Any businessperson knows that getting a customer is a challenge, but just as important is having that customer come back. Companies use various sales-promotion methods to foster customer retention, and these can easily be profitably implemented at any Thoroughbred racetrack. Of course, most racetracks already use promotions, but more can be done in terms of creativity.

For example, the local supermarket I frequent most often provides coupons as a means to entice me, the customer, to return. The coupons vary in what they offer, but a recent incentive was especially simple and effective: a reduction in my grocery bill if I spent more than $80. The offer had an expiration date, so I made a point to use the coupon before then. Like the racetrack operator, this supermarket has competition, and that coupon prevented me from spending much money at a rival supermarket that week.

My local supermarket’s coupons vary because its customers’ tastes and likes are dissimilar. This is also true of Thoroughbred racetracks and their customers. Some bettors prefer exotic wagering over win place or show, and others prefer dining in an upscale restaurant at the track as opposed to picnicking or using a food concession stand.

Even given the popularity of advance deposit wagering and simulcasting, I still feel it’s important to get fans to the racetrack. Seeing the horses in person, and racing live, really captures the excitement, thrill, and response of other fans that makes a visit a rewarding experience. In addition, the track gets added revenue in food, drink, and program sales.

While on-track attendance has been declining for decades, big-event days, like the Triple Crown races and Breeders’ Cup, still register impressive attendance figures. Indeed, the 2011 Kentucky Derby drew 164,000, the Preakness 107,000, and the two-day Breeders’ Cup 104,000. I’m sure many people in attendance were first-time visitors, and like my local supermarket, the tracks need to encourage return visits.

The methods are easy, but should vary in the offer tendered, and be time sensitive. Examples are betting coupons, for either exotic or straight wagers, gift cards for a discount at a track dining facility, or a complimentary Daily Racing Form. Each method needs to have a specific objective and rationale.

The returns–especially when used effectively on event days–could prove worth the outlays. For example, suppose that just 5% of the Preakness fans return once, and spend just $50 each. That would add $270,000 to Pimlico’s revenue. If just 3% return for a second visit, and spend $50 per capita, it still adds $160,000.

Racing needs to devote more effort, I think, to both cultivating new on-track fans and giving existing fans a reason to return. Sales promotion methods are well proven by a variety of retail businesses, including casinos, and we’ve all seen their adverse impact on racing.

Editor’s Note: Saratoga Race Course illustrates how promotions can bring in fans. Over many years, giveaways of baseball caps, t-shirts, and the like have been enormously successful in boosting attendance. On promotion days, lines form outside Saratoga’s main gate hours before the track opens for business. Northfield Park harness track in the greater Cleveland, OH area skillfully uses various promotions to boost attendance. These are communicated to fans via direct mail and email.

John G. Veitch of Saratoga Springs, NY has been a horse-racing fan for nearly 40 years. He is a TOBA member, owner in several partnerships–including Bourbon Lane, Big Horse, and Pennywise Stable–and his family’s racing history dates to the 19th century. His cousin is Hall of Fame trainer John Veitch.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business


  1. FourCats says

    “Of course, most racetracks already use promotions, but more can be done in terms of creativity.”

    I dispute this. I’ve been going to the races for 50 years, and the vast number of tracks that I’ve gone to do absolutely nothing to promote racing. Their view has always been that the people attending are degenerate gamblers so just give them a place to bet and don’t spend a nickel on promotions.

    Also, the most basic way of having people return to the track does not appear to even be mentioned here. What is that? Clean and classy facilities. The tracks near where I live are dirty and unpleasant. It is enlightening to know that these same tracks (which have slots) have made the slots area clean, carpeted and very pleasant.