NYRA's end-of-Saratoga press release is rather unusual, as far as these things go, for what it doesn't include rather than for what it does. "Paid attendance for the 40-day meet was 972,018," we are informed. As far as handle goes: "Final on-track handle was $150,387,442. Final all-source handle was $571,163,484."
That's all well and good. But where is the context that generally accompanies such figures; specifically, the year-over-year comparisons to last season's numbers that one would normally expect? Well, they're not in this press release. So, here they are: the 2014 (announced) attendance of 972,018 is up 12% from last year's figure of 867,182. The on-track handle of $150,387,442 is up 1.99% from $147,456,901 in 2013. All-sources handle of $571,163,484 is down 2.6% from $586,683,154 last year.
So, why weren't those year-over-year numbers included? Well, maybe in small part because the all-sources handle was bad news. But probably primarily because the attendance was good news - too good in fact! Because NYRA had to know that if that 12% figure had come out of their mouths, it would surely have drawn snickers. (And, that's right.....that's two posts in a row containing the word snickers.) As has been widely-discussed, 6,730 season pass holders were added to each day's attendance whether they were there or not. (And, on the other hand, multiple admissions were no longer counted on giveaway days.) So, I guess it was an effort to be consistent that the increase in on-track handle was similarly not acknowledged, even though that figure indicates that the actual attendance was most likely at least flat, and quite possibly up a point or two. Whatever the reason, I would postulate that NYRA ended up shooting themselves in the foot by manipulating the crowd numbers as much as they did; to the point where they were hesitant to even announce the YOY comparisons across the board. Any increase in on-track business would certainly have been something worth tooting, and NYRA took the horn right out of its own mouth.
The funny thing about the press release is the sentence that follows the attendance line:
Saratoga also experienced strong food and beverage sales, commensurate with the increase in attendance for 2014.Yeah, but what increase? It's almost like they originally had the comparison in there, took it out at the last minute, but forgot to scrub the rest of the paragraph! More likely, it was put in there slyly, just to tell us that they know that we know that they know that we know that the attendance was up, even if they're not going to tell us that specifically.
As far as the decline in all-sources handle, a really smart guy I know pointed out that the summer meet at Gulfstream could be at least partly responsible for handle declines we've seen not only at Saratoga, but at other tracks such as Del Mar and Monmouth as well. Haven't read any such speculation in the media, but that surely makes sense. For example, this past Sunday, the all-sources handle at Gulfstream was $3.7 million, hardly an insignificant amount as compared to the Saratoga figure of $14.2 million.
- Over the years writing this blog, I've learned that it's almost always worth the time and effort to delve deeply and fully into reports such as the one by the Inspector General on the takeout sunset snafu that we discussed in this post. One really has to do the grunt work him/herself. The press generally doesn't go into that kind of detail, often relying more on the cover letter or the summary finding sections that one will find at the end, which themselves don't provide the juicy details that makes for good reporting. (Even a reporter who does actually read these things usually doesn't have the room and/or the editorial leeway to go much beyond the bare facts.)
Well, I suppose I can blame it on being on vacation, but I was lazy when it came to this particular Inspector General report. Fortunately, Tom Noonan was not, and he did a much better and more thorough job discussing it than I. His post on the subject is well worth the read.