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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Cap This

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.

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]
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.

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.


Anonymous said...

With all due respect, Alan, you should be above getting all worked up about attendance numbers, especially in a world where basically everyone fabricates attendance numbers. How come you aren't all worked up over the bullshit that emanates annually from the Stronach group when they virtually double the actual attendance numbers each day of Preakness weekend? Or, did you actually believe the prior NYRA management team that announced 71K on Travers Day when Point Given won or even the ludicrous supposed 120K at Smarty Jones's Belmont?

Surely you can find better things to complain about than this topic ( which, frankly, you have covered before ). I thought you were giving racing a break? I guess a hot potato topic like this pulled you back in ( cue Al Pacino in Godfather III ).

Anonymous said...

Right on , Alan. Glad you are back. The attendance spin at Saratoga is representative of the corporate dictates some of us had to endure as employees of fortune 50 comglamorates. Shut up, take this. it is good for you even if you may not think so, we know what is best, anything good happens it is because of me, and the list goes on. Saying doesn't make it so.

Racetrack people should run racetracks. The top guy here is proud to state he doesn't bet and wouldn't even if he could. Too smart for this? What does that make the rest of us punters. Management at the NYRA cannot relate to the horse playing masses.

The capital district and racing public want to know simple things. How many people went to the track today? Why has there have to be some spin on this? Why did the NYRA management mislead us last year with including the season passes in the figure? Why did we have to find it out by the investigation of a local newspaper? Why were they not forthright in the matter?

Reminds me of when I was of an employee of aomeone like the current leader in charge at the NYRA. Not anymore.....and I can go elsewhere and enjoy it more

El Angelo said...

Somewhat semantic point, but if the tickets were available on StubHub, doesn't that mean they were bought by someone and not held by NYRA? NYRA could have sold admission for all 90,000 people, but not all the tickets went used.

The attendance cap at a racetrack should be whatever the fire or building department deems unsafe. Anything below that number is stupid. Simply warn people beforehand "it's gonna be crowded" and if they don't want to come, so be it.

Saratoga and Belmont are not a good comparison anyway because at the Spa, there's no worry about people waiting 2-4 hours for public transportation to take them home. Once the day's over, people walk out of the track to their cars, hotel rooms, or buses. They're not waiting on a dilapidated train station for the train in mob conditions.

Dakin said...

Alan-- these are spot on comments. I have been going to Saratoga since I was a college kid and saw the infamous alydar-affirmed Travers as you did. That day was pretty insane but it is the stuff great stories in ones life are made of. The current management team-- and the current board of directors to some extent-- are clueless as what the Saratoga experience has been for those of us who have patronized this track for a long time. To be fair, there are improvements undertaken over the last few years that are welcome. They want to remake the experience for what they think people want versus why people actually come. The locals up here-- I live in Albany-- carry this place the first week and the last week and the blatant money grab by NYRA rubs these people the wrong way, like now charging for picnic tables close to the paddock. Attendance peaked in the late 90's and has been declining or flat ever since. The seasons passes are a good idea for the locals but the target audience now are the well heeled from downstate and out of state. Get 'Em in the gate and drain their pockets dry, just like Churchill Downs does. The target audience used to be people from all walks of life who could go there and enjoy the races the way they wanted, whether they wanted to sit on a folding chair in front of a tv monitor with a 6 pack or if they wanted to grease a corrupt maitre'd for a table in the clubhouse. There was room for any and everybody. Now, NYRA wants you to come and spend big money for your "guest experience". But that experience includes the grounds clogged with food trucks, clothing stands, VIP tents, you name it. The average fan can't get close to the paddock and actually see the horses anymore. Last year, a main escalator to the clubhouse was broken for a week. The guest experience did not include repairing it in a timely way. And it is a 6 week race meet. But are building a hall of fame or some such thing and a sports bar where the Carousel used to be. What sports are going to be on tv in the afternoon? I guess I could go on. Another thing that concerns me is the emphasis on big days, stacking stakes races on weekends and ignoring the rest of the week. A great thing about Saratoga was that you could go on a Monday or Wednesday and likely see some form of a graded stakes race. Change is always inevitable and usually welcome, but I think the crew running this place now doesn't get what makes it unique or special, and makes you want to go there.

Anonymous said...

Like others who work for Cuomo, Kay spends every day in utter fear of the Second Floor. If they say "jump", Kay says "How high?" Once they told him he better not have a repeat of the 2014 debacle, the 90,000 cap was announced. Not that it mattered...because there were actually fewer than 80,000 in the facility on June 7. Based on Kay's recent admission that there were 120,000 present in 2014, Year over year attendance was down by about 40,000 due to the incredible volume of negative publicity regarding the 2014 Belmont inconveniences.

Anonymous said...

There is no way there were 50% FEWER in attendance in 2015 compared to 2014. I suspect the 87k estimated by Alan is right on, and the 120k in 2014 overstated by about 20k.

As someone who was ACTUALLY there in 2015 I can state the attendance level was perfect, any more and it would have negatively impacted my experience, which I still graded a solid C on the survey I received from NYRA.

Perhaps I have matured into an curmudgeon but when I now pay good sporting event pricing for a seat I expect a certain level of basic comfort for the price of admission. I no longer get a kick from rubbing elbows with the drunken frat boys and sorority girls all dressed up for the day playing beer pong in the backyard, and dodging the flying empties while leaving the premises.

So I am in favor of the limits, and as long as they don't turn around and start implementing the same "security protocols" as they do on Belmont Day at the Jim Dandy or Travers, I have no problem with them limiting attendance those days either.

Anonymous said...

I had a wonderful day in the backyard at yesterday's Party in the Park. The new stage they built is impressive, and the crowd continued to grow all day. About 50% of the "guests" seemed to be hanging around for the music which only began AFTER the final race at 7pm.

Figless said...

I totally agree with your analysis of the Spa attendance fabrication, and it will only be more fabricated this year now that tickets are sold through ticket master and INCLUDE prepaid admission. So every ticket told now is considered present on every day of the meet, whether they actually show up or not.

Kay's arguments are even more disingenuous considering the above.

Figless said...

950 952 955 from Figless, guess I forgot how to sign my name in all the excitement of a new LATG blog post.

El Angelo said...

Apropos of nothing, congrats to the Daily Racing Form for putting absolutely everything behind a paywall, including the frequently inane comments its "writers" make during the day. The lowest price point to read their text is $180/year. Way to achieve irrelevancy guys.

Figless said...

El Angelo if I could "like" your comment I would.

Dan said...

I buy quarterly 10 card subscriptions for about $28. This give me 10 cards plus DRF plus access for 3 months. Content is not always free online anymore. I plan on buying 3 quarterlies for $84. That gives me 30 cards. I take the winter off playing the ponies.