by Frank Cotolo
Pari-mutuel racetracks everywhere, allow me to define the word “appreciation.” As explained in eighty billion trillion zillion and more hard copy and online dictionaries, it means: “An understanding of the nature or meaning or quality or magnitude of something.”
In the case of a track’s Fan Appreciation program, tracks promoting such an event need to pay closer attention to that definition or else start calling Fan Appreciation programs something like “Oh, Are You Back Again Night?” or anything else that demeans the fan (the patron, the customer) rather than applauds his or her quality, magnitude, etcetera.
“Fan,” by the way, is short for “fanatic” and the audience of any performers — paying for admission or not — includes fans and that is an audience to be cherished. But how does a racetrack cherish — no less appreciate — its fans on nights when they express that is the specific occasion?
In my experiences, mostly miserably.
I have been to many of these events over the past few decades at many raceways in North America and one or two in Great Britain and I can testify that in the new millennium the Fan Appreciation program has in most cases been reduced to a cheesy excuse to rid the concession stands of near-rancid hot dogs and a surplus of beers.
Allow me to be kind by not mentioning the most recent track where I showed up for a Fan Appreciation program. I almost did not show up because the evening began with a confrontation about my entrance to the racetrack at all. I am no stranger to the specific track I do not call by name here, but that does not matter. If the following scene at all represents an appreciation of fans, its business is in danger.
I was met at the entrance by two security guards.
“You can’t go in,” said one as the other nodded in agreement.
I looked left, looked right, looked behind me and then realized he was talking to me. “Why?” I asked.
The guards pointed to my hand. I was carrying a medium coffee I bought from Sheetz on my way to the track. From the expressions on their faces, it may as well have been a bayonet. I could not believe it. I told them I could not believe it. Then, I read them “the riot act.” It was a useless endeavor; the guards were prepared to physically stop me before letting me in with the lethal liquid. I walked away from that entrance incensed and walked to another entrance holding my coffee cup low to my side and I snuck in.
Was this an isolated incident? Perhaps it is an extreme enforcement of a very stupid rule having to do with the fact that a track concession stand sells coffee. Think of it, though. Every racing night the track also sells cigarettes but no one is frisked for bringing their own cigarettes before entering. The track sells racing past-performance programs but no one is searched for programs they bring if they have printed such material after downloading it elsewhere.
Also, remember, it was Fan Appreciation Night.
I do not recall any great display of appreciation at any such event at any track. Some were more generous than others but none have fulfilled the definition of appreciation of fans (patrons, customers) and as badly as most casinos disguise appreciation for patrons into packages that benefit the “house” more than the players, no racetrack fan-appreciation program I attended ever flirted with unconditional appreciation.
Why not, for instance, hand out free programs on a Fan Appreciation day or night? A racetrack buddy of mine always said, “How come restaurants don’t charge for menus, but racetracks charge for programs?” Racetracks have done away with admission prices (except for special days) and parking prices (except for special service) so why don’t they give away programs on a Fan Appreciation day or night? Find advertisers to pay for the expenses. But no track I know gives away programs on a fan-appreciation day or night.
Let’s go back to the coffee. Why not free coffee on a Fan Appreciation day or night?
Every expense a fan does not have to incur while gambling turns into money that he or she will wager, and to a pari-mutuel track that means income.
Casinos — especially the original Nevada operations — do many things to slash customer expenses, knowing that all remaining dollars are gambled by fans. Free coffee and other drinks, cheap (and good) food, as well as a ton of discounted items and services show daily appreciation of fans.
That’s the bottom line. Save people money so they spend it for the purposes they came to the track. Give away the store if necessary and buy loyalty and true appreciation from the people who keep a track in business.