A few headines today show what racing is up against, and the juxtaposition it faces.
Belmont showed an increase in wagering of 11% from last year, while attendance got walloped 14%. This makes perfect sense. Slots allow for a few things: To increase the number of races (344 vs 334 last year), increase field size, and put on a slightly better betting product. As well, we had a takeout reduction year over year and we had a shift, with more bettors playing with NYRA rewards. A lot of these folks get a rebate to play, adding a little bit to churn. On track they get none.
So: Handle Up.
Slots don't do much for on-track attendance, because, well, they don't. Unless there are some massive giveaways, giving the casual fan something to make the trip for, you'll likely not see much.
In addition, with tracks that have slots on-track (this would not pertain to Belmont as they don't have slots), there is a reverse cross over. Pari-mutuel wagering falls 21%, while horseplayers juice up the slots by 13%.
Today we also saw an article in the Paulick Report about the fading number of turf writers and the lack of column inches in newspapers. Newspapers, Bacon argues (I think correctly), helps get out a key demographic to the racetrack and without entries or stories in local papers, they can't get information.
If we look at the Belmont numbers, maybe we'd say "who cares about newspapers?".
Well, on track handle is important for the obvious: The track gets a bigger slice of on-track handle. But it's important for more than that. Casual people, visiting a town looking for something to do, people who only go to the track once or twice a year and so on, represent part of the "funnel". When they are on-track they can be marketed to, they can be signed up for NYRA rewards accounts, they can be shown a good time, too. Some of these people are new, and racing, like any other business, needs new customers to convert to regular customers.
For those of you who market on the web, you pay attention to your "new visitors" and subset them. You might use the google content network, where despite a higher bounce and lower page views or conversion rates, they provide value, especially through remarketing. In print, and on-track, it's not dissimilar.
I have always thought it extremely important for racing to have a strategy with newspapers. The entries, handicapping info and all the things we saw in the 1970's have to be there. If a paper drops entries and picks, like they have, I think it makes sense for racing to pay to have it included. It's a market that needs to be covered.
In the end it shows how many markets racing must touch. Its edge, as always lies in the fact it's a gambling game, and customers can come from in many demos and forms. But they're all potential customers. And all potential customers need gambling information, whether it be on the web, or in print.
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