Here's the latest bit of hilarity from NYRA CEO Christopher Kay (at least before Wednesday's board meeting - with this being posted a few hours prior - which is likely to include even more yuks):
"Anyone familiar with Saratoga Race Course will understand the impact of the promotional giveaway days in influencing attendance numbers, which renders inaccurate a direct comparison to today’s gate numbers.This coming from the man who presided over an equally - if not an even more insidious - padding of attendance numbers last summer, when season pass holders were counted as attending every day of the meet whether they were there or not. With a total of 6,370 passes sold (though not from day 1), and 40 days in the meet, you can do the math to determine what the potential exaggeration was last year. May, or may not, have been 100,000 to 120,000, but I'd guess that it wasn't tremendously far off those numbers. Of course, Kay did not allude to that little bit of accounting wizardry. This goes squarely in the category of you can't. make. this. stuff. up. And I say it's possibly even more insidious than the spinning numbers because, at the same time, this NYRA regime was trying to tell us just how transparent they are.
Two years ago, Saratoga hosted four giveaway days and recorded each “spin through the gates” by guests to secure multiple souvenirs as paid attendance. Each of these days yielded an average attendance of anywhere between 50,000 and 55,000. Contrast this to last season when the New York Racing Association discouraged spinners, resulting in an accurate promotional day count of between 25,000 and 30,000 guests during each of the four giveaway days – as opposed to totals of between 100,000 to 120,000 “phantom” guests for the entire Saratoga meet in the prior year. And data from earlier years indicated even larger discrepancies due to the counting of spinners." [Saratogian]
Kay also announced that, should American Pharoah run at Saratoga - possibly in the Jim Dandy on August 1 - attendance at Saratoga would be capped at an unspecified number.
Oh boy. Well, as you probably know by now, NYRA capped the attendance on Belmont Day at 90,000, though, as I contended in the last post, they quite obviously didn't even manage to sell that many admissions; all one needed to do was look at StubHub the morning of the race to know that was the case. (And that, by the way, was a major fail. Can you imagine if the prior regime couldn't sell out a Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown possibility with a limit of only 90,000? As was the case last year - and as they bragged to the NYRA Board - NYRA saved money on marketing, letting the news-worthiness of the event do the advertising for them. Apparently, that publicity did not outweigh all of the terrible publicity garnered by the way they mishandled the bigger crowd in 2014.)
Now, I've seen people who were there say, 'well, I was opposed to capping the attendance, but it worked out!' Well? Of course, if one is at a big event and there are not all that many people there - say around 87,000 people in a plant which has handled as many as 120,000 (and better that year than this "big event" team handled a smaller crowd in 2014) - they're going to think 'hey, that was great!' By that logic, why don't they limit the crowd to 60,000, imagine how convenient everything would be! But, in my opinion, that's hardly the point. Big racing days draw big racing crowds, and the challenge is for management to accommodate everyone who shows up and make them as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. The attendance cap was nothing but a copout by a NYRA team that proved itself incompetent the prior year, and which was unwilling to step up to the plate to make the necessary improvements.
Horse racing has been conducted at Saratoga for some 150 years and never, at least as far as I know, has the attendance been capped. Some of those days have sucked for some people, whether from it being too crowded or too hot or too wet or too whatever. Yet the track's reputation has never emerged worse for the wear, at least in my experience. The worst day I can personally recall was the Travers in 1978 when Affirmed and Alydar converged on the old track after slugging it out through the stretch in the Belmont. Yet, it was a historic day about which I have only fond memories (other than the unfortunate circumstance of the race itself). I think that people come to Saratoga on big days with tempered expectations as to their comfort level, and with a forgiving attitude.
Harvey Pack used to warn racegoers on rainy days that "You're not going to have a good time today." Yet, how many times have any of you that have been there ever seen a single unhappy face, no matter what the conditions? And besides, over the years, with advances in technology and the wisdom of experience, the Spa has proven to be perfectly able to handle huge throngs with relative ease. The fact is that the all the seats are sold on a weekend day anyway no matter who is running, and, as I've discussed and documented here in the past, the overflow crowd is perfectly content to simply hang out in the backyard and watch the races on television. It's fine. Always. (Especially before this NYRA team started to usurp areas where people used to hang out with merchandise tents and hall of fame buildings.)
I can guarantee you that NYRA would piss off far more people should they deny them entry to see a Triple Crown winner than those who might gripe because they couldn't buy a Bud Light. (And, unlike on Belmont Stakes day, everyone is free to bring in their own swag as long as it's not in a glass bottle.) And, as far as I'm concerned, anyone who whines about an inconvenience at Saratoga is someone who we don't want there anyway. It's Saratoga. Just deal with it. We don't need these ridiculous know-nothings, who came in here bragging about their ability to stage big events - to come in and tell us that only a certain amount of people can come to the track. It's just ridiculous.
And you know what else? If, by some chance, 100,000 people descended on the track (extremely unlikely given historic attendance numbers and the geographical and logistical limitations in the area), causing the fire department if no one else to say enough is enough and turn people away, the news stories reporting that turn of events would be the absolute greatest bit of publicity this sport has experienced since just about ever!
- I've seen some great concerts lately.