Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A No-Win Proposition?

Off went 4/5ths of GRS #1 to the Washington County Sheriff's office for fingerprinting as required by Florida licensing regs. Some may shudder, but being in the gaming business we get fingerprinted and background checked more than OJ Simpson at a memorabilia show, so it's really not a big deal. After waiting for about 20 minutes behind nobody, a sergeant came out and ushered us in to take our prints. He was gruff at first, but he loosened up pretty quickly and he asked us about our reasons for fingerprinting.

"We're buying a racehorse!"

"You sound excited. Why would you get excited about a no-win proposition?"

We laughed him off and the partners told him that we weren't going to be negative, we know it's high risk, blah, blah, blah... It got me thinking, though. Not so much about winning money - we all KNOW going in that this is a tough business to be involved in - but about the perception of non-fans: that racing is a no-win proposition. In a time in which we are all pushing to get new fans to the track and attract new owners to the sport, is this what we are up against? Can we turn the non-fan into a casual fan and then take the extra step and turn them into owners?
I'd like to say I have a plan, but I don't. I can only battle this perception directly in one-on-one encounters. Sarge asked more questions and we answered them. He asked about trainers. How to pick a jockey. Where you decide to race and why. Slowly he asked more questions and as he got answers he asked even more questions. We didn't 'pie in the sky him', but were honest, optimistic and realistic. By the time we all left he was wishing us luck and that maybe he'd read about us in the papers. OK, we couldn't get him to the track, but now he'll at least pay a little more attention.

A similar thing happened at the bank where I opened up the partnership and Grevelis Racing Stable accounts. The assistant branch manager's family was from Kentucky. She'd been to the Derby a few times but complained about the crowds and the inability to actually see a race. We talked about Canterbury Park and she admitted that she never got down there. The more we talked about the business, the more she got excited about it. By the time I left, I promised her I would keep in touch and she said that she and her husband would definitely make it down to Canterbury next summer. Maybe this is how we, as owners and others involved in the sport, have to promote it. Let the NTRA and TOBA run their ad campaigns. We need to network with the casual fans each and every day. Talk up the excitement, the magic, the athleticism of both horse and jockey. The skill in conditioning and placing a horse properly. These are the battles we can win. Even if we all just get a few more people out to the track, we're making headway. Then it's up to the product on the track and track management to take it the next step.

I can't speak for all tracks' management, but I do know that if I talk folks into coming to Canterbury for one evening or afternoon of racing they will be thoroughly entertained. On the race course, in the stands and around the facility, Canterbury does a wonderful job of making sure folks have a good time as soon as they step foot on the premises. If they get 100 new fans, I'm willing to bet that they'll get 90 of them back again. National advertising, local advertising, word of mouth and follow it all up with a positive track experience and I think you end up with a winning formula to grow the customer base and reinvigorate the sport.

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