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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

NYRA Pulls the Plug on Season Passes

"Oh shit!  We've sold how many of those things?"  I figure that's more or less what someone in the NYRA accounting department thought or said when he/she realized that they had sold some 6,373 clubhouse season passes for the Saratoga meet.  That is, according to NYRA, an increase of 354% from last year, when they sold 1,402 for the entire meet.  The pencil pushers must have realized that, if they sold any more at what really was a bargain basement price of $50, they might not meet those projections built into the forecast that reflect the expected revenue increases from the increase in daily admission from $5 to $8.

So, NYRA declared on Monday that the passes are "sold out."  The announcement seemed kinda random; out of the blue.  Correct me if I'm wrong, please, but there was no indication that I recall seeing that availability was limited to 6,373 or to any number.  The web page on the NYRA site simply stated that: "Once racing begins on the 18th, passes will only be processed from 8AM-10AM, and from 4PM-6PM at the Box Office on Union Avenue."  Can't blame anybody who was putting off buying a pass until they came up later in the meet for being unpleasantly surprised.

So when Chris Kay was quoted in the press release as saying that: "This has been an incredibly successful joint venture that has exceeded all expectations," I have no doubt that, while the latter part is certainly true, the accountants may consider it incredible only in that the passes were too incredibly cheap and they sold too many of them.  And while the press release notes that grandstand passes remain on sale through August 1 (previously mentioned as a cutoff date only for sales at Stewart's), it fails to mention that the passes have been abruptly removed from sale via the website.  That means you have to be in town by Aug 1 to purchase the passes, and virtually eliminates anyone from outside the area who won't be in Saratoga before then.  So I don't imagine that NYRA will be selling too many more grandstand passes either, which I'm sure is fine with the accountants, given that it only takes six admissions valued at $5 each to equal the $30 cost of that pass.

 - I wrote a bit about opening weekend and the Toddster's quick start in my Today in Racing column on the TimeformUS blog.

The Head Chef and I made a last-minute excursion for opening weekend - could only get as far as Albany lodging-wise - and what can one say that hasn't been said before.  When the weather is as nice as it's been (and as it was for much of the meet last year), it's hard to find things to complain about (though we will, just one minute please).  The place looked great (which means, mostly the same), there was actually grass on the ground in the backyard!  There were helpful illustrated directories greeting the crowds at each entrance (duh, noted the Head Chef); the promised new TVs were ubiquitous (though a bunch of them behind the Carousel suddenly went black literally just as a race went off midday on Sunday), the PA was audible in most places (though not in the paddock bar), and the racing was, for the most part, full-fielded and competitive.  The paddock bar has quickly become the undisputed social center of the racetrack.  It's a great scene, crowded without being oppressively so, a great view of the paddock from a railing at the back which is surprisingly not-that-crowded; well-poured drinks at reasonable prices with great service by a solid bartending crew.  I noticed the senior execs hanging out there after the races on Saturday, having a good time while soaking up the atmosphere of the place (which was instituted under Charlie Hayward's watch).

On the other hand - and of course, what fun would it be if there weren't things to complain about: The wifi was supposed to be expanded; if it was, it's still erratic depending on where you are and what time of the day it is. Some people are upset that bench space on the clubhouse apron has been replaced by dining tables.  The gazebo in the paddock from which Andy Serling and Jason Blewitt used to do their prattles has been replaced by a rather large broadcast facility that is outside the paddock, and which reduces the amount of rail space available for fans who want to see the horses in the paddock prior to the race.  It's rather awkwardly located, seems bigger than what they need for one or two people on camera (including, four days a week on Talkin Horses, TimeformUS' very own Mike Beer), and surely isn't conducive to a live audience, though I guess that really doesn't matter these days.  On the plus side though, a fence which used to enclose the paddock watching area has been removed, which makes the traffic flow a lot easier.  And honestly, it didn't seem any more crowded along the remaining rail space than it used to be.

There was a tiff with Sean and Joe Clancy, who, apparently quite out of nowhere, were notified prior to opening day that their Saratoga Special was no longer welcome on track.  The matter was resolved - I saw the paper in all of its usual locations - but was surely unnecessary, and shows you what happens when non-racing people who don't understand the local racing culture - of which the Special has surely become an integral part - populate the executive suite and make bad decisions in the name of 'business' while lacking the experience to even know what the consequences could be, no less consider them.

And then, there's that bell.  No, I'm not going to drop the matter, even though I'm apparently the only person in the world that's bothered by it. Let me clarify my position here: I am not advocating that the bell no longer be rung.  I agree that it's a hallowed tradition to ring it seven times 17 minutes to post of every race.  However, it is not tradition that the sound has to be blasted over the new and improved PA sound system (or even over the old and not-improved version of past years).  The beauty of the tradition of the pre-amplified bell, at least in my experience, was that anywhere one was standing at the track, be it at the top of the stretch, or out by the Big Red Spring getting wasted in what was the official pot-smoking area, one would hear it, somewhere off in the distance.  "Hark, the bell, there's 18 minutes to post."  (I've only learned in the last week that it's actually 17 minutes.)  It was really quaint and cool.  Having it pounded into one's inner being some 70 times a day is uncool and unnerving.  And it's contrary to what I'd always found charming about it.  So please, by all means, ring the bell.  But let the sound waves travel naturally, whisked around the track by the crisp Adirondack breeze.  Everyone will hear it. Unless they don't want to.  Turn the damn PA off.


John D. said...

Season passes go extinct. They hire a Chief Experience Officer. NYRA does know how to make epeople happy, right?

SaratogaSpa said...

I am lucky to live locally but I only got my season pass just last week at Stewart's and have a ton of friends now shut out who were planning to buy the passes during the first week. I can understand the economics but how about giving a 10 day deadline instead of just shutting off the faucet?

Anonymous said...

Interesting... How does one sell out of an item that can be printed at the track? A "pass" is a template, photo and bar-code printed on plastic stock. A horsemen or employee badge is a template, photo and bar-code printed on plastic stock. I guess NYRA isn't hiring additional employees or issuing additional horsemen badges?

jk said...

Casinos have free parking and admission with no problem attracting customers.

Figless said...

Most Casinos are attached to Hotels, huge difference. They also keep a much larger percentage of the Gross handle.

Figless said...

Alan, brilliant compromise on the bell, just stop blaring it through the PA and no one will complain.

It sucks listening to it through the simulcast as well.

Brad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brad said...

You are not the only person to notice that the bell has been cranked up to 11. Both my wife and mother complained about it immediately, and while my 4-month-old son cannot express himself verbally quite yet, his reaction seemed to indicate his rather significant displeasure.

jk said...

>Most Casinos are attached to Hotels, huge difference.

Resorts World and Yonkers slots are attached to racetracks. They are doing booming business with free admission and parking unlike the rusting relics they are attached to!

Figless said...

jk you wrote Casino's, not Racinos. Regardless its the business model. Racinos keep a much higher percentage than a racetrack.

There are many reasons for racings struggles, admission and parking charges are not on the top ten. If they were the Big A racetrack, with free parking and admission, would be packed every day.

Figless said...

When you keep maybe 3% of every dollar wagered you simply cant afford free parking, admission and drinks.

I hear it all the time from folks that don't understand the business model, "That's money that would just go through the windows". True, but the track keeps 100% of that money, vs. 3% of wagers.