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HRN Original Blog:
Zipse At The Track

Sam Houston Race Park is getting it right

With the realization that thoroughbred racing needs to be progressive in both the marketing and packaging of its product in order to compete for a percentage of the ever shrinking disposable income of the consumer, creative new thinking has become essential not only for the here and now, but also for the health and future of the sport that so many of us love. Sam Houston Race Park, in Houston, Texas, has become a leader among racetracks in this type of fan friendly planning that goes a long way into kicking racing into the 21st century. Here are a few of my favorite progressive solutions implemented by the 20-year-old track:

Empathy for the gambler

Not satisfied with their already high placing on the annual track rankings by the Horseplayers Association of North America, Sam Houston has taken things a step farther. Rolling daily doubles and Pick 5 carryovers have been added to the wagering menu, while more takeout percentages have been slashed. The track, which opens for live racing on Friday, January 18, now can boast that all multi-race wagers offered, are at an industry low of 12%. Dig their colorful display of their multi-race offerings and the excellent takeout rates on each.

 

They also like to take care of their loyal bettors with a rewards program that offers three tiers of advantages for the member. The more you wager at Sam Houston the more they take care of you. Las Vegas has been doing this successfully for years, but in our industry, it has been largely underused.  

Online Visabilty

Visit the Sam Houston Race Park website and you will not only find easy to navigate pages, but you also cannot help but notice the big buttons inviting fans to join them on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook. This is something that all savvy companies have caught on with of late, but unlike many racetracks, SHRP works these social media outlets. Visit their pages and you will find an active member that not only includes regular posts, but also does so in such a way that speaks to a large and young online audience. Check out this Friday drink special graphic recently posted on their Facebook page.

 

 

Clearly their social media pages are not an afterthought, but a real vehicle to reach out to their fans. Their feed has become one of my favorites from any track on Twitter. If you haven’t done so already, be sure to follow them as soon as possible at @SHRP.

Targeting the younger demographic

This one could have easily fell in to one of the previous two headers, but I think the implementation of On-Track Mobile Wagering, in which Sam Houston allows on-track customers to place wagers on both simulcast and live races using their Smartphone, I-Pad or tablet, best fits into connecting with the demographic that racing needs to, if it plans to move forward as a viable sport and gaming option.

A quick perusal of their racing calendar for 2013 reveals that this place is not your grandfather’s stodgy old place to gamble and swear. Food Trucks, Wiener Races, Ladies Night, Camel & Ostrich racing, and Fan Appreciation Night are a number of the ways that demonstrate how SHRP is willing to go that extra mile to attract the new racing fan.

Events that stand out

Sam Houston has a brand new bag, and their not afraid to spread the news. The newly created $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic, for fillies and mares on Saturday, January 26, will be the richest Thoroughbred stakes race in the state of Texas. Not only is the track pushing the excitement of the new race, but they are making it an event. Part of a premier day of stakes races that also features the $200,000 Grade III John B. Connally Turf Cup, SHRP is selling tickets and creating a buzz about the event that most racetracks seem to miss out on. Don’t be surprised if this “event” draws a large and enthusiastic crowd.

  

And it’s not just about the events that the track puts on; they also make it real easy to bring your event to the racetrack. From Business Meetings & Luncheons, to Concerts & Festivals, to Barbeque Cook-Offs, Sam Houston invites groups as small as ten, and as large of 30,000 to come to the track and have a good time. Imagine if just a small percentage of members of these visiting groups love what they see at Sam Houston Race Park? I’m sure SHRP has already thought of that, though, because when it comes to moving the sport of thoroughbred horse racing forward, they are way ahead of the curve. 

 

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Older Comments about Sam Houston Race Park is getting it right...

As far as I am concerned, Ontario is a cautionary tale for NY racing in particular. New York State and NY City are about to run deficits to the tune of billions of dollars. They have already raised taxes and cut services. They need some stream of revenue and certainly Cuomo is eyeing gambling expansion. The industry had better be prepared for this. Pennsylvania horsemen headed off huge changes to income distributions and programs.
TV if the Ontario tracks were doing such a great job of attracting fans, please explain to me why on the Ontario report it showed only 3 tracks that had purses drawn from more from wagering than from slots revenue. Woodbine, Fort Erie and Mohawk drew at the most 51% percent of their purse structure from wagering, the rest came from slots revenue. Ironically, the track that had the best percentage was Fort Erie. In many tracks wagering barely accounted for two percent of the purse structure. If the fan experience was so great, why then are Woodbine etc. barely able to survive without some level of cash infusion.
Buckpasser, as a matter of fact NO other racing organization ANYWHERE does as much for the fan as Woodbine. One of the reasons I came here was to be part of that ongoing effort.
Buckpasser that is NOT so...I am part of that INDUSTRY unique program which airs Monday and Wednesday nights on FREE televsion with innovative programs to draw in new people/
Ontario is a cautionary tale for racing. While slots program was not a subsidy, it became one because the industry did nothing to improve the wagering and racing experience. If tracks are going to survive, they have to improve the fan experience and the wagering model. If they have slots, it must be used wisely for track improvements, marketing etc. and not just for purses.
The future of racing depends on tracks like Sam Houston getting the marketing of thoroughbred racing right. These second tier tracks keep horse breeding in their various states viable and in many cases provide the first time fan a place to become enthralled with racing. I believe that if more top horses went to these tracks, it would be a huge shot in the arm to the industry. Whether one likes Dr. Hansen or not, his running Hansen at some of these smaller venues increased fan participation.
This is great and I really do it works out well for SHRP. If only the other tracks could take an example of this and use it to their advantage to build on their racing product as well instead of just their gaming operations and plans to just get rid of racing. We need tracks like this to build on racing and make it thrive. Not let it go by the wayside and say goodbye. Kudos to SHRP, and I look forward to their big day in January.
Shadowno you are absolutely right about greed with the NYRA. They were running some of the Crown Jewels in racing into the ground.
Texas venues are nice, I am told. Too bad the racing doesn't measure up to the surroundings.
All the Texas tracks are chalky yawners with 2.40 afer 2.40 horses coming in.
Great points, Brian! It's noce to see more tracks embracing technology; with a year-round, all-week sport, it's critical to have a good online presence. Plus it apeals to the young folks. Nothin' wrong with 50¢ beers either!
SHRP has been my favorite Night Racing track for the past 5+ years. It seems they are pushing all the right buttons to get the attention of horseplayers across the country. NOW it's time for the horseplayers to wake-up and realize these "small tracks w/ cheap horses" actually offer better value & bigger fields than the "big tracks" (e.g. in CA and NY). That is, unless you enjoy 5-6 horse fields and sub-$4.00 WIN pay-offs?!
WIth the audacity to charge $10 for a can of Heineken on Belmont Day, you can add unadulterated greed to the pot as well.
Couldn't agree more. The problem with the past NYRA was pure unadulterated corruption. Incompetence was only second best
GREAT STUFF .. NYRA HOPE YOUR READING THIS !

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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing since birth. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. 
  
As Managing Editor of Horse Racing Nation, Brian authors a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and adds his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Brian also serves on the the Board of Directors of ReRun Thoroughbred Adoption and is a Vox Populi committee member. 
  
A graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives in Suburban Chicago with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra, where he is a professional golf instructor when he is not following the horses.