After Preakness Changes Fail, Ball in MJC Court to Improve for Future

May 17, 2009 | Glenn Clark

Yesterday’s Preakness infield event was a failure. In fact, I don’t feel as though I’m being unfair in calling the event a miserable failure.

I have not been particularly vocal about the outside alcohol ban for the Preakness infield either way, mostly because I wanted to see the new infield product. I disagreed with the ban; but was willing to give the Maryland Jockey Club an opportunity to show me that the product could be improved.

Unfortunately, the product was borderline awful.

In order to be completely fair in my judgment of the “InfieldFest” product, I purchased a $60 ticket at the gate. As someone who already had access to Preakness, it wouldn’t be fair for me to judge the event without considering the price of admission.

My $60 ticket provided me…..
-$1 beers until 11am, and $3.50 beers the rest of the day. (The lines between 10am and 11am did not justify the wait to save 2 bucks on a beer for me)
-$8 Black-Eyed Susans (in plastic cups, not the traditional souvenir glasses. There were also some other alcohol stands spread throughout the infield with margaritas, and a Southern Comfort booth)
-25 minutes of the Charm City Devils (who were good, but asked to perform VERY early in the day)
-35 minutes of Buckcherry (who were so vulgar that I couldn’t help but laugh at their inclusion on a day that was about “cleaning up” Preakness)
-roughly 45 minutes of ZZ Top (who were scheduled for a 60 minute set, but did not take the stage until about 3 o’clock instead of 2:40)
-an oxygen bar (that was free, but everyone manning the bar made sure to remind you they were expecting tips)
-a “Rock Band” stage (just one)
-a CBS Radio/Hooters sponsored bikini contest (that reminded me a great deal of the hard body contests 98 Rock held on previous Preakness mornings)
-a musical act on the 2nd stage I will have to admit I had never heard of (sponsored by 100.7 The Bay-Stephen St. Hodge comes to mind-but I don’t think that was his name)
-a view of Stacy Keibler (the shorts she was wearing mixed with the occasional wind gust also made this questionable given the new family nature of the event)
-2 screens featuring a “Virtual Reality” game (that was not Virtual Reality at all-but instead just a game where you could simulate beer throwing, the exact event that forced the previous beer ban)
-radio station tents (which were helpful, because I need a new Orioles car magnet)
-the chance to watch a beach volleyball event (I couldn’t actually tell if it was a Tournament to be honest)
-plenty of windows to bet, plenty of “Port-a-pots”, and a few screens to watch the races

There might be a time and place where the product in the infield is worth $60 (pre-paid tickets were $50 to be fair), but yesterday’s event was not worth the money for me, and clearly not for many others who did or did not attend the event.

The biggest issue that the Maryland Jockey Club faces in selling fans on the “Infieldfest” event is that they will absolutely compare it to the Preakness of recent history; where revelers could spend their day drinking their own beer, creating their own entertainment, and making their own memories. If the outside alcohol ban remains in place; there will eventually be a day where the comparison is irrelevant; but that day is significantly down the road.

In the meantime, the Maryland Jockey Club MUST improve their product. The advertising I heard for the event last week included the term “this is the party everyone will be talking about on Monday.” I actually think there is a chance they can build that type of event; but they need DRASTIC changes.

Possible changes have been a hot topic for columns, blogs, and talk radio alike. A NASCAR-like “12 beer limit” is a particularly good idea. Upgrading the musical acts and adjusting set times would be another. Creating an ACTUAL festival-like atmosphere is interesting; maybe including a dance tent, an extreme sports area, or even an ACTUAL virtual reality area could also be helpful. The chance to PLAY beach volleyball, or somehow otherwise participate would also be good. Maybe the infield could include an area where fans are taught about horse handicapping. Maybe the infield could include some sort of “Preakness Hall of Fame.” An infield poker tournament would almost certainly be a popular attraction.

Those ideas aren’t for me to act on. Preakness officials will have plenty of opportunities to improve their event, and the post-Magna ownership of Pimlico will almost certainly get a say in the future of Maryland’s Triple Crown event.

But without changes, Preakness won’t be getting my $60 next year; as my money needs to be significantly better spent.