Fans and gamblers

Last September I wrote a post about ways to market to fans and get them to bet; I suggested then that it might be worthwhile to figure about how much tracks would like fans/visitors to bet per visit, and create marketing strategies/programs designed to meet the goal. I also wrote then that racing is in an interesting position because, to make the most of the sport, it’s got to market one product to two very different groups of people: fans and gamblers.

Paul Moran’s piece last week in which he boldly declared that there are no fans, only horseplayers, inspired a number of responses, and those responses have inspired vigorous, interesting debate on a number of sites (see the end of this post for examples). So, my turn.

I know this game as a fan and not as a gambler. I like to bet and I do regularly, but my handle isn’t going to keep any racetrack in business. NYRA sets a monthly standard for the amount one has to bet in order to get rebates; I likely don’t bet that much in a year. I recognize, though, that without gamblers, there’s no racing, and thus nothing of which to be a fan.

It costs $2 or $3 to get into most racetracks, a few more to get into the clubhouse. Take away the gamblers, and the cost is ten or twenty times that.

Handle feeds purses, which keep the game running.

Handle feeds marketing, which allows fans to get to know horse and jockeys and trainers.

Handle is the single biggest source of revenue at any racetrack.

I have no idea how one gets gamblers to bet more. I just know that that’s got to be a goal of the marketing and strategic planning departments of racetracks, and I leave it to finer minds than mine to figure out. Racing needs gamblers, and fans need gamblers. Neither gamblers nor racing needs fans.

All of that said: without fans, Saratoga becomes Aqueduct. Keeneland becomes Turfway. Or maybe they simply cease to exist, because there’s little on-track that gamblers actually need: they can work from home or a local OTB, and the on-track experience as we know it ceases to exist.

There are thousands of us who go to the races for reasons other than betting; we might bet a few dollars while we’re there, but we go because we love horses; or because it’s fun; or because it’s a great day out with friends. And we should thank the heavy bettors who make it possible for us to do this by financing the sport—or the game—that we love.

I try to get people interested in racing by sharing with them what I love about it: terrific stories; history; tradition; and the sheer beauty and excitement of animals in motion. And yes, en route to the track with rookies, I teach them how to read a program, I explain the basics of a few exotic bets, and I tell them never, ever to look to me for betting advice.

As a handicapper noted to me earlier this fall, people don’t go backwards in their betting habits: $2 bettors become $5 bettors, who become $10 bettors, and they generally don’t regress. So, yes, let’s have the marketing minds target the heavy hitters. It’s necessary. But let’s also get the fans to the track and get some of their money going through the windows, too.

I would think, too, that fans are integral to the conversation about TV revenue. Gamblers don’t care whether NBC or ABC or ESPN covers racing; fans do. Get more people interested, get them to watch racing on television, and the sport becomes a viable advertising option, the only thing that really matters to decisions about coverage.

It’s hard to have it both ways, but I’d argue that there’s too much at stake to turn this into an either/or conversation. If we have to choose, it’s the fans that are expendable. But as one of them, I would hope—and I believe—that we’re on racing marketers’ list of priorities, even as they necessarily, exigently court the gambling dollar.

Other recent posting on this topic:

Paul Moran
Raceday 360
Pull the Pocket
Handride
Horserace Insider
Power Cap

If I’ve missed you, let me know and I’ll add you to the list…

4 thoughts on “Fans and gamblers

  1. Excellent! Why should this be an either/or exercise? Can’t both coexists? And if they can, doesn’t that make the sport/game/business even stronger?Thanks!

  2. OT But thought you might like a piece of news from ‘home’Local investor stung by scheme Horse farm owner in Schuylerville victim of Wall Street fraudBy DREW KERRdkerr@poststar.com Updated: Tuesday, December 16, 2008 1:19 AM ESTA massive scheme to defraud investors around the world has hit home for one local man with ties to the New York thoroughbred industry.Jeffrey Tucker, who owns the Stonebridge Farm in Schuylerville, is also a founding partner of the Fairfield Greenwich Group, an asset management firm that had significant investments in Bernard Madoff Investment Securities, which made headlines last week for being at the center of one of the largest Wall Street fraud cases in history.According to media reports, Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme — essentially an investment-based pyramid scheme — that garnered investments of nearly $50 billion around the world. The Fairfield Greenwich Group had around $14.1 billion in assets as of Nov. 1, of which around $7.5 billion was tied up in Madoff’s firm, according to a statement released by the Fairfield Greenwich Group on Friday……link here :http://www.poststar.com/articles/2008/12/16/news/local/14211414.txt

  3. I’m sure everyone who knows me-knows that i’d rather be at American racetrack than at a racecourse in Britain-150 days since the Summer of 2005 against 3 here…But I fear for the current and future prospects of racing in North America and I’m confident that British racing will still be a major sport in 10,20,30 years time.I think fans and gamblers can co-exist in the US and we can have a thriving sport but perhaps the time has now arrived for radical thinking and change.First of all what worries me most of all-is that there are too many areas of the US where neither fans or gamblers can really exist at all. No racetracks, no OTBS. If you live in Atlanta-a city with teams in all 4 Major League sports and an Olympic host city only 12 years ago-you have to make a 750 mile roundtrip to get to the nearest racetrack. Being that cut off from the sport means millions see no newspaper coverage save for a few Triple Crown scraps thrown at their readers. Thank god for the internet but the internet can only do so much.Fans and gamblers can co-exist but for them to co-exist-and for attendances and track profits to rise-i’m afraid i can only see one solution and that’s to lobby to create an Off-Course Tote Monopoly and to allow on-course bookies. As they do in Australia-not in Britain. This will bring gamblers back to the track but not see entrance prices rise that will put off non-bettors.I know we in Britain have been blessed, in recent times, by not having any racetracks close. Last one shut its doors in 1981 and with one new one this and next year we will be back to the same number we had in 1970. This isn’t the case in North America. This week alone Ohio racing on the brink but looks to be saved-Fort Erie finished. Earlier in the year Bay Meadows finished. Ellis Park shut down and re-opened a week later. Hollywood hanging on.1908 saw Matt Winn introduce Tote machines to Churchil Downs-which possibly saved American racing from the abyss. 100 years later someone needs to lobby for change to save the sport from a second abyss.

  4. Anon: thanks for the hometown news. As always, Jeremy, the international perspective is welcome–thanks for weighing in. Ted: couldn’t agree more!

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