Aug 7, 2010

Has Saratoga Jumped the Shark?

$100 Picnic Table Policy Announced

Is Elbow Space on the Rail Next?

Jumping the shark: an idiom used to describe the moment of downturn for a previously successful enterprise. The phrase was originally used to denote the point in the Happy Days television program's history where the plot spins off into absurd story lines or unlikely characterizations.

Saratoga Springs --- The New York Racing Association (NYRA), franchise operators of the Saratoga Race Course, yesterday announced a new initiative that gives pause in these quarters. In part, the press release reads as follows:

" fans will have the opportunity to reserve a picnic table in the backyard at Saratoga Race Course for the 141st running of the historic “Mid-Summer Derby... The reserved tables will be available for purchase for $100."

That's right: a C-note gets you one of the picnic tables on Travers Day, in a specially designated section. We now have a caste system for the picnic area! But don't even think of bringing lawn chairs or even baby chairs to accommodate the whole gang as you always have; the new reg's firmly state that you are now "strictly limited to a maximum of six people."

OK, I get the logic of the "free market" and "maximizing profit" and "demand pricing" and all that. NYRA certainly has the right to add this line-item to their revenue stream. It needn't, however, insult our intelligence by using the old "All proceeds will benefit the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation" publicity slight-of-hand as cover. The fact is that NYRA already makes an annual contribution to this worthy charity; this new program just creates a new transfer-payment opportunity that results in more funds going into NYRA's coffers.

But the bigger issue here is whether or not NYRA is pushing the envelope to the hazardous edge; is it milking the cash cow called Saratoga to the extent that its loyal and dedicated constituency is finally at the breaking point and saying "enough is enough, you're bleeding me to death here!" Is the picnic table thing Saratoga racing's Jump the Shark moment?

Such a distinction is always a challenge hard to pinpoint, especially without the benefit of 20/20 hindsight --- say ten years after the fact. Likewise, some could argue that the track's shark moment is better attributed to more recent developments, such as the trailer-suites on the first turn, the meet's expansion to 40 days, the mall food-court look that has been brought to the once-glorious paddock area and that absurd VIP lounge on the first floor, with its glass enclosed monkeys at the zoo experience.

Regardless of which single instance best exemplifies this decline, the troubling yet undeniable fact is this: the buzz is definitely gone. Call it a reverse tipping point, if you will, but that is the present day reality. I stand by my earlier prediction (in another forum) of a 5-10% decline in year-to-year comparative on-track handle for this year's meet as the report card on my theory.

$100 picnic tables? Check. Glorified chain restaurants housed in multi-level monstrosities better suited to trade shows? Check. Hen houses that are so ridiculous that the people they are meant for don't even use them? Check. Sponsor signs running the length of the stretch rail? Check. Beers prices that would make everyone except SPAC blush? Check.

Now add to the mix the planned glass & AC'd enclosure of the the dining area, the re-design of the complete clubhouse, the expansion (upgrade) of the trailer-suites and who knows what else is on the drawing board, and one has to start asking who's kidding who here with the track's Historic Site designation?

The Human Doll House Experience is how I often refer to the intangible that attracts the masses to both Saratoga Race Course and downtown Saratoga itself. It is the feeling of being part of an experience and a setting that no longer exists in America. But as humans we long for that experience because the generation or two ahead of us told us what it was like to live in it, and the description appeals to us when compared to the cheep plastic world of today. Saratoga is one of those rare places where we can briefly step back in time, and reconnect with that lost era and as a result, with past generations.

It is this attraction that provides Saratoga with the unique opportunity and advantages that allow it to withstand the serious overall general decline of horse racing's popularity among the American public.

Turning that old giant doll house into a Six Flags theme park (with horses running in circles instead of jumping off diving boards)ain't gonna hack it.

Tread carefully, NYRA; you are approaching tricky waters. There's even been a report of a shark within them.

(Author: R Millis)


Citizen Nancy said...

Nice post! Shit, if we continue on this path of $100 picnic tables it won't be too much longer that patrons will be offered a lap dance at those tables. Can I get you something from the bar? LMAO

Funny Cide's Missing Nuts said...

Watch out. The owner of that horse will sue you for copyright infringement or equine defamation.

Anonymous said...

It's just not NYRA. Look at the rip off's that are done by the private businesses. Siro's being the classic. Plus people with their parking.

Anonymous said...

U funny
Fonzie funny

jrh said...

I agrees about the excitement missing. I don't hear anyone really talking about the races around the office or among friends. Must be the glory days are passed.

Anonymous said...

Did someone say lap dances? Not bad...

Carl Dennis said...

The day Mickey D's opens up in there is the day we might as well lock the gates and throw away the key.

Eco-local Guy said...

How this place can attract 30,000+/- "fans" a day for 40 straight days is a miracle of marketing. Or as you say, a pent up passion for the good 'ol days, when things weren't so monetized and corporatized. Fact is, NYRA is another mismanaged state boondoggle that hemorrhages money. In fact, making money off of every bet wagered on the track and at OTB, they are broke! So welcome $100 picnic tables. Hey, they got a commodity that people want - why not charge some bucks for their use? It's just sensible business. By walking through the turnstiles, you become captive to the shakedown that occurs inside. Remember, you are having fun. If you don't like the prices being charged, then don't go. Hey, now there's an idea. Refuse to play the game, and perhaps the game will change...but the lemmings continue to line up every day to enjoy the show. SO don't expect any deals at the Saratoga Race track anytime soon.

Nanoburgh? said...

To Funny Cide's admirer:

Not to worry; that nag's mine. Looks good, doesn't he? Now make me an offer. (RM)

The Rat Catcher said...

good post... and NYRA is bleeding Toga to death,,,,these moronic marketing ploys ie : "Friday the 13th Halloween" is such reach that it is embarrassing...and. 1}annoys horse players 2]sucks up space for fans 3} is unrelated to the game..1doglucky

Anonymous said...

Speaking of bleeding. There's a Greek cargo ship down at the docks and now my rear end is bleeding like who knows what. All I asked for was a cigarette. You think this is funny do you? Next time I'll just piss on your road wheels, you f'ing Okie! That and a quarter gets you jack shit.

Former Saratogian said...

Saratoga is a boring, boring place.

goat said...

i hear they will run a race with jocks dressed in clown outfits to appeal to kids. now how about a naked strippers race for me?