by Frank Cotolo
A long time ago on a chilly morning in Cypress, CA, trotters and pacers lined up for morning qualifiers. Horsemen, mostly trainers, dragged themselves around the grandstand area and eventually settled with their hot coffees in a seat overlooking the finish line. One, maybe two people representing the betting public, sat next to one another with coffees and notepads.
For the betting public, qualifiers are still non-events. Even though attending the qualifiers is free for everyone, only a few serious bettors ever show up.
Not much has changed in nearly 40 years. If you think the live audiences at harness racetracks have diminished when pari-mutuels are in progress, you should see how the few have been reduced to zero at qualifying sessions.
Does anyone in any track administration ever think there could be a way to make qualifying sessions appealing to the betting public, as well as to potential bettors?
I think not.
Then, let us not look outside the box but beyond, like outside the cardboard factory itself; what about using qualifying sessions as a promotional tool?
As a test run, spring is the perfect time for making qualifying sessions a public appeal. So, spring is here. Let us say the track announces a weekly event called (as a suggestion) “Saturday In Spring.”
Before we consider what the event may entail, let us look ahead at working on making the event title go viral in your area (because you are looking for local attendance). This way, you can generate the question “What is it?” to be shuffled about the neighborhoods. Start with signs and leaflets on track that only read: “Saturday In Spring.” Give them absolute exposure; place leaflets on car windows in the track parking lot; insert leaflets in the programs you sell; have concession stands offer a leaflet to every patron.
However, during the bait period, never tell anyone just what it means.
What does it mean? Every Saturday in spring hold qualifying races on Saturday mornings. Festoon the apron to the public with a county fair atmosphere. Be creative; you can do this very cheaply. Perhaps you can get some local bakeries and coffee shops to maintain a weekly kiosk where they may sell (at half price or less) products. If you have a relationship with a local radio and/or television station (and by now you should because they can play a role in many promotions), have it or them send over one of their sports journalists to wander around, get noticed and talk. There are as many possibilities as there are prospects you can dig up to adorn the apron.
The track has to have its own kiosk, too. Have it manned by your public-relations person or the track handicapper or any such personality on the payroll. This person will give away free betting vouchers — redeemable only by attending a racing program at the track.
Check the track’s archive for past giveaway items that were not given away. You can hand them out free. Remember this: anyone walking in public while wearing a piece of clothing with the track name printed on it is a walking billboard, a moving advertisement.
Free coupons and savings offers should also be available at any kiosks (for instance, coffee shop kiosks give coupons for beverages and menu items when purchased at the location).
Here’s more about promoting the event.
A press release (for what’s left of the print media) should go to local newspapers, commercial and freebee, ad-oriented publications.
On your track’s website, post boxes, like ads, that, at first just read “Saturday In Spring,” and then amend them when you have all the details on the featured events.
Also, write pre-scheduled tweets for Twitter (schedule one an hour through Tweet Deck (which comes with your Twitter account and is used to book certain times for tweets to appear). Again, well ahead of the events beginning, just tweet the title of the event. Then, when you are prepared with the details, schedule tweets with details — but keep each tweet short, changing the features on each as you schedule them. Accompany tweets with “@” forwards to area organizations and, of course, to commercial participants.
If you wish to employ more features in the events, go ahead and think of some. Perhaps for people who wander in but have never come to the track, you can have your public relation person or people answer questions about the qualifying events, while also giving away free betting coupons.
For potentially new bettors, you could have more valuable coupons available. There need be nothing fancy about any of the coupons you give away; print them from office computers but brand them so counterfeiting them is not an issue. Be sure to get all of the information you can about potential patrons and add them to your email list.