By R.J. DeLuke
The New York Racing Association continues to invest money into Saratoga Race Course, in an effort to draw younger fans. It is also proud of the way it has worked with local businesses to enhance the economic viability of the track and the city.
Those were among the messages NYRA CEO Chris Kay relayed at a breakfast meeting of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, held at the National Museum of Racing on the eve of the opening of this year’s meet.
The following day, NYRA reported that Saratoga Race Course saw an all-sources handle of $20,332,051, a 14.47 percent increase over the 2016 opening day total.
Kay cited the 2015 study that showed the race track had an economic impact in the county of $237 million. There hasn’t been a study since, but he said, based on the number of new hotels and the price increases at restaurants, he estimated that economic impact has probably grown to $245-$250 million.
Regarding current investments, Kay said an improved children’s playground area “is as important and as strategic a capital improvement as we will ever make when it comes to the sustainability of our organization and, therefore, the sustainability of the Saratoga economy.”
Over the years, he noted, many people became fans because they visited the track with their parents and had fond memories that brought them back. Today, that is not necessarily the case; so, getting younger fans to perpetuate the attendance at the track is important.
Other changes this year, he said, include technological enhancements that more than doubled the facility’s Wi-Fi capacity; the Saratoga debut of NYRA XP, a new all-in-one Saratoga mobile app that provides all kinds of information as well as streaming of live races; and the unveiling of a restored historic paddock pari-mutuel building.
The grandstand also has a new elevator to give guests easy and convenient access to the facility’s upper level. NYRA has spent $29 million on capital improvements at the track since 2013.
Kay said the Perks program continues to function for people who buy season passes. All year long, pass holders can get discounts at participating shops and restaurants in the city. This year, that list of businesses and cultural attractions has grown to 50.
“That’s an example of NYRA’s ongoing efforts to work closely with the Saratoga business community,” said Kay.
Also, each day there is an area nonprofit group that gets to man the booth and have face-to-face encounters with fans, where they can explain their purpose and hand out information.
“We’re pleased to be able to assist them,” the CEO said.
NYRA XP is the latest result of NYRA’s ongoing commitment to invest in mobile technology to enhance the guest experience. Through NYRA XP, fans can access a host of new services on a mobile device. Through the app, people can learn about upcoming events, purchase and scan tickets, find their seat location, pin their car location, wager through NYRA Bets, live stream races, conduct wayfinding activities and order food from on-track concessions and purchase reserved parking.
A daily live television show from the track, Saratoga Live on Fox Sports and MSG Plus, reaches some 65 million people, he said, reaching people in Los Angeles, Ohio and Kentucky, among others. It also includes segments on history and entertainment and tourist-oriented attractions that helps businesses in the region.
He called it a “consistent and ongoing national showcase of all that is great” about Saratoga Race Course and the surrounding area.
“This is going to be a great way for people to learn more and more about the region and be encouraged to come.”
Kay said NYRA is committed to improving the experience even more for fans and also improve the quality of racing, in order to secure the track’s financial foundation for decades come.
“We are keeping our pledge, and in so doing, we hope we are helping Saratoga in several important ways.”
The track meet runs through Labor Day. Information is available at www.nyra.com/saratoga.