Friday, October 30, 2009

On the subject of less being more ...

The Blood-Horse and Delaware Park say it's so.

Delaware Park reports that despite running 27 fewer dates in 2009, total handle was up 1.9 percent in 2009.

Frankly, handle being up at all in this down economy is impressive. The other numbers -- detailed below -- are no doubt positives for Delaware Park's profitability, but I don't think they say all that much about strengthening the quality or fan base of racing.

For example, Delaware Park's average daily handle on live racing was up 27.1 percent over 2008 -- a huge amount. But with only 1.9 percent in actual handle increase, Delaware Park in effect has focused its (very slightly better) earnings over fewer dates, spiking the average daily handle by what seems an astonishing amount.

That has to be a plus for the track's bottom line. Making the same amount of money while being open on fewer dates -- thus paying everyone from tellers to concessions workers to the gate crew for 27 fewer work days -- is pure profit.

If my newspaper could print four days a week instead of six and still charge the same subscription price and attract the same amount in advertising revenue, we'd make out like bandits, too. Typically for a business, that isn't the case.

The same scenario is true at Delaware Park for racing revenues. The Blood-Horse reports that "year-over-year racing revenue was unchanged" at the track, but by making no-more-money on fewer days of racing, the revenue "per racing day" was up 24.6 percent.

On the track, the average number of starters per race rose from 6.94 to 7.73 and the average number of races per day went up from 8.96 to 9.74. This of course makes perfect sense: Give horsemen fewer dates on which to compete and they have no choice but to show up for the races you do run.

Again, from a track-profitability standpoint, that's probably good business. It can be argued those also become better betting races; and that's a plus.

But I'm still not convinced that reducing the perceived over-scheduling of race-dates would be any significant improvement for the overall image and popularity of horse racing. ... Making the same amount of money for working less notwithstanding.


  1. In sports, less is often more. The NFL limits itself to 17 rounds plus the playoffs, you think they would still attract the same level of euphoria if they went August to June?

    I'm also not the first one to point to the fact that American racing's three public favorites are the three major short-meet tracks: Kee, Sar and DM (you can add Hialeah, Washington Park, Santa Anita's spring meet or even pre-Stronach Gulfstream Park to the list).
    High quality products are relative, by keeping a steady (nominal) quality for most of the year, most circuits raise the perception that what they offer on any given day is nothing special.

    For the short-term overall perception of the sport it would surely be preferrable if the cuts wouldn't predominantly focus on mid-and lower-level races at mid- and lower level tracks. The very justifiable perception that the big names of American racing (and to a lesser extent Euro and Aussie racing, too) avoid each other is caused by the oversupply with meaningless "stakes" and restricted races and such events labeled "Grade 1" despite rarely attracting even two top horses.

    One effect of less races, albeit indirectly,is a positive influence on the breeding business.
    If horsemen can't count on five-horse statebred maidens and five-horse Alw races, breeding unsound speedster horses becomes a lot less appealing from a financial standpoint - and that would help racing's public perception.

    For most racetracks which cut dates, the reason is that they need to get back into the black figures, and if they can do so without losing income, then that's an argument in itself (I'm aware that this argument doesn't work for racinos such as Del which do it for all the wrong reasons; but because they previously expanded for all the wrong reasons too, I prefer to see them shrink no matter the reason.)


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