May 17, 2009

The Dumb Get Dumber

OK, class. Here is today’s business case study:

The Setting:

You own a 100+ year-old business with great historical significance. Unfortunately, your industry is in serious decline, brought on by matters both outside of your own control and matters under your domain that you, frankly, screwed up over the decades. Whereas you once dominated your field, you are now nothing more than an afterthought to the general public, described by some as an anachronism of another age. As a result, your enterprise is on the brink of total failure. In fact, you are currently in formal bankruptcy proceedings.

At your height, you were open for business six months out of the year, with crowds swelling your facility. Fast forward to the present day, and we find that you are operational for just twenty days a year. Even then, very few people show up, and those that do are the retired, the elderly and various incarnations of the derelict class. It’s not a pretty sight.

What keeps you going -- albeit by the slimmest of threads – is a single day within that twenty; a day that serves as the proverbial exception to the rule. By a beneficial fluke, that one spring time afternoon gathers you international attention and serves as an annual regional celebration for those within a ten-hour drive of your front door. And celebrate they do, over 100,000 typically show up for each edition.

Best of all; these attendees are the very target demographic that hold the key to any chance of your future survival – they are young, educated, energetic, and with enough discretionary dollars in their pockets that they will even toss you $50 apiece to walk through your gate for this grand party. Wow!

More people show up on this single day than on the other nineteen combined. They also spend more money – by a huge factor – than the other nineteen combined. Treat them right, and most of them will be back again next year. Hopefully, a smaller percentage of them will even make a return visit on one of those slower days on your calendar.

The Challenge:

What single action might this business take as a mean of leveraging this particular asset in its quest to improve it chances of survival?

Current Management’s Response:

Make a policy decision that is so utterly stupid that it greatly diminishes their desire to attend your annual event.

The Result:

2009 attendance was down dramatically, resulting in significant financial pain for the business. Goodwill has been seriously damaged, thus leaving open the possibility that this customer segment is permanently lost.


So what is the real world identity behind this fiasco? The answer: Magna Entertainment Corporation and its handling of Preakness Day at its Baltimore area thoroughbred horse racing track, Pimlico.

What was the action Magna initiated that resulted in this unfortunate turn of events? The answer: a new admission policy that forbids the entry of coolers and alcohol into the infield party on Preakness Day.

What was Magna’s rationale behind this decision? The answer: The infield party on Preakness Day had become an orgy of drunken excess that was creating a public safety issue.

What was the public’s reaction? The answer: “Let me get this straight: this event serves as my yearly reunion with friends and you won’t let me bring in a cooler after I pay $50 to stand in a field? We're outta here. There's a rock festival up the road”

The Conclusion:

Chalk this up as yet another example of a business – and an industry – that hasn’t a clue.

May it serve as a lesson to NYRA @ Saratoga .....

Update--the official attendance figures over recent years:

Year - Attendance

2009 - 77,850
2008 - 112,222
2007 - 121,263
2006 - 118,402
2005 - 115,318
2004 - 112,668
2003 - 100,268
2002 - 101,138
2001 - 104,454


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