Sunday, August 17, 2008

Giving Away the Store

OK, we finally had a weekend with good weather both days, good crowds at the track, great racing, especially on Saturday, and the usual Sunday giveaway mob scene. But a closer look at the numbers suggests that perhaps those giveaways -- by now a Saratoga tradition -- really don't contribute much of anything to NYRA and its horsemen.

It's safe to assume that NYRA doesn't actually make any money on the giveaway items themselves. Even if made by near-slave labor in China, those long-sleeved t-shirts (today's giveaway item) probably cost NYRA a couple of dollars each. Add in the need to pay a few people to hand the shirts out to the oncoming hordes, and add in the over-ordering that's a necessary part of running the giveaway program, and it seems unreasonable that NYRA could realize a profit on the $3 general admission charge. I don't know how much of the giveaway items' cost is picked up by corporate sponsors (today's shirt was credited to the Adirondack Trust Co.), but it's hard to imagine that someone else is paying the whole cost of those items.

But, you (or NYRA) say, all those people coming in for the t-shirts will bet, right? And NYRA will get the takeout from all that additional handle. Not so fast.

Yesterday -- admittedly a great racing day, with the Alabama and the Sword Dancer -- attendance was 32,344, and on-track handle was $5,517,000. That's an average of about $170 per person, and, remember, the crowd on a day like yesterday includes a number of casual $2 bettors, not to mention lots of (presumably) non-betting children.

Today's crowd was announced as 65,598. Obviously it was nothing like that, since the announced crowd counts each "spin" of the turnstile by someone who goes through again and again for more t-shirt vouchers.Today's on-track handle was $4,486,660. If you use the announced attendance as the divisor, that's betting of only $68 per person. So, obviously, there were nowhere near that many people on the grounds.

Let's apply yesterday's per-person average to today's handle and see how many real live people there might have been at the track. Dividing the four and a half million dollar handle by per-person assumed betting of $170, and assuming roughly the same mix of racing fans, casual bettors and kids, we get an assumed actual attendance today of 26,392. Nice, and certainly enough to produce the feeling the the track was bustling, but nothing to really write home about.

Would many of those 26,392 have stayed home if there were no giveaway? Probably a few, but mostly they'd be the people you see LEAVING the track, carrying dozens of t-shirts, as you're walking in 20 minutes before the first race. In other words, they're almost complete non-bettors, and those are the folks that NYRA is losing money on with every t-shirt they take home.

So, if anyone at NYRA is listening, how about just trying the no-giveaway approach. Offer good racing, pray for sunshine, and see what happens.

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