Each of the 6,700-plus season pass holders are counted in the on-track attendance at the Saratoga Race Course tallied by the New York Racing Association.
NYRA has historically counted the passes among its attendance tallies at the track. But with more than four times the ordinary number of pass holders, daily attendance figures at the track may not accurately reflect the number of fans on hand to watch the races live.
Still, NYRA officials insist the attendance estimates they’ve released are more accurate than ones in the past. They also show a growing trend in attendance this year over 2013, said John Durso Jr., a spokesman for the association.
“The increased season ticket sales further reflect the momentum and success of this year’s Saratoga meet,” he said.
Attendance at the track has been up so far this year, according to figures provided by NYRA. Through Sunday, the total on hand at the track this season was 325,415 — an increase of 31,421 over 2013.
Season pass sales were bolstered after NYRA announced the cost of admission was on the rise. Fans this year are paying $2 more for general admission and $3 for the clubhouse, marking the first time NYRA increased the cost at the gate in nearly a decade.
Simultaneously, NYRA reduced the cost of season passes for the grandstand down from their 2013 prices. NYRA also started selling the passes at 151 Stewart’s Shops locations throughout the Capital Region.
NYRA continued to sell grandstand season passes until stopping on Aug. 1, the date the association had originally planned as the cutoff.
Durso said NYRA uses the same attendance tabulation policy used by professional sports such as Major League Baseball and the National Football League. He said local teams — including Siena College basketball, the Albany Devils and the Tri-City ValleyCats — also count season ticket holders among their regular attendance tallies.
NYRA has also stopped including fans buying multiple admissions during track giveaway days. Dubbed spinners, the fans buying multiple admission helped to regularly pad the track’s attendance by thousands.
This season, NYRA implemented a new policy limiting the number of vouchers that can be purchased or redeemed at a given time. Under the new policy, fans are only allowed to redeem three vouchers at a time.
NYRA recorded an additional 2,353 vouchers for its hat giveaway on July 20 and 2,630 vouchers for its pilsner glass giveaway the following week. Unlike previous years, those figures weren’t factored into the overall attendance, Durso said.
“Our paid attendance figures are consistent, accurate and, as opposed to the past where spinners were counted in attendance figures, fully transparent,” Durso said.
NYRA’s explanation didn’t settle well with critics, who argue automatically counting the season pass holders will likely artificially inflate daily attendance by thousands. Alan Mann, the author of the blog, “Left at the Gate,” considered the comparison to professional sports teams to be disingenuous, since NYRA deeply discounts its season passes from the cost at the gate, while most sports teams charge full ticket prices.
“You can spin this thing a thousand different ways and it will never come out as ‘accurate,’ he wrote in a post. “You want to be accurate? Tell us how many people come in through the turnstile whether they pay or present a pass. Period.”
Attendance, however, is only one metric of several to determine performance at the track. Others are already showing a positive outlook for the 2014 season, NYRA says.
Unofficial numbers also show per capita spending is up at the track. And early indications show the handle during this meet is also on the rise.
“Attendance is a snapshot in time,” Durso said. “It’s one of many factors.”