A Modest Proposal

Public outcry against the proposed and approved increased admission prices at Belmont and Saratoga has been loud and sustained since the budget for the New York Racing Association was made public this week.

Having attended this week’s board meeting, this long-time English teacher is now (perhaps dangerously) armed with all kinds of new financial expertise (you know what they say about a little knowledge…), so I figured it was my professional and personal responsibility to see what alternatives NYRA might have to imposing such an onerous burden on the betting (or non-betting, as the case may be) public.

The real deal, it seems to me, is Saratoga: not that Belmont is unimportant, but any significant gate increases are going to come upstate, so let’s start there.

For 40 days every summer, NYRA makes a significant economic investment in the press corps. Unlike Belmont, whose press box on most days contains less than a handful of inhabitants, the Saratoga press box is often bursting at the seams. Perhaps there could be some savings gold in that thar hill.

Turf writers receive free admission, free parking, free lunch, and free programs. Over the course of a 40-day meet, that is some serious coin—even if said turf writers occasionally take a day off (perish the thought).

I offer some preliminary figures (and feel free to check my math), based on attendance at 35 of the 40 racing days (it never hurts to be a little conservative in such estimates):

Grandstand admission: at $5 a day, a total of $175

Parking: $10 a day (the price for trackside parking for patrons), for a total of $350

Programs: $3.50 a pop comes to $122.50

Lunch: let’s say an average of $12 a day, which comes to $420 over the course of the summer.

That’s $1,067.50 per turf writer for the full meet. Factor in that there are about 25 working journalists at the Spa on average each day, and you’ve got a whopping $26,687.50…that’s more than 13,000 patrons who could be spared the $2 increase in grandstand admission. This one adjustment would have covered the $2 increase for every single customer who came to the track on July 25 this year. Every single one!

So who absorbs these costs, if not NYRA? Well, for someone like me, no one. Freelancers will end up going out of pocket for more than a grand every summer, but at least for now, these expenses are all tax-deductible, so there’s some comfort in that, and really, who doesn’t want some more itemized deductions and receipts to sort through? This helps more than NYRA–the woman who does my taxes will be thrilled, so the economic investment goes way beyond Saratoga.

I can’t imagine that the publications that send writers to the Spa will be too thrilled about absorbing an additional $1,000 for each of their writers, but these are tough times, and as we all know, the media landscape is getting bleaker by the day—how much could one more hit really hurt?

And it’s not like there aren’t ways to save money—this could be the very impetus to get us  to retrench and make some long-overdue adjustments. (though maybe it would be OK for us to keep the free beer and the basket of hard candy and lollipops? Maybe.)

Presumably NYRA will once again offer full-meet admission passes. The last time I bought one was in 2008, and the clubhouse pass was $75, a serious savings from the $180 I’d have  had to pay to attend each of the 36 days of racing that year.

Lunch will be trickier—buying lunch at the track every day will put us on the road to financial ruin (there’s that $5 value meal, which gets you a hot dog, soda, and chips, but the medical expenses incurred by that daily diet will quickly eat into any prandial savings). We can bring our lunch, sure, or we could take a page from the ascetics and just do without. A little discipline wouldn’t hurt any of us. And there’s always beer and lollipops.

Free parking is plentiful in Saratoga –get there early, know where to look, and you’re golden. We might have to walk a little further, but that, combined with the lack of lunch, means that, for the first time in history, writers will leave Saratoga in better physical shape than when they arrived. Maybe we could get all get one of those FitBit things, and instead of a Spa handicapping contest, we could give a prize to the turf writer who walks the most steps during the meet. (Anyone want to take a shot at a morning line?)

Programs? Who needs programs? That’s what DRF, Brisnet, and Timeform are for. In advance, they thank you for your business. Think of all the people we’ll keep employed by investing in their product.

The imperative here is not simply financial: it’s also ethical. Disentangling ourselves from a financial relationship with NYRA removes every scintilla of a possible conflict of interest. Our reporting becomes more reliable when they don’t pay for our lunch. (Lollipops don’t count. Beer might.)

Look, I know this sounds excessive, but when one of our pre-eminent turf writers says that he can’t afford to bring his family to the track anymore, we have to listen.

Haskin1

We have to do our part. It’s our responsibility to the game we love. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and we all have to make sacrifices

Who’s with me?

7 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal

  1. Raising admission prices does seem quite short-sighted when everyone is bemoaning about lack of attendance. And $7 per day for regular grandstand admission is crazy.

  2. How much do you think Steve Haskin makes a year in salary? He’s the top writer at Blood-Horse…has been there forever. If he doesn’t make over $100,000 a year I’d be shocked. I don’t think the price increases will affect someone in his income bracket and stature in the sport.

  3. There are two ways of looking at this. First, a general rule of business success is that you don’t charge more for a product that is losing customers over the last couple of decades. That being said, how many people really go to the track more than, say, 10 times over the course of the 40+ day meet? I’m assuming most visitors to Saratoga are like me; I go 2 times a years for long weekends. That’s 6-7 days at the track. An increase in the admission price is not going to affect whether or not I still make my 2 trips a year.

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