No Sunday morning hangover at Pimlico

May 17, 2009 | Drew Forrester

So the first Preakness of the rest of your life has come and gone and it apparently wasn’t a big hit.

Gobs of party-goers thumbed their collective noses at the Maryland Jockey Club on Saturday, deciding to prove their point by staying home.  That’s not exactly a new concept in Baltimore — baseball fans have been doing that here throughout this decade.

But there’s a difference between what’s happened at Camden Yards and what happened yesterday at Pimlico.  The Orioles chased their fan base away via graphically-inept management and public relations.  The folks at MJC simply told their less-than-desirables, “we’d rather not have you here anymore if you can’t conduct yourself appropriately.”

Big difference.

The O’s would die to have their flock of faithful from the late 1990’s return in 2009.

Pimlico would rather move forward and try to cultivate a new group of followers and participants.  They don’t want the scallywags anymore.

That’s on them, now.  They made their decision — “an upgrade”, they called it — about not being able to bring in your own beverages and they’ll have to start planning for 2010 armed with the knowledge they’re starting at between 5,000 and 10,000 diehards.

They expected the infield crowd to be reduced yesterday — they were NEVER shy about saying that — but I’m sure they weren’t expecting 10,000 people, either.  They need to review their offerings on Saturday to figure out where they can improve for 2010.  Was $60 too much for a ticket?  Perhaps, especially in this economic downtime.  Was ZZ Top the right act to draw masses of people?  Maybe not.  Then again, you won’t get the Dave Matthews Band or Coldplay for $150,000, either.

The MJC’s decision about alcohol was inevitable given the riff-raff that has slithered its way into the infield over the last decade or so.  What was once Woodstock on steroids with a horse race mixed in morphed into a cross between an MMA fight and a topless dancing contest at Fells Point bar.  That’s all well and good — topless dancers are a wonderful thing — as long as folks aren’t getting hurt.  The problem?  LOTS of people were getting hurt and having their safety endangered in the infield.  It had become, without question, somewhat of a health risk just to be there, innocent bystander or not.

I had to laugh yesterday when someone sent me an e-mail and wrote, “That serves (MJC) them right…that was OUR event that they destroyed.  They took something we built over the last few years and wrecked it.  It was the biggest party of the year and they destroyed it and today we destroyed them by not going.”

I beg to differ.

The MJC didn’t say you couldn’t drink beer on Preakness Saturday.  The MJC didn’t even say you couldn’t get drunk and pass out…if that’s your thing, have at it.  They simply said “you’re not going to come here anymore and put other people’s health and safety in danger.”

In fact, it would probably be fair to say that the maniacs destroyed the infield experience for MJC, not the other way around.  I’m a veteran of 7 or 8 Preakness infields and I was involved in a crazy moment or two but no one’s health or safety was ever in jeopardy, that’s for sure.  Then again, there were far less loose cannons running around in the 1980’s then there are today.  And I say that will all due respect to loose cannons everywhere.

One other thing that people don’t realize is the entire issue of securing and servicing corporate sponsors.  This year, Blackberry was the the title sponsor of the event and they forked over millions of dollars (on-site and NBC TV) to be involved in the race at Pimlico.  It’s hard to sell someone a Blackberry when they’re so drunk they can’t tie their own shoes.  Corporations that get involved in one-day events do so because there’s a captive audience in place that can be exposed to their product’s message.  The MJC had to sell Blackberry on the premise of not only brand awareness, but they’re looking to create a connection on race day that leads people to actually sample or try their product at the track.

The naysayers will bark:  “We don’t care about cell phones or sponsors or marketing!  We just want to get drunk and fondle a girl or two or throw a beer can at the guy’s head who’s wearing the Steelers t-shirt.”

You can still do all of that.  Just not in the infield anymore.

I’ve been listening and reading for the last 14 hours or so and I haven’t heard the MJC complain once about people not coming out to support their new event.

They have, for lack of a better term, “taken it like a man”.

They expected reduced crowds, public fallout and criticism.

They handled it all well, I thought, and will move forward for 2010 and make whatever changes they deem necessary to improve on the overall infield experience.