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Simulcast conference focuses on on-track experience
LEXINGTON, KY. – Speakers on the first day of the Simulcast Conference on Monday spent their time discussing just about everything but simulcasting.
The topics discussed on the first day – the design of facilities, the adoption of technology, and the use of social media – did not directly address any of the nuts and bolts of simulcasting, which provides the majority of revenues to racetracks and horsemen in the U.S. But organizers of the conference said that the topics were selected in part because previous conferences had often ignored the fact that the majority of wagers are still being made at bricks-and-mortar establishments, even if those bets are being made on races appearing on televisions, creating a need to refocus the discussion from the benefits of account-wagering to the importance of delivering a positive experience for racetrack and OTB simulcast players.
Chris Scherf, the executive director of the Thoroughbred Racing Association, which organizes the annual conference with the Harness Tracks of America, said that racetrack operators are gradually coming to the realization that a decade of focus on delivering the product to far-flung locations has led to the neglect of the locations where the sport is most vibrantly experienced. Other sports are also recognizing the disconnect.
Scherf pointed to the NFL, which has never been more popular. But despite that, team owners and the league are trying to devise strategies to turn couch potatoes into ticket-buying customers to fill enormous and expensive stadiums.
“They’re asking, ‘In this age of high-definition television, how do you get people out of their houses?’ ” Scherf said.
Several of the speakers on the first day of the three-day conference represented the stadium-design and event-marketing company Populous Activate Group, which has worked with the organizers of the London Olympics and the Super Bowl and which has had a hand in the design of numerous high-profile stadiums. The speakers ran through the rapid evolution that has occurred over the past 20 years in stadium design, with a focus on concepts that seemed well beyond the reach of most racetrack budgets, even if the philosophy underlying the tactics was sound.
Todd Gralla, a principal in the firm, warned that sports that focus too heavily on the delivery of their product through technology “risk alienating their customers.”
“The physical place is still important to what we are producing,” Gralla said. “These are ideas that can translate very easily into horse racing.”
Gralla appeared on the same panel as Jason Settlemoir, the chief executive officer of the New Meadowlands, the harness track in New Jersey that was torn down and is being rebuilt from the ground up. The new racetrack is far smaller than the old track, with numerous themed bars, VIP sections for high rollers, simulcasting areas, and a private horsemen’s dining room.
The new design is part of a larger strategy to use the new facility to attract more fans to the sport and give existing fans a reason to come back. Settlemoir said that that strategy also will include heavy promotional pushes for events held at the track, running the gamut from major races to the “backyard” type festivals increasingly common at tracks and in urban locations, the craft-beer festivals and BBQ contests that are talked up in the Friday editions of local newspapers.
Bill Knauf, the vice president of business operations for Monmouth Park, gave a presentation on installing a facility-wide wireless network. The Jersey Shore track had the wireless system installed just prior to opening this year, and Knauf said that the investment in time and money paid off in numerous ways, from allowing the track to offer a mobile-phone wagering application to allowing customers to easily post comments or pictures on social-media sites.
While many tracks have recently launched smart-phone wagering applications, the returns have not yet been significant, and Monmouth had the same experience. Average per-day wagering on the application was only $900, although more than $10,000 was bet on Haskell Day, when more than 40,000 people were on hand, Knauf said.
Knauf also said that the installation of the wireless system had numerous benefits for the track’s back-office functions, including parking, admissions, inventory and dining-room reservations. He said he expected the track to find additional benefits in the coming months and years.
“This is the start of a backbone at our facility,” Knauf said.
It's too expensive for me to get to the track as often as I'd like. If I use the train to go to Belmont, I've spent nearly $100 before I make a bet. That's excessive. Monmouth? $115. By comparison, I can fly to Las Vegas, spend two nights there and spend less than $700 for everything. And Vegas is Vegas. Or I can go to one of the CT casinos. Eating, drinking and gasoline for less than $40. NY racing seems to be the third choice for the past 20 years.
I agree with some of the comments...all about the horse & the experience which will never be possible through technology, although tech is also important, such as the huge video screen being installed at Churchill Downs. You want the live experience but must also be able to see the race and know where your horse is during the running of the race! I disagree with the argument that people won't go anymore because of traffic, high costs of attending, etc. Look at how much good seats for a live concert, theatre, playing golf, other major sports events cost; often well over $100 if not $200 or more...just for the tickets. Thus, attending the races is a complete bargain by comparison! I also agree take-outs MUST BE LOWERED. The "gouge factor" on certain exotic bets of 25%+ take-outs is a real turn-off for anyone serious about betting, evaluating risk-reward and attempting to make a living (or minimize losses) at the game they love...or they are much more likely to follow the tracks/bets that are offering reduced take-outs.
Just wake up and lower the takeout!
It is all about the horse,putting youngsters,adults seniors in direct contact with a beautiful thoroughbred, standardbred instantly engages all the senses and a bond is established. The stimulation of touch, sight, smell,noise, communication is a great way to attract, retain and educate fans, to think that you can also make some money by betting is a bonus. The only way for the average racetrack attendee or simulcast player can become engaged in this process, is to buy one for thousands of dollars, often on paper only, sight unseen based on somebody's opinion. Reconnect those first impressions between horse and horse-lover and you can start growing your marketing fan base. How difficult is it for the industry to reconnect with the horse Its all about the horse!
I believe that wireless and computer tech innovations are long overdue in the industry, a lot of tedious work can be made more efficient eg. in the racing secretary's office, entering, monitoring horse and personnel safety in the backstretch and shedrows, security, perhaps medication etc. I do not claim to be that knowledgeable of backstretch routine but change is the new constant I predict that we will be chasing technology for the foreseeable future. Change in horse racing management and infrastructure has been traditionally 'deadly' slow.Kauf and Monmouth should be applauded for their initiative.
With all the ways to bet why go to the track.Fight traffic, pay for gas then get hit for a program, parking, high food prices, a seat and addmission.. Before you walk in the door eat a hot dog and beer or soda 40 bucks down the drain.Going to the track more than 1 or 2 days a meet are gone.