FAN-FRIENDLY GULFSTREAM IS NO ACCIDENT
Fan-Friendly Gulfstream is No Accident
After nearly a decade of wondering if the new Gulfstream Park was going to be better for racing and the fan, the answer is in. Gulfstream is about the fan experience from paddock to finish line.
The day-to-day job to make sure the fans enjoy Gulfstream Park is the responsibility of the track’s President and General Manager, Steve Calabro. Calabro a 25-year veteran of casino management is focused on the customer,the fan. He admits his learning curve in racetrack management has been steep, but his love for Thoroughbred racing makes it an enjoyable schooling. He walks the talk. During the three days ThoroFan was visiting, Steve was everywhere and watching. Beginning with breakfast at the morning-workouts to greeting winners in the “Winners’ Circle” after each race, Steve Calabro was present. He is a hands-on executive.
He tells ThoroFan that his approach to fan/customer satisfaction is based on three key principles: convenience, comfort and fairness. Whether it involves food, gaming, pari-mutual wagering or access these three principles are always at play.
Convenience dictates that the fan must never struggle to participate. Wagering lines must be kept short to allow the player the ability to place last minute bets. Gulfstream does this with a compliment of tellers (stationary and roving), self-service machines and “bet-with-me” customer service personnel to help anyone with a wager. As the track’s footprint expanded, fans told them that it was difficult to see the tote board in the infield. Responding, Gulfstream set-up mobile tote boards that are placed where the fans are!
Comfort requires that the player must enjoy the experience, winning or losing. Access to the saddling paddock for viewing the physical condition of horses entered to race is made easy. Whether sitting in free seats surrounding the paddock oval or viewing from one of the many balconies, the fan can easily see their betting choice. Large flat-screen televisions are everywhere for watching post parades and racing, live or simulcasted. Finally, enjoying the races from one their upscale restaurants or from the beach-like “Tiki Hut” areas on the track aprons, seating is spacious and comfortable.
Fairness is an attribute that every fan cherishes. In a pari-mutual environment where information rules, the fans needs to feel they have a chance. Calabro believes fairness begins with fan education. Besides pre-race television broadcasts, Gulfstream brings in speakers on handicapping and offers free tip sheets. Armed with the right information the wagering-fan has a better chance. The new array of exotic wagers with lowered take-out allows a fan to play with limited risk and a manageable chance to win. (see previous article)
Sure these initiatives come at a cost to the bottom line. If they are enhancing the fan experience argues Calabro, the numbers will be there to justify the outlay. Now, there is a confident gaming executive for you. But, is he right?
During the first five days of the 2011 meet, on-track handle was up as much as 27% with total handle up over 10%. The new fan-friendly 10-cent Pick 6 is generating more revenue than expected. If the play continues through January, this 10-cent wager, designed for the average fan, may surpass the entire total Pick 6 handle for 2010. The 50-cent Pick 5 is doing just as well. What is more interesting is that the handle from all other bets is holding steady. This suggests that the Calabro's fan investments are bringing new fans and players to Gulfstream Park and not just shifting wagers from one pool to another.
Contrary to some thinking, a track can do well by catering to their fan-base and not just their handle. With fans come a bigger handle. Lets hope it continues. Judging from the atmosphere ThoroFan experienced on opening weekend, it will.