Capitalizing on Insecurity and Convenience

Southern California has a culture of convenience. That’s not news. From the area that originated McDonalds and was once replete with drive in movie theaters it is not surprising that it would also be the local and proving grounds for innovations in convenience. After all, if you could do it from your car window why would you want to do it any other way?  

Now take this type of logic and apply it to an industry that is replete with history and tradition.  American Thoroughbred Horseracing.  This is an industry that is older than baseball and it has functioned with little innovation or change over the last 200 years.  Typically horse racing tracks do not rely on flashy “newness” to attract and to keep their client base.  They rely on tried and true.  This is even the case in Southern California at the Santa Anita Racetrack where I spend a good amount of time watching and wagering on races.

Racetracks around the country have been battling with dropping attendance for the last number of years now and track wagering was in a decline.  Ask any young person who has tried to go to a race track and make a bet and they will likely tell you that it is not a very user friendly or intuitive process.  In fact it is downright frustrating to do if you are new at it.  This is because wagering is done through a process of filling out a slip, standing in line, communicating your slip to a teller and then recieving a receipt for your wager.  All this is done while hordes of other race goers push in behind you waiting their turn.  If you don’t like crowds (and who does?) then it is a stressful experience.   I will be the first to admit it is not now, nor has it ever been a very pleasant experience for most, but it is just how it was always done.

Well it looks as though Santa Anita racetrack has caught up with the times and is making strides to alleviate the insecurities of their patrons and cater to the convenience of the new smart phone toting crowd.  What they, and many other race tracks around the country have done this year is opened up the betting process to be completed via a smart phone from the comfortability of your grandstand seat (or your couch at home for that matter). Xpressbet is a free service that allows wagers to be made with few clicks on your phone and money withdrawn from and deposited into your banking account.  This system, rolled out in December of last year has skyrocketed wagering at many racetracks.  At the same time it has allowed for a general reduction in wagering staff and thereby decreased overhead for the tracks.  It is becoming successful so rapidly, I believe, because it has eliminated the insecurity that many race fans feel about approaching a wagering window to make a bet.  There is no line waiting and no fear of losing your stub,  just instantaneous response.

The primary ways that the system is being advertised is through a mix of radio, web, and print advertisements at the tracks themselves.  At Santa Anita for instance there are posters and signs posted around saying “Why leave your seat?”  or “Spend more time at the paddocks and less at the window” playing upon the convenient features of the service.  I predict that the system will continue to grow in popularity and that only the dyed in the wool racing purists will be approaching an actual wagering window 2 years from now.

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6 Responses to Capitalizing on Insecurity and Convenience

  1. EAlarcon says:

    What an interesting approach and solution to low attendance! While the convenience of betting from the comfort of your seat may be intriguing to those that follow this game, I wonder if the passion of the race can be transmitted through an App as well if they push doing it from “your couch at home”? I have never attended horse racing, but did go to a greyhound race in Arizona once while visiting my college roommate. I remember clearly how the excitement of just being there pushed me to come up with “strategies” to bet on the winning dog. I doubt I would have been so into it if I needed to just bet via App. But, then again, I am not the target. Do you think this App may in the end work against the attendance challenge since more can bet from home?

  2. Megan Samuels says:

    Wow, as I read your post I was trying to imagine what my grandpa Lester would have thought about this wagering app. He was a serious better who lived in New York and only came to visit the grand kids in Los Angeles when Santa Anita opened for the season.

    I guess if you don’t want to leave your seat to bet, the apps great. But for true betters like my grandpa, it was entirely possible that from his seat to the window, he got info that would change his bet. I suppose on the days when he couldn’t make it, he made use of NYC OTB.

    Another advantage that Grandpa Lester would not have not leaving his seat, or not going to the track, would be the insider information he got from the jockeys. My grandfather was a doctor and treated the jockeys for a simple exchange of information. Jockey’s need a little boost to keep the weight off if you know what I mean. He was also Johnny Longden’s doc. He must have gotten some really awesome tips from him.

    I do see some pitfalls in this app as with other online gambling venues, and that is losing everything. My grandpa was also a compulsive gambler and lived that kind of life, subjecting his family to the roller coaster ride that goes along with that addiction.

    It’s a lot more easy to push “buy” on an app than it is to wait in line to place a bet. That sort of activity give you time to think.

  3. Shane Collins says:

    This is such an interesting way of placing bets. It seems risky, noting that one must be a certain age to gamble. How does this system stop underage gamblers from downloading the app and wagering?

    I think this is a novel way to raise revenue. Like you said, I found it intimidating to approach the wager box when I attended the Kentucky Derby a year ago. Additionally, I wanted to ask tons of questions, but I was too nervous to do so.

  4. Meg Spitzer says:

    When hearing about new technology debate in sports, I think about MLB’s instant replay debate and the use of “booth review” for every NFL touchdown… this is a fascinating new development for a sport that, as you noted, hasn’t changed much in the last hundred years. However, a small, nostalgic part of me thinks it would be nice if a happy medium could be found between the betting app and the experience of jostling at a window. I understand that the industry needs to appeal to newer and younger fans to remain viable, but encouraging people to bet from a couch home seems like it would be sacrilege for true racing aficionados. (Like Megan, I am trying to picture how I could explain to my grandfather that he could “play the ponies” on my Droid–it’s like a bad Twilight Zone!) I also understand the fear of the unknown and the intimidation that comes with trying to place a bet in the pandemonium before a big race, but the whole process seems to be missing the human element that is so often talked about in all professional sports. It will be interesting for you to see how the app affects the attendance and financial success of racetracks as you continue to go old-school at the betting windows!

  5. Crystal Williams says:

    This was a very interesting read that brought to light things I did not know were taking place at race tracks such as Santa Anita. In movies, there are scenes where people are lined up like sardines waiting to place their bets. As the horses come around the corner towards the finish line, we see crowds of people holding up their tickets cheering on their favorite horse in hopes of winning the big jackpot In the final scene the winner(s) jumps for joy, kissing their ticket and celebrate with a kiss or hug with a nearby neighbor. Fast forward to the new technology where the tickets are placed with smart phones. Technology has penetrated every aspect of our daily lives where convenience has become key. Nothing is wrong with that, however there are somethings, in this case the nostalgia and excitement of being at the tracks that should be preserved. Hopefully as digital bets become more popular, some race tracks will keep one ticket gate open for someone like myself to experience at least once.

  6. Neda Assadi says:

    Hi Josh –

    Santa Anita Park, as you mention, now includes technology and a sound media buy into its mix when historically, it was fairly averse to the idea. The organization now sees the value in deviating from its standard practices, all in favor of quicker consumer interaction, ease of use, and the opportunity for more exposure (those who can’t attend, bet online).

    I went to the Santa Anita Park website and found an interesting mix of tradition and progressive ethos. Horse imagery, font, and color scheme all scream “this is what our brand has been about, and still is today.” Scroll down a little more however, and you will see a flash ad for the Xpressbet program, as well as social media links for Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Now we see the incorporation of technology into the mix.

    But do brands have to give up their tradition in favor of catering to the demanding, on-the-go consumer of today? In-N-Out works because of its tradition. No flashy ads, no variation in menu. People are willing to wait in line for significant amounts of time. The website is clean and simple. Consistent with the brand positioning and messaging. There is a very tiny Facebook logo in the bottom right corner, but that’s it! Still keeps its tradition, through and through.

    I suppose the idea of tradition and progressive communication strategy is situational, however. In the case of racetracks it’s a bet that is time sensitive and depends on quickness of transaction. So the inclusion of new media allows for bigger profit potential.

    At the same time, it’s unfortunate that tradition has to be adjusted in order to fit the needs of the changing consumer, and changing economic and business model. But wait…adaptation is one of the many concepts that incorporate marketing! Although it would be great for Santa Anita and other racetracks to preserve its business model, these entities must consider (and are already doing so, as you mention) the rapid ability for communication, integration, and interaction. If executed properly, these organizations can reap the rewards of such adaption. So far, it looks like it has potential.

    This is a great post that not only incorporate the racing industry, but also reflects the necessity for organizations to be aware of its external environment. People want easier, quicker, and new.

    I went to Starbucks the other day and saw a woman pay with her iPhone. I had no idea what she was doing (I’m not up-to-date on the capabilities of the iPhone), but I know whatever she did, she did because she wanted convenience and speed.

    Seems like everyone is adapting to these mentalities. Even the horses.