On the eve of the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes (G1)—Maryland's signature event at Pimlico Race Course—the closing keynote address to the second Pan American Conference May 19 in Washington, D.C. was delivered by Belinda Stronach, president and co-chairman of multi-track owner The Stronach Group.
"In 2016 we have had close to 2.2 million visitors to our facilities, we ran 760 live race days, we had over 12 million viewers, and had relationships with 850 simulcast centers worldwide. We have over 650,000 social media followers, and we hosted over 500 non-racing events. There was over $4 billion wagered on our tracks. Based on about $10 billion annually in the industry gives us about 40% market share.
"Unfortunately, wagering has been on the decline since 2008 and continues to decline. We feel some of the reasons for that are other forms of gambling, faster play games, the aging of the horse racing player, and the failure of our sport to attract the next generation of fans. That's the big question: how do we attract the next generation?
"We struggle with that, and we struggle collectively as an industry. We're trying some new things and taking some risks. The biggest change in our culture as a management group is, we view our company now first and foremost as an entertainment company.
"We need to look at all forms of entertainment and provide that great customer experience and make sure the on-track experience is great and they want to come back. Whether you want to go for a casual experience in a great environment where it's cool, or if you want more of Vegas-style experience, we should be able to offer that as well.
"I am very optimistic about the future of our company, and horse racing, because of the assets we have. We are willing to take some of the risks to try new things and to make that happen.
"What are we investing in to appeal to the new mindset? We are creating new wagering platforms that are easy-access, and you can learn how to become a handicapper. We are putting a lot of resources toward that, and we hope to launch that before next year’s Pegasus.
"The ($12 million) Pegasus World Cup (Invitational Stakes, G1) was one of the first new things that we’ve tried in attempting to come up with more marquee events. I give my father (Frank Stronach) all the credit for that. We hoped to bring horses in from around the world and create excitement.
"While we are experimenting with new ways to reach that fan base, it doesn’t mean we are not serious about keeping the historical aspects and heritage of racing as part of our plan. We respect that and we respect the tradition, but this is to build upon that and grow a newer fan base."