12/01/2014 4:22PM

NYRA to increase prices, simulcast fees in 2015

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After showing a profit in 2014 for the first time in 13 years, the New York Racing Association once again plans to raise prices to its customers as well as simulcast partners to help it maintain profitability in 2015.

In a meeting with the Franchise Oversight Board on Monday, Susanne Stover, NYRA’s chief financial officer, said that “NYRA plans to selectively increase prices for group sales and parking and the fee charged for NYRA’s simulcast signal” in 2015.

Stover did not say what those increases would be for 2015.

Reiterating figures she stated at the Nov. 12 meeting of NYRA’s Reorganization Board of Directors, Stover said NYRA is budgeting to show a profit of $1.5 million in 2014 and a $2.1 million profit in 2015, all exclusive of revenue it receives from Resorts World, the casino based at Aqueduct. In 2013, NYRA had an operating loss of $12.9 million, according to Stover.

Stover said NYRA showed a $3.1 million increase in revenue over 2013 as a result of the increased fee it charges for its simulcast signal. She said NYRA saw a $2.3 million increase in revenue based on an increase in admission, box seats, and parking prices that went into effect at Belmont and Saratoga in 2014, “something that hadn’t been done in many years,” Stover added.

NYRA sold more than 6,000 season passes during the Saratoga meet, capping it at that number for fear of having overcrowding in certain areas of the track on weekends, according to NYRA president and chief executive Chris Kay. Kay admitted Monday that that was a mistake and said he likely won’t do that in 2015.

Stover said NYRA showed an $800,000 increase in revenue from additional sponsorships. To that end, NYRA has retained Wasserman Media Group, a Manhattan-based firm, to try to increase sponsorship revenue even further in 2015.

Stover and Kay both said NYRA will look to build on its “big race-day” concept, which was in place on Belmont Stakes Day, when there were 10 graded stakes, and the inaugural Stars and Stripes card held in July at Belmont.

Kay said NYRA plans to run additional graded stakes on the Travers Day card in late August at Saratoga. NYRA is budgeting $9.6 million more in revenue for Travers Day 2015 than in 2014.

In addition to increasing revenue, NYRA detailed a number of cost-cutting measures in 2014 that helped it attain profitability, including the closing of Aqueduct’s backstretch for six weeks, reorganizing and reducing staff, a reduction in legal expenses, and renegotiating contracts.

In 2015, NYRA plans to close the Aqueduct backstretch for a five-month period, or when it isn’t conducting a live race meet at the track. In order to accommodate horses, NYRA is expanding barns at Belmont Park and expects to have 250 additional stalls at Belmont by the end of August.

Kay said NYRA also will look to reduce the number of days it races at Aqueduct, though he did not offer specifics. On Monday, NYRA released its winter stakes schedule for Aqueduct’s inner-track meet, which is scheduled to end March 22. NYRA did not indicate when the main track would open, though the Wood Memorial is scheduled for April 4.

Kay said the reduction in foal crops over the last several years has prompted other tracks to reduce their schedules, and NYRA should follow suit.

“No one runs more days in America than the New York Racing Association,” Kay said. “Other tracks have responded by running fewer days and running fewer races on days when they do run, and that’s a very logical approach to this situation.”

By statute, NYRA is required to card 95 days of racing between Dec. 1 and May 1.

When asked by a board member if NYRA would reduce the number of racing dates if there wasn’t such a statute, Kay said, “Yes, we would. To that end, we have talked to the New York breeders’ association and the horsemen, and we all agree that we think it would be prudent, for example, to reduce the number of days we race at Aqueduct.”

Kay said he has had meetings with the New York State Gaming Commission to talk about that issue and called those meetings “very productive.”

Stover said NYRA is budgeting net income of $27.3 million in 2015, which takes into account a budgeted 3 percent reduction in handle.

Stover said NYRA is budgeting to spend $36.1 million in capital improvements at all three of its tracks in 2015, including a refurbishing of the Manhattan Terrace at Aqueduct, upgrades in restroom areas and the addition of backyard video boards at Saratoga, and an upgrade to the Long Island Railroad area at Belmont.