Horse If It Ain’t Broke, Let’s Try and Fix It Anyway

April 13, 2009 | Tom Clayton

Each year on the third Saturday of May, the infield at Pimlico racetrack is transformed in the biggest party in Baltimore.  When I asked a colleague to describe his infield experiences, all he could say was, “It’s like falling into the seventh ring of Hell.”  Because for one day, middle aged degenerate gamblers who usually populate Pimlico, are replaced with 60,000 people who range from drunken college students to professional adults partying like Paris Hilton on her birthday.  And let’s be honest, most of the people in the infield could care less that there is a horse race going on.  They are there for one reason: to be part of a wild party.  While being surrounded by beer bongs and topless women isn’t everybody’s idea of a good time, it is the one day a year when Maryland horse racing truly thrives economically. 


While in an effort to attract a new band of patrons to the Preakness this year, the Maryland Racing Commission has completely ostracized many of the people who have made the Preakness such an economic success in the past. For the first time in the event’s history, people will no longer be allowed to bring in outside beverages into the infield.  While this may help to curb some of the more outrageous behavior in the infield, such as the infamous Running of The Urinals, this move is going to put a serious dent in the turnout for this year’s Preakness running. 


Why would a sport that has such a downswing in popularity in recent years make such a move?  The answer is simple: money!  The Maryland Racing Commission believes that they can make more money by charging for beer and non-alcoholic beverages to patrons on the infield rather than letting them bring their own coolers in.  With the hopes of trying to reach a “wine and cheese crowd” and curbing some of the shenanigans, this idea seems simply asinine to me.  When your company is struggling you do not alienate your loyal clientele, the Drunkards, you raise your arm, slap them high-five, and toss them a brewski. 


In an already struggling economy, it seems as though the $3.50 per beer Pimlico will charge will lead to diminishing crowds.  Isn’t Pimlico in trouble to begin with because of the lack of patronage?


And as for drawing a more upscale racing fan to the Preakness this is not going to happen; are yuppies suddenly going to feel compelled to sit in the infield now that drunks aren’t running along the tops of portable crappers?  People who have never attended before are not going to be any more likely to attend now that you will have to wait in line 30 minutes and pay for a beer that just last year they could have pulled out of the cooler sitting next to them for free. 


With the National economy looking about as stable as Lindsay Lohan, is it the best idea to begin charging for something people could have for free just one year ago?  Perhaps these marketing wizards could have cut ticket prices; but no, ticket prices will remain the same.  I predict a 25% dip in attendance in the infield; this year a number that must scare the pants off of horse racing enthusiasts.  With top level marketing like this, horse racing is certainly here to stay in Maryland!