When Lynn LaRocca does one of her many daily walkabouts around Saratoga Race Course, she looks around through the eyes of a casual horse racing fan, which she’s been since growing up in Ithaca and going to Finger Lakes with her dad. Up to 70 percent of her day is making rounds on the grounds.
“Here at Saratoga,” she said, “I try to be the customer.”
So there she is, posing as a casual fan. But she also surveys the track as would a serious fan, as well as the super serious fan, there just for the betting. She also tries to be that person in the clubhouse, and that family in the backyard, and the frenzied out on the apron, and . . .
Companies have CEOs and COOs and CFOs. In LaRocca, the New York Racing Association now has a CXO — chief experience officer, a customer-centric position that has grown in other fields such as health care over the past decade. That said, NYRA believes its newly created position is a first in sports.
LaRocca, who is also a senior vice president, oversees communications and marketing for NYRA, but the job extends beyond that. She manages all on- and off-track programs, including online, that involve interaction with the public. (Fans are referred to as “guests.”) She also works on various government and other partnerships, sales and event planning.
Most of all, through observations, data, interviews and anecdotes, she tries to divine what works and what doesn’t for bettors and general fans.
“There is an idea in these more-progressive companies that in everything you do you have to put the customer first,” LaRocca said Monday afternoon.
NYRA President and CEO Chris Kay said the new position is part of NYRA’s overall effort to “enhance the guest experience, both on site and online.”LaRocca arrived in horse racing in May from the retail world after serving as a senior vice president for Modell’s Sporting Goods. In addition to coordinating the people and platforms that disperse the NYRA message, she is taking a close look at the event that is Saratoga — and Aqueduct and Belmont as well. LaRocca and her team analyze what works and what doesn’t, from signage and promotions to music and trash pickup, and trying to ensure nothing sours the spectator experience.
Meanwhile, she is looking for The Big Idea, a breakthrough for NYRA, Saratoga and especially the downstate tracks that just don’t have the summer charm.
“Chris Kay has empowered us to try different things and take risks … and risk big,” LaRocca said.
So her Big Idea is …
“Day Four of Saratoga? Week 8 of the job?” she laughed on the first Monday of the meet. “No, I have not hit on my Big Idea yet.”
With a background in marketing and event planning, the CXO uses technical terms and phrases such as CRM, the Four Ps and “bringing all the stakeholders to the table.” But in order to do her job right, most of all she has to be a fan — all types — just walking the Saratoga grounds. Her task, as she and her job title state, is to experience the track.