A Tale of Two Hobbies

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…

8 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Hobbies

  1. Racing is by far the best value for fans in all of organized sports. My sister has a party at Pimlico every year and all her friends remark how great a time it was and then never go to the track again until the next year’s party. Racing needs to find those fans, but no one has talked to them in Maryland since Frank De Francis died in 1989. As for the big bettors, however, I must disagree. The stakes are much higher for the track with these people, and racing execs should not be using hockey as a yardstick for the treatment of high rollers; Vegas is the yardstick. If a player is dropping $10,000 a week on racing, the track should be buying him/her Ranger playoff tickets. If the player is dropping $20,000 a week on racing, the track should be buying him/her Ranger playoff tickets and a hotel room. Cater and cultivate always beats overcharge and alienate. You will go to the Rangers because you’re devoted, but should you really be put into the position of having to grumble for the privilege? Shouldn’t it be a joy? Must there always be the tradeoff of pain for pleasure in professional sports? Racing needs to sell its great value to its casual set of potential fans, create great perks for high rollers and market the amazing betting opportunities to lottery players. If that ever happens I’ll raise a toast wtih a $10 beer. — J.S.

  2. Hey Theresa,I fortunately — or more likely, unfortunately — share both of your vices, having been a Rangers fan 30+ years now. Yikes.Of course, with the Rangers, you pretty much know you’re going to end up frustrated and disappointed. At least with racing, there’s the hope of cashing a ticket or two…

  3. I don’t understand why people get up in arms about raised prices for marquee events.As a former Cleveland Indians season ticket holder it always made perfect sense to me that an All Star or World Series game cost more to attend than a Tuesday night game in April versus the Mariners.Excellent post, though… I think the big thing, and anon sort of touched on this, is that people see value in a day at the races but few people make a hobby of it whereas other sports (hoops, hockey, and baseball) attract thousands of people with ease 20+ times a year despite inflated concessions, etc.

  4. JS: No need to disagree; I said in the piece that my comments didn’t include the big spenders–I’m writing about the general fan (not necessarily the casual one, as I certainly wouldn’t put myself in that category) and the small bettor.Frank: spoken like a true NYR fan!Eddie: I’m not up in arms about paying more for the playoffs; over the last few years, the price increase has generally within the range of what I would call reasonable: I think last year, my $26 dollar tickets became $35. Take into account the increased ticket price for regular season games this year, and add in a nearly-100% bump for playoff tickets, and you’re pricing a lot of people right out of your arena. It seems an outrageous increase given the Rangers’ very, very limited success.

  5. Playoff tickets always go up, but they’ve never, ever gone up to the degree that they are in this case, at least for us poor schnooks up in the cheap seats. If the Rangers played the maximum amount of playoff games (in my dreams), my tickets will cost about 25% more than I paid for the entire regular season. If Teresa doesn’t mind me using profanity on her blog, it’s a fucking outrage. I feel like we’re paying for the total incompetence of the Garden with respect to the Knicks, and for the culture of sexual harassment that has led to expensive lawsuits and settlements.Having said that, Let’s Go Rangers!!

  6. These are all nice posts, but I think a better comparison could be made between Rangers Season Tickets and owning a percentage of a racehorse. The betting aspect actually could apply to both, in which case horse racing would still offer the better value. Without going into details, it can be not only more gratifying, but occasionally rewarding to own a piece of a racehorse. Let’s face it, the only way you can make money with Rangers tickets is if you could scalp them. You might have to wait for another trip to the Stanley Cup Semi-finals to get any real money for them, and then, how old would you be? 97? 150? 200 years old?

  7. Good value comapred to the $70 a match I pay for my Chelsea season ticket (and that’s the cheapest)-at least I was at Aqueduct the day we got beaten in the recent Cup final at Wembley!Your comments on American racing being more “democratic” than British racing intrigued me and my first thought was “you must be f???ing joking” thinking firstly about the Breeders’ Cup and then a number of other thoughts that concern me because millions of Americans have been completely disenfranchised from being able to follow racing-the advent of the internet has turned the tide but that doesn’t help elderly people who those who can’t afford a computer.I want to expand on this but the current election campaign means I only have a few minutes at a time to think of such things-but I actaully believe that American and British racing are totally “undemocratic” for completely different reasons and that Australia is the racing country where the sport is run in a way that the whole population irrespective of sex, race and class can follow the sport on their own terms.One idea. American tracks should consider the idea of allowing on-course bookmakers but having the Australian system of a total off-course Tote monopoly. That means that Aussie tracks can charge entrance fees at a far lower rate than their English counterparts.I’m all for the $3 Grandstand and the $5 Clubhouse but what about the track charging a higher amount to patrons who want to use on-track bookies-an amount that would compensate for the loss of tote handle but which would keep entrance fees down for the vast majority.

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