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When Customers Tell You There's a Fly in the Soup, There's a Fly in the Soup


Yesterday on twitter there was a conversation about why some people are withholding money from Keeneland this meet. A simple question, with a simple answer ("they raised prices and I don't think that's good for me, or for horse racing") gets twisted and mulched and argued. It's suddenly turned into Swahili.

Then the goalposts get moved around, and no one listens to something that's really not hard to understand in the first place.

It's not like this in other businesses. If you found a fly in your soup at Pete's, and moved your business over to Sue's across the street, the conversation is pretty simple.

"Why did you move your business?"

"I found a fly in my soup"

"OK"

The fact that Sue's soup is 50 cents more a bowl, or they play Fox News instead of CNN, or the waiter's ties are bland isn't a concern.

Keeneland put a fly in the soup and some people don't like it so they're eating someone else's soup. The end.

Some folks have asked me why I don't present as often as a once did at industry conferences, or why I'm not quite into things as much as before. Generally, the short answer is, because the discussion above happens not once, or twice, but frequently in horse racing. A customer can tell you something, the data can tell you something, then the industry responds by telling them how wrong or misguided it all is. And nothing ever changes.

I had to laugh last evening. I was playing Mohawk for their 15% pick 5 - it's a good bet and it pays pretty well. It's about the only thing I play there. I saw they upped their guarantee on the bet to $50,000 from $30,000, and the pool regularly does $80,000. Their pick 4 (at $25% juice), which historically was a $75,000 guarantee, now brings in about $60,000. It's been guaranteed at only $50,000 for awhile now.

The lower take pick 5 didn't start like this (it did around $20,000 early on), but over time it grew and grew to almost 400% higher a few years later. It consistently kicks the pick 4's ass.

Over at the Thoroughbreds, they brought in a pick 5 the same time harness did, but they chose to offer the bet at 25% takeout not 15%. Bettors complained; Woodbine was showed the average pick 5 takeout in racing was much, much lower, and they were an outlier; customers said they would not play it as much as other tracks. Even over at the Horseplayers' Association, Woodbine wanted to advertise the bet in the HANA Monthly, but was told no, because the takeout was way too high.

They knew exactly what the customer was telling them.

What happened? The pick 5 pool at Woodbine Tbred on Monday was $60,000 - unbelievably, much lower than Mohawk's - and their pick 4 pool was double the pick 5, at $122,000.

The above data at these two tracks - owned and operated by the same company - has been like this for not days, or months, but years.

When I again suggested that Woodbine might want to look at 15% takeout for their thoroughbred pick 5, promote it, and raise handles (something they say is a goal), I got looked at like I had six heads. The goalposts moved, you see. The fly in the soup was not a problem. I was just not looking at things right.

Customers tell racing what it needs to know each and every day -  hell, parimutuel handle with inflation (which should be a standard measure if they're serious about handle) has been almost cut in half the last 15 years. But to understand what they're telling them they have to be willing to listen.

Have a great day everyone!

Note: For those not playing Keeneland, Hawthorne has a pick 5 carryover today.


Comments

Sal Carcia said…
"A customer can tell you something, the data can tell you something, then the industry responds by telling them how wrong or misguided it all is. And nothing ever changes."

Feel lucky that any track executive listened to you long enough to disagree. Any rare opportunity I have had to talk with race track executive has gone the same way. I remember a track executive telling me that after the race replays of a DQ at the track would cause a riot. I was once told one dollar boxes would put tracks out of business.

The same is true with horsepeople. Their general attitude is that it is not their business to worry about the players. I remember when the horsepeople boycotted a first race in New York and they claimed they didn't think the players would care.

How does any business operate this way and survive? Well, it is possible with a superior product. But, racing doesn't have that.