01/30/2002 12:00AM

Live concerts bring 'em in


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - A shortage of horses, attributable to Hialeah's closing this winter, has had an adverse effect on Gulfstream Park's business. But one area of operation that shows continued strength and even some growth is the weekend concert series.

Targeted primarily at the 30-to-45 market, the concerts have developed a fan base of their own, which translates into weekend crowds averaging almost 30,000. Of course, half that count is concertgoers, many of whom depart the grounds after the conclusion of the concerts in mid-afternoon. But these entertainment programs are serving a valuable purpose, says the man responsible for their introduction here seven years ago.

"Our economic surveys, by third-party organizations, tell us that the concerts have increased weekend crowds by 25 percent," said Gulfstream's marketing director, David Rovine. "Over 80 percent of the concertgoers now wager before they leave and the per capita is now up to $30. That may not sound like much but we are educating potential horseplayers. As they get older and their discretionary income increases, so will their per capita."

Rovine trained harness horses for a number of years. Operating from his family's farm and training center in Middletown, Del., he was leading trainer at The Meadowlands's Standardbred meeting in 1987 with 108 winners. For more than a dozen years he had a dinner theater in Orlando, Fla., Rovine serving as director and producer. Responding to an ad in Daily Racing Form seeking a marketing man, Rovine contacted Gulfstream Park and was hired by Doug Donn, the chief operating officer, at the recommendation of Chick Lang, Pimlico's general manager.

"I came here from posts as marketing director of two harness tracks in Maryland," Rovine said. "Rosecroft Raceway and Delmarva Downs had the same problem facing Gulfstream - an aging fan base. We tried giveaways at first, the usual hats and umbrellas. Then we added entertainment to the mix. The public perceived it as an added-value and business responded."

Working on a limited budget when he arrived at Gulfstream in 1995, Rovine's concerts were modest productions.

The first act booked was an Elvis Presley impersonator. This season the series opened on a stellar note with Bryan Adams, and also features appearances by such well-known groups as America, Three Dog Night, and Air Supply.

The fee for attending the concerts is $5, which includes admission, parking, and a $2 mutuel voucher good for a wager that day.

"Prior to the concerts," Rovine noted, "we put on a live, multimedia presentation designed to explain racing and how to bet on horses. We have handicappers analyzing the first few races and other speakers addressing the basics. We also have mutuels messengers passing through the crowd and taking bets."

When the concerts conclude, those in the crowd who remain will stroll from the band shell to trackside. Marketing personnel are waiting for them with another presentation.

"Teach. Teach. Teach," Rovine emphasized. "We want to be sure they understand how to play the game. If they learn, the next time they come to the track they'll wager with more confidence. It's the same principal the Las Vegas casinos use when they make you walk past the slots and gaming tables in order to get to your room."

While the main thrust of Rovine's efforts is aimed at attracting new customers, he does not forget the patron who is already committed to racing.

He has a special program and a VIP facility for big bettors. He has an advantage card program with gifts for those who attend and wager consistently. He has introduced a concert club card with rewards for those who make repeated appearances and he has a very successful promotion in his Women's Club luncheons on Fridays. Speakers such as Erin Brockovich and chef Allen Sussman address the group in the Turf Club and a handicapping panel analyzes the day's race card.

Introduced last year, the Women's Club was a consistent sellout and a survey showed that 87 percent of attendees remained after lunch to make at least one wager. They had a pleasant visit to the races and would return.