Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Putting The Horse Before The Cart? Or Without A Cart?

Earlier this month, Oak Tree released their promotional schedule for the Oak Tree at Hollywood Park meet. There are 5 giveaways at the meet, with the first three involving Zenyatta in some ways. The last two are on consecutive days on the closing weekend of the meet. A giveaway for every weekend save one. But is that too many giveaways, especially Zenyatta giveaways, for only 5 week meet?

Let us first give a rundown on what the giveaways are and when they will be handed out. Opening weekend brings “the queen’s” last competitive appearance in Southern California in the Grade 1 Lady’s Secret (soon to be re-rechristened the Zenyatta Stakes), and a Zenyatta Hat will be given away. Also on this day, 3 other Grade 1 stakes will be run. Next weekend brings 2 more Grade 1 stakes but no giveaway. Weekend #3 brings with it a Zenyatta picture, and the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby. The 4th weekend comes with the signature stein giveaway (moved from its normal opening week position), featuring Z. The last weekend will have the only two non-Z giveaways. Cal Cup Day on Saturday will bring with a shirt, and the next day will close out the meet with a sweatshirt to be handed out.

The above sounds like a normal promotional schedule, no? Not for Oak Tree. Oak Tree in the past gave away 3 items a meet. The stein on opening day/opening weekend, another giveaway in the middle, and the ubiquitous California Cup giveaway. (From here forward, “California Cup” will be shortened to Cal Cup) That was the schedule for years. It allowed for some time to occur between each giveaway. With five giveaways this season, especially on back-to-back days on closing weekend, this blog wonders if it may not have the desired effect of boosting attendance and revenue. Why have giveaways on consecutive days, especially on closing weekend, after having 3 other giveaways in the same month? It could be that the expected drop in revenue that much with the move from Santa Anita to Hollywood Park is so much that Oak Tree must resort to a “chuck-and-pray” strategy of giving away as much free stuff as possible to lure customers to make the driver over from Arcadia.

Let this blog make it undeniably clear: It has nothing against honoring Zenyatta with multiple giveaways in a meet. This blog expected that this year’s stein would honor her and her win in the 2009 Breeders Cup Classic. This blog also expected that the first giveaway would also be Zenyatta-themed. This blog did not expect a third Zenyatta giveaway, but it is nothing but another honor to the great mare. But this blog has a problem with the giveaways. The problem this blog has is the order and number of the giveaways. Why does the order and number matter?

The order and number of the giveaways may lead to a phenomenon this blog will call “Promotional Burnout”. With so many giveaways offered this meet, this blog wonders how effective the last two giveaways will be on attendance. With the first three giveaways being Z-themed, it is a guarantee that people will come out to collect them. The first giveaway will have the highest attendance, since that is the day of the Lady’s Secret, which is the next target for Zenyatta. The next two giveaway days, which are also Z-themed, could receive a “bounce-back” effect from the first day.

The “bounce-back” effect is an issue, as Oak Tree is pandering to the existing audience. They know that her fans will come (or at least hope that they will come) out for three successive Zenyatta giveaways. Yet doing this strategy could come at a major cost. If the crowds show up for the next two giveaways. will they be able to afford to come back for Cal Cup day? If it is a struggle to get people out for those two days, what chance does Cal Cup day have? Will any of the new people (which is part of the reason these giveaways occur, so that new fans can be enticed to visit) come out for a non-Zenyatta giveaway day, given the choice of a free Zenyatta-related item or a non-Zenyatta related item?

The worry that this blog has is that Cal Cup day will be the most affected by the promotional schedule. By the time Cal Cup comes around, anyone who is using the promotion as part of the reason to come out may have used up enough of their “entertainment budget”, for lack of a better term, that they will not be able to come out that day. Furthermore, even if they have the financial ability to come, it is doubtful that they the people in Los Angeles will have the drive to go to the track for the third straight weekend. The fact that instead of two full weeks worth of advertising for Cal Cup, it will get barely a week. As of now, unless one decided to dig around Oak Tree’s Facebook page, one would not know about the giveaway on Cal Cup day. The racing site for Oak Tree is still not up, and nowhere on Hollywood Park’s website does it list a giveaway. Yet all three of the Zenyatta giveaways are seen on the home page. The missed opportunity to promote Cal Cup prominently before Zenyatta runs, when interest is at its highest is a shame, landing another blow to the already struggling California-bred program.

This edition of the Cal Cup is especially important with the closing of one of the major farms out here in California, River Edge Farm. The number of horses bred out here has plummeted the last few years. This closing hints at the tough environment that exist out here in California. The Cal Cup (and its sister Gold Rush festival at Hollywood Park in spring) are very important to the Cal-bred industry. These days show off the stars of the program, and how it is possible for the little guy to get a piece of it. These days are a chance to get the fans to come out to see and wager on the home-bred team. These days allow the fans to see a horse who might be around for the next few years, running multiple times locally. These type of horses that can be seen a few times a year without having to travel the country. This type of marketing can build loyalty that can bring fans back to the game.

Where else could you have seen Lava Man, in the infancy of his stakes career, in a thrilling loss to Cozy Guy in the 2004 Cal Cup Classic? Where else you could have seen 2002 Hollywood Gold Cup winner Sky Jack win his first stake in the 2000 Cal Cup Classic, then come back from knee surgery to win that Gold Cup? Where could you have seen the game gelding Yougottawanna give a glimpse of what would be a long, fruitful multi-year career in his upset of Officer in the 2001 Cal Cup Juvenile? Where else could you have seen Cavonnier, who was the shortest nose away from giving trainer Bob Baffert his first Kentucky Derby win, cap off his two year-old season with a win the 1995 Cal Cup Juvenile? Where else could you have found all of these Southern California stars of tomorrow at the same place but at the Cal Cup?

Zenyatta is the first horse in a very long time that that deserves to have multiple giveaways in the same meet. Once she retires though, how many of those fans will come back? Especially without someone new, that they might see for years to come? That is why it bothers me that Cal Cup gets the short end of the stick when it comes to the promotional schedule this year. The horse shortage out here will continue to be exacerbated unless horses are bred out here in California. Without enough horses being bred, the California Cup will disappear. Without the Cal Cup, another big day for the California breeder/owner/trainer is gone. It will become a downward spiral of doom. As much as love and want to celebrate Z, i just can't stand to see the Cal Cup, the breeding industry and horse racing overall in California die a painful death.


  1. Hey dime,

    Thought-provoking stuff. I feel the pain from your closing remarks. The Cal Cup is a real favorite of mine as well. Perhaps the dirt @ Santa Anita will bring some new owners/breeders.

    I've become more interested in the game than the giveaways as I've aged...but the free stuff really brings me back to my childhood and I'm still a sucker for the promotions. I'm sorry I can't be there for Z's last race and that I'll miss out on the souvenir cap.

    I will be sure to be there for the stein on weekend #4! It's usually given out on opening day Wednesday, so I'll love the weekend giveaway. My pops has a collection and I believe he's got 'em all.

    Bottom line, Hol is in Inglewood and Hol is notorious in my lifetime for the copious free stuff. They started the Friday night programs w/ bands if I'm not mistaken. The track is not in the best area and it lacks the scenic San Gabriel mountains and architecture that deemed Santa Anita historic. There must be more than the racing to lure extra fans, ones who can leave feeling like winners with the promotion in hand even if they lost at the windows.

    Oak Tree is committed to Hol for two years now and the association and track seem to be using this first season to lure people back for the next.

    For you and I, the racing is obviously first and foremost. Unfortunately, that isn't the case w/ many other fans who still see horses as interchangeable. They root for the program numbers, not the horses. Until "C'mon with the five" is replaced by "C'mon BIG JAG", whether you love or hate 'em, the promotions drive people to the races.

  2. Hey Dime,
    (I like that, hope you don't mind!) Any chance you would be interested in picking up each of the Z giveaways for her biggest East Coast fan? Maybe I could get you something from the Breeder's Cup? We could negotiate privately.Just give me a shout,if you're in.
    Don't worry about the Cal Cup. Every year is different. That's why breeders wake up in the morning. There could be a big Cali star on the horizon, remember, hope springs eternal.

  3. Hey Dime.

    My posts are vanishing right after entering the codeword and pressing Post Comment

    You may want to check into it.

  4. TKS,
    Not sure why it is doing that. Will look into it.

    contact me and we can work something out. :-)

    I get the need for promotions. But 5? Especially on back-to-back days? Ick.