While racing continues to play catch-up with the palace-like stadiums, ballparks, and arenas built for professional sports teams in recent years, Saratoga Race Course is the most recent example of how facility upgrades can give customers options and provide added revenues for tracks.
Following facility upgrades at Saratoga—thanks to commitment from NYRA and funding for capital improvements from added gaming—NYRA reports Saratoga enjoyed a 14% increase in revenue derived from dining, concessions, and merchandise at the meet that saw a 10% attendance increase.
This year fans could check out the new Saratoga Walk of Fame, honoring the track's top owners, trainers, and jockeys or listen to memorable race calls in the Tom Durkin Replay Center.
Special hospitality areas at Saratoga included an overhaul of the Carousel, featuring a new sports bar. NYRA also reports 2,214 tables at the Fourstardave Sports Bar were reserved during the meet. For the first time, fans could pay to reserve picnic tables adjacent to the paddock. NYRA reports 2,893 picnic tables were reserved.
Of course, some of these changes included increased fan cost, but NYRA continued different participation levels, which is important. For instance, there were still free, "first-come first-serve" picnic tables.
With improved sports facilities throughout the country, a trend that has included not just the top professional leagues but minor league and college facilities, fans expect a variety of experiences at their sports venues. Free benches work for some, but others want suites. A hot dog and beer are fine for some fans, but others want fine dining with a track view.
The good news is that fans have shown a willingness to pay more for new amenities and comforts, which provide needed additional revenues. A key is making sure upgrades address fan wishes; simply raising prices on a tired clubhouse isn't the answer.
Tracks should remember horseplayers are already pumping thousands of dollars through their wagering pools. Through track-owned ADWs or some relatively simple legwork, tracks should identify these customers and offer them luxuries for free or at a discounted rate. The same goes for Thoroughbred owners.
Of course, amenities need to be in place. Sadly, few tracks currently offer high-end options. Perhaps, not coincidentally, many U.S. tracks have closed in recent years.