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