When it comes to hobbies, the New York Rangers and horse racing compete for my attention. Most of the time, they don’t come into serious conflict, but maybe one of these days the Rangers will still be playing deep enough into the post-season so that I can dash from the Belmont Stakes to Madison Square Garden for my dream doubleheader.
As a Rangers’ season subscriber, I pay less per ticket than individual seats bought at the box office; my seats are $30 each, up from $22.50 (almost 30%) three seasons ago, all because the Rangers won one—count it, ONE—playoff series in nearly a decade.
Last week, I received my playoff invoice—yes, before the Rangers are assured of even making the playoffs—and was shocked to discover that my $30 seats are going to be $55 each—nearly double–for the first round of the playoffs. The second round will cost $75 a seat; the third, $100; and in the unlikely event that the Blueshirts make the Finals, I’ll pay $150 per seat for the privilege of watching them. If I go to every playoff game and pay for one seat only (assuming my companion will pay for his/her own seat), it will cost me a minimum of $760 to watch eight games.
When I go to the Garden, I sit in the cheapest seats possible, and there’s no way that I can sit in better seats unless I’m willing to fork over the significant dough for them. When I enter the arena, my bag is checked, and any food or drink I bring—including water—is confiscated and discarded. A beer costs $7, a hot dog $4.50. A night at the Garden ain’t cheap.
I compare this to my experience at the races. I am not a big bettor; on a big day like the Belmont or Breeders’ Cup, I’ll budget myself around $150. On a regular day, I’ll bring about $40 to play with, and at Saratoga, when I’m there every day, I bring less, because it’s too many racing days to bet very much. So I am writing more as a fan than a gambler, and what I’m about to say will not apply to those big spenders at the windows.
Most days, I get into the races for $3 or less; I can download a program for a buck; and on every day except the Belmont, I can bring as much food or drink into the track as I want, including cans of beer. Not including betting, a day at the races costs me less than $10, and that’s for a full day, usually around five or six hours; a night at the Garden, three or so hours, costs nearly $50.
Even on racing’s biggest days, I can get a good seat for a reasonable price; I sit in the grandstand on Belmont day for $60, the same price I’ve paid for the last five years, with a great view. When the Breeders’ Cup was at Belmont, I paid my $10 to get in and got a free seat on a bench at the finish line.
So as a fan seeking entertainment, clearly I find racing the better bargain. I know that big bettors are resentful of having to pay admission, of having to pay for programs, but for people like me, that makes no sense. I can’t think of a better entertainment bargain than a day at the races. Oh—not to mention that at the races, unlike at the Garden, I can actually hope that I’ll walk out with more money than I walked in with.
And oh yeah—I’ll be paying that Rangers’ playoff invoice. I think it’s outrageous, and I’ll pass that sentiment onto my wonderful account rep. But extortion though it might be, if and when the Rangers are in the playoffs, I’ll be up there, in my no-longer-cheap seats, drinking my beer (which will probably go up to $10), and thinking wistfully of a day at the races…