Jul 14, 2009

Making Racing Cool Again

You know, about a year ago, when I dragged my husband to Belmont racetrack (he had an amazing time, by the way), we were both sort of dismayed to see just how few people show up to the track on a regular weekend race-day. I mean, part of me just loves the seedy loneliness of the modern racetrack, but ultimately I would give that up just to ensure that horse racing won't entirely die out.

My husband was musing on the fact that young hipsters everywhere would probably turn out in droves if racetracks would try to lure them with some sort of retro nostalgia -- concerts, fancy dress-up events, unique hat contests (not just on Derby days), retro cocktails, etc.... You know, just tap into the cool factor of racing's heyday.

Enter Del Mar racetrack. From this article: "'The racetrack in Del Mar, one of America’s classic tracks, has managed to reshape the perception of horse racing through clever ad campaigns giving the sport a classic retro appeal. Along with the shift in marketing strategies came a series of live concerts, free with admission to the track.'" They even gave themselves a new slogan, "Cool as Ever." The strategy is working -- the younger crowds account for 30% of overall attendance. And just go to the official website. It draws you in with a kitschy appeal.

I think this is a fabulous new direction and it's a way for some of the older tracks to lure in new fans. They should be mining their rich histories to their advantage. In addition to the things I mentioned above, you could add fun, booze-filled 'classes' on betting and handicapping; themed days (for costumes, drinks, food, etc...); have local trainers and jockeys do fancy meet and greet sessions; even embrace the local serious bettors and figure out a way for them to share their 'systems' with the masses (I guarantee hipsters that I know would spend hours listening to these guys pontificate)....the list could be endless.

I know this isn't the only thing that can save horse racing -- let's face it, young hipsters aren't exactly going to bet large sums of money -- but it's a great start and it gets people thinking of going to the tracks as exactly the same sort of entertainment (or better) as going out to dinner or to a bar. And isn't Churchill Downs doing night racing now? That's a super idea! I would totally go out to the track for an evening and I could definitely drag my non-horsey friends to something like that. The fact is that horse racing will do well to remember that it needs to court the non-horsey people. The ones who are there for the thrill and fun of it all. You really shouldn't have to know horses to enjoy racing. It should just be something cool to do. I can't wait to start bringing my nieces to the track, but I know that there is a chance they may never be that into it. However, they definitely could be if there was more of a cool image and set of rituals that they could feel privy to.

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