Racetracks Need to Get Social – The Fans are The Real Stars

Too much of the discussion on racing and social media focuses on racing promoting their “stars,” whether it’s horses, trainers or jockeys.  Racetracks need to go beyond this to promote their racing product and on-track experience for both experienced and new fans. Hinging a promotion or campaign around a star horse can be a slippery slope – the horse can scratch, feature races can be taken off the turf or the horse could simply run a bad race, deflating the expectations of casual fans that came out to see a superstar.  This approach also isn’t sustainable - where’s the incentive for casual fans to come back to the track when horses with mainstream name recognition aren’t running?

While it’s great that an increasing number of racetracks have a presence on social media, they need to look past the numbers of Twitter followers and Facebook fans to create programs that drive fans to the gates.  Look at tracks in California, which are taking the initiative when it comes to using social media.  Santa Anita’s food truck festivals leverage both the track’s own social media fan bases, but also those of all of the food trucks to create buzz among food bloggers and non-racing media.

Photo credit: Hosie Thomas

 Del Mar leveraged their social media channels last year, which included an on-track event with tech bloggers and an aggressive social media campaign to increase attendance by 27,000 or just over 4 percent from 2009.

Tracks across the country need to develop programs that incentivize attendance throughout the meet, not just on big days, which leverage both their own social media assets as well as those of the fans who support the game. It would be so simple for tracks to run promotions through foursquare – $5 betting vouchers for everyone who checks in throughout the meet and $100 voucher to the mayor awarded the first Saturday each month. Encourage people to bring other fans and double the rewards or offer dining discounts when they check in with a friend.  It’s a small investment to make in order to bring more fans through the turnstiles and more money to the windows.

Tracks also need to take a greater role engaging fans on Twitter, to look beyond simple retweets when someone mentions the track.  How many times when fans have been discussing holding a Tweetup at a racetrack has the track done anything to support it?  Tracks need to be proactive and organize these Tweetups via their social media properties.  Promote $10 Tweetups and set aside a private dining room or even a designated area for fans to meet (Tweet & Found?).  Fans want to support the game and connect with other fans, and racetracks should support the fans by encouraging, facilitating connections and rewarding those who promote their product in social networks.

Too often, tracks take a siloed approach when promoting their product. They are promoting to a select group of influencers within the online racing community.  Successful promotion takes place when influencers in other circles can promote racing.

Prominent owners like Bobby Flay have massive followings outside of racing fans and tracks should create events that will appeal to wider audiences. So why not have Flay and other celebrity chefs host a Top Chef challenge at the track restaurant, or Jess Jackson* host a wine tasting festival?  The track could charge a premium ticket price, but the promotion would cross over into each celebrity’s fan bases and create greater appeal with casual fans.  Promotion then goes beyond racing circles and crosses over to a wider range of media outside of the racing industry by promoting the event with food reporters and bloggers.

Racing attendance has been on a steady decline for years. Tracks must become creative and move past simply having a presence in social media, but utilize their channels to keep current fans engaged and appeal to new fans.  Otherwise, racing’s stars will eventually be orbiting in an empty galaxy.

*Note: I wrote and posted this prior to learning of Jess Jackson’s passing this morning.  Jess was both a passionate fan and tremendous ambassador for racing.

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3 Responses to Racetracks Need to Get Social – The Fans are The Real Stars

  1. Great stuff, Steve.

  2. Geno says:

    Nice piece, Derek.

    I went to the Tweeters Cup at Santa Anita in 09 on Friday and it was great …they did charge admission to a separate area but had a nice buffet, industry tweeters (DeRosa, Drape etc.) and door gifts. That’s the last time I’ve heard of a track trying something of that nature.

    Track marketing departments have to start attracting the younger crowds to the track and using social media hooks is definitely the right direction to head.

  3. NJ Derek says:

    Thanks guys. Geno – I’m surprised that more tracks didn’t follow suit on the Tweeters cup. It’s not enough for tracks just to have a presence in social media if they can’t do anything to bring the experience to life.

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