A few weeks ago I wrote about how the sport has changed for horses and horsemen and how those changes made the competition on the track faster and more entertaining. But that was only part of the story as time has also changed the fans experience in the grandstand.
It’s interesting to look at what was once and what is now and analyze just how many things have changed since your grandfather went to the races.
In the golden era of night harness racing (1950s through '70s), you had to stop in the lot and pay an attendant for parking. Then if you didn’t want to walk a half mile you had to go to the next gate and pay again for preferred. I don’t think there’s a track around that charges for parking anymore, unless you want valet. And most places run shuttles that drop you at the door.
When you finally got to the grandstand you had to pay just to walk in. If you wanted to go to the clubhouse it was another fee at another turnstile. And of course you could only go into the clubhouse if you had a suit and tie on. Nowadays, almost every track has free admission no matter where you want to set up shop and if you did wear a suit you would be the one out of place.
Once you were in the grandstand, you had to buy ANOTHER ticket to sit in a particular area. The lower down the more expensive the seat; the higher up you went the cheaper the seats got. (And they were those rotten wooden slat seats to boot!) Then you had to tie the paper tag around your shirt button with that string and couldn’t lose it because the guy who looked like a movie usher wouldn’t let you back in. Today the seats are more comfortable and there is no extra charge for them either. And there is probably a monitor and self-betting terminal within an arm’s reach, too.
If you wanted to make a phone call you were out of luck; no contact with the outside world. Only the most extreme emergencies would be considered for making a call and that would have to be done in the security office under scrutiny of management. Now everyone is on their cell phones all night talking to whoever they want; hopefully calling friends to have them come to the track.
Cameras were not allowed. Heaven forbid should you have pictures of yourself having fun at the track to show other people.
Finally, you couldn’t bring the kids along either. No kids allowed! Maybe once or twice a year they would have a matinee and kids would be “tolerated” for that afternoon card. But after that, get them kids out of here! Today, kids are welcomed with open arms and activities of all kinds are provided so they have a good time and families can all come out together.
As you can clearly see, the good old days weren’t necessarily good for the sport as far as catering to and engaging new customers. When racing was king, management could write their own rules and people fell in line. Their Neanderthal thinking laid out a business plan that eventually blew up in their faces and the arrogance of that same management would not allow them to stray from their paradigm once the kingdom had fallen. And the irony of it all is that the same kids that were kept out of the tracks back in the day are now the ones making the changes that were so long overdue.
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