers. Harness racing, in my view, needs a lot more of it.

Have a great Monday everyone.

Note: Results from Saturday were as expected on the attendance front - it appears to be down. But on-track per-capita was up stoutly. The people who did show up did what racing wants them to - they wagered the whole evening.

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