Friday, July 4, 2008

Belmont's New Mascot

The braintrust at the New York Racing Association are back at it again. Off a spring of bad publicity that included Eight Belles' death, Rick Dutrow's bluster and suspension, Congressional hearings on steroids, IEAH's owner being implicated in bad stock deals and non-functioning bathrooms on Belmont Day, they've found the way to get casual fans to the track and improve their public image. Did they reduce admissions prices? Nah. Reduce the takeout? No, they actually raised it! Offer food and drink specials on weekends? Nope. Improve customer service? Uh uh. Make repairs to the track itself? Of course not!

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like you to meet the new mascot.....

Auggie Belmont! For some reason, NYRA has decided that the best way to increase attendance at the track is to have some poor sap dress up as a frumpy 2-legged horse and walk around to badger the 70-year old simulcast players who are trying to concentrate on the late double at Arlington. But worry not, according to this interview, Auggie's quite the humorist:

Q: Who was your favorite major league baseball team?

A: The Phillies.

Q: Do you have any special filly friends?

A: Well, I recently went on a date with Rags to Riches, which made my good friend Curlin very jealous. No matter what he says, he has a big crush on her.

With banter like that, track attendance and wagering is sure to....well, not change at all. This is embarassing. Not only have they named this ridiculous thing after the great August Belmont (who's flipping in his grave as I type this), NYRA actually employs someone to come up with ideas like this. And they're taking it quite seriously---it was buried so deep on the track's website that not a single media outlet like the Racing Form even commented on it.

Look, I get that racing needs to try to market the sport to people outside of those that have been coming to the track since the days of Kelso, and wants to try to hit my generation and those younger. Fine. Right idea and laudable. But this type of stuff is not only pointless and a waste of money, it's embarassing. You want to increase attendance? Sure. Focus on things like improving the quality of the food and beverage options at the track, dropping grandstand attendance, holding events and functions that would attract Gen X and Gen Internet, and get a rebate program going that helps people who bet in the range of $10-$100 per race. Any of those would do more to boost PR and attendance than having some poor summer intern dressing up as a disheveled Mr. Ed.


otmal said...

Another whiner. The silly horse outfit is for the kids. But as for your complaints, perhaps you should do a little research before you start crying again. Nothing you list in the first half of your first paragraph was caused by NYRA. Eight Belles happened at Churchill Downs. So did Dutrow's suspension. They will be affected by the meddling of Congress, true, but they didn't cause that as the State establishes what drugs are legal. IEAH is an owner, licensed by the State of New York, among others, not a NYRA employee. Oh, the bathrooms. That was a problem true, for an hour or so, but tell me if you honestly think it wouldn't have happened whoever was running the place. As for your other complaints, they would love to give out free admission to regular customers. They are not allowed by the State. They are not allowed to set takeout. The State does that, and oh, by the way, their rewards program gives rebates and they are going to offset the new State mandated takeout increase through that program. There are food promotions on fridays and there will be plenty more up at Saratoga. Customer service is a problem, but it is being worked on and I've heard far worse stories from other tracks. And as for Augie, he wasn't actually named after Mr Belmont. That was just a coincidence, but clearly you didn't bother to find that out. Your knowledge of the situation is about as clear as, well, the Gowanus canal.

El Angelo said...

Whoever you are, I appreciate the feedback, even if we're going to disagree. I didn't blame NYRA for all of those issues, since yes, only the bathroom is really "their fault", my point, as I stated, was that they and racing have had an absolute awful string of bad publicity this year, be it self-inflicted or bad luck. If it came off that I'm blaming NYRA for anything beyond the bathroom debacle, that's my poor writing.

As for the ways to improve the track experience, I stand by them. Under Heyward, there's been no improvement in the experience at the track for the bettor that falls in the category between "casual" and "serious", i.e., someone who bets between $100 and $500 a weekend. Those people aren't eligible for rebates, get absolutely noting in return from the track, and have to deal with NYRA employees and customer service that by and large are not the most helpful or friendly. As for food and drink specials, I conceded (implicitly) that they run their Friday specials at Belmont; there's nothing at Aqueduct or Saratoga that I've ever seen that falls under the category of "specials". (The fact there's nothing at Aqueduct, honestly, is the surprising one; shouldn't they being doing everything possible to get warm bodies through the door?) If NYRA is actually working on issues like these with the state or with their employees, they've yet to make that clear publicly, and doing that would go miles to help their public image (which was already dragged through the mud unnecessarily by our ex-governor). I don't think I'm alone to say that I feel that NYRA hasn't shown that it's fighting for bettors, with the exception of their opposition to the takeout hike.

If this falls under the category of "whining", so be it. I consider it constructive criticism, honestly.

Lastly, I cannot believe that the name is a coincidence. There are literally 10,000 names they could have given the mascot, and they chose Auggie?