Monday, December 31, 2007

Sunday Racing...... No More in '08

It's Sunday afternoon. The Gardner is packed. Turning left into Greenwood is a nightmare. Cops are out directing traffic. The Super 7 carryover is big. Tip sheet sellers are out at the Queen Street entrance, doing brisk business. The belly is full from a steak and egg breakfast at the Mecca, and the handicapping is done. You have to get there early to get a good seat upstairs, and watch warm-ups. The thoroughbred fans are already there playing Gulfstream. It is so busy inside, so upstairs in the grandstand is where it is at.

That was Sunday racing at Greenwood. Now Sunday afternoon racing is no more. It's gone, as Woodbine has cut it from the racedate menu.

Darryl Kaplan wrote an opinion piece in this months View coming in Trot Magazine. He makes some good points and it is a centrist, populist opinion that something had to be done to get stronger fields, but he is not sure if the way it has come about is correct. I tend to agree.

But here we don't have to take a centrist view. Here we can turn this business on its head and try and figure out what this sport could be, and should be. So let's wave our magic wand and go to it.

Our first task to grow the sport, and to get back Sunday as a day for promotion involves competing racetracks. So, we wave the magic wand and cap purses at Georgian at $10,000. WEG has to compete with several racetracks peeling off entries. It hurts. We see what Yonkers has done to the Meadowlands the last year. It has happened here for many years. Poof. We just upped entries by a solid 15-25%.

The next task is increasing handles. With horseman agreements tying hands in the real world it is tough to have a dynamic, fluid marketing and wagering growth strategy. We have a magic wand though, don't we. So to grow Sunday's and to race Sunday's and to promote the sport it is easy for us.

1. 5% is taken off every purse, and this money is placed in a marketing fund, just for Sunday's. Thoroughbred players rule afternoons, so we spend some of this money going after them. What will we be advertising? That's step 2 and beyond.

2. We introduce a new Sunday wager, and this wager is a blockbuster. A seeded superfecta pool in races 5, 8 and 11. This pool is guaranteed and it has a 4% rake. We advertise that to everyone, and we set the table beforehand so all wagering outlets can take it. No one will be shut out, and no one will not be able to bet it.

3. On track HPI reward points are tripled for people wagering the home track on Sunday's. Rebates to players are in effect made on par with the offshores. Just for that day. We are giving away money. We are playing people to play. We are being a casino. We are being a business.

4. Sunday is "Executives Work with Fans Day": They are handed hundreds of coupons for coffee, programs, racing forms. They walk around and talk to regulars, new people, whomever gets in their way. And they gladhand. Customers are appreciated on Sunday's. Sunday is Fun Day.

After the season, we do not bean count. We don't say "well, superfecta pools were $50,000 instead of $20,000, but with the low rake we made less." We have a magic wand, so we don't need to bean count, and to make the changes we did not have to call OHHA and 50 government agencies. We are only worrying about growing and branding.

In the end we might have branded Woodbine Sunday Standardbred racing. Every year people would know "Woodbine harness is on Sunday's and they have good bets that day". People with HPI accounts would know "boy if you bet live on Sunday's in the winter it is a great deal. Good rebate back; and I made enough points that day to get my wife a Woodbine sweatshirt to bring home". If handle does not go up after one Sunday, or two, or three, or ten we don't throw up our hands and say "well that did not work!" It took decades for us to lose harness handles. They won't come back in a week, or a month. It's hard work.

Hopefully we create buzz. Positive buzz. Perhaps growth.

That is the way we handle a Sunday racing problem at Pull the Pocket. If I am wrong, well so be it. I have a wand. And my mind is quantum leaping back to 1986 at Greenwood, so I might be waxing a touch too much nostalgic anyway.

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