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Canceling Saratoga track open house is a losing wager

Canceling Saratoga track open house is a losing wager

Event was way for NYRA to appreciate fans, reinvigorate customer base

Why do real estate agents hold open houses?

Sure, it's to get you to buy a particular house. But it's also to get you interested in buying any house. You might not buy this one. But maybe the visit will inspire a future purchase. You'll get to familiar with the people you meet, and they'll catch you another time when you're ready to spend.

It's called good marketing. It's what successful organizations to do grow and thrive.

So it seemed odd when the New York Racing Association — which is trying to build track attendance at Saratoga — announced Monday it was doing away with the free annual open house on the Sunday before the annual meet.

Not only was this a good day for non-profits to drum up some revenue selling food and what-not, it was also a good day for people to get acquainted, or reacquainted, with the charms of the track without getting hit over the head with admission fees and rough days at the betting window. People respond to being appreciated. And this was Saratoga's chance to make them feel that way.

In citing reasons for ending the three-decade tradition, track officials said that attendance at open houses had been waning.

Still, how many of the hundreds of people who did attend were bit by the Saratoga bug after wandering through the pavilion, exploring the tree-covered grounds, catching a glimpse of the beautiful thoroughbreds, and hanging on the fence along the freshly groomed track and bright green infield. How many memories came back to life that put the thought in people's heads, "We need to come here this summer."

The bottom line for NYRA is that the open house plants the seed for future customers and future sales of tickets and t-shirts and beer and bets. And isn't that what NYRA wants? To make more money?

If the idea is that the open house isn't as popular as it once was, why cancel it? Why not make it more of an event to entice more people to it? Maybe it's not the track that's gotten stale, but the open house itself. Make the event more fun for families and you'll get more people to show up. And maybe that will translate into more people passing through the turnstiles after Opening Day.

The new Monday "community day" event is a nice addition. But how will that inspire people to attend the meet? Those who were inclined to go to the track on a Monday were likely to be going anyway, regardless of the new promotion.

Even as they were trotting out the announcement of ending the open house, NYRA officials were already hedging their bets on reinstating it. That means they have the same qualms about ending it as the rest of us do.

There's still time to reinstate the open house. There's still time to make it new and improved.

There's still time to remind future customers of the Saratoga Race Course how much they'll be missing if they don't come back.

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