McKelvie on why Mohawk charges $10 entry ticket on NA Cup night

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by Melissa Keith

Mohawk Racetrack, now Woodbine Mohawk Park, opened on April 26, 1963, to 4,448 visitors. For perspective: the nascent racetrack parking lot can accommodate 3,000 vehicles. April 18, 1970, a record 11,470 fans and bettors emerged for the inaugural match of the World Driving Championship, with the charismatic Hervé Filion representing Canada.

According to the USTA Trotting and Pacing Guide, the Campbellville landmark reached its current record attendance on September 22, 1984, when 14,606 spectators and bettors packed the stands and aprons. Those years are now remembered for the unattainable peak attendance figures in the era of online betting, which overlap with the continued decline in mainstream interest in the sport: Pompano Park hosted a record 18,451 subscribers on 27 December 1980; The Meadowlands welcomed 52,974 racegoers on 11 June 1982; Cal-Expo drew 36,943 attendance on July 4, 1982.

With the industry’s heyday in mind, a small commotion was detectable when Woodbine Mohawk Park announced a $10 entry fee for the 2022 Pepsi North America Cup card.

Admission fee?

“I think this is the case: If we don’t value our own product, why would someone who isn’t yet a fan of the industry place so much value on it?” asked Mark McKelvie, rhetorically.

A few days after the Mohawk’s main race for pacemakers turned 3-year-old, communications manager Woodbine Entertainment explained the decision to bring back entry tickets, which are currently rare in harness racing: “You can’t go anywhere nowadays without spending money, it seems, and you want to provide free entertainment to anyone, but of course we have to value our products. That’s how I see it.”

Deal, rather than attendance, has become a contemporary measure of how well a live card is received. The 39th Pepsi North America Cup surpasses the previous Mohawk all-time record ($5.6 million (Cdn), set in 2020), raising the bar to a new event handle/track record of $6,317,624.47. An impressive $217,553.20 of that amount is at stake on track, a 26 percent increase from the 2020 North American Cup on-track handle.

Regular attendance reveals disparate information about the overall health of sports, and contemporary customers. That data is more difficult to collect “since we stopped tracking attendance every day,” McKelvie said.

Although electronic counters once captured the number of people screening into the stands, mathematical formulas had to be used to average and subtract the percentage of customers who left the building and then returned during the card, as well as people who stopped by without staying to bet.

With North American harness tracks regularly offering free admission, perhaps some perspective has been lost.

“You assume that if you go to the movies, you spend more than $20 just to watch your movie,” McKelvie told HRU. “People don’t pay attention to that. That’s what they usually do. I think by racing, at least around this part, we got away with filling tickets for so long that it was almost a shock to everyone when we brought it back a few years ago. But I think for $10, which is the price we charge at our doorstep, you can step in and experience the best racing we can offer, the best card of the year. Then add up everything else that’s going on, on the eve of a big event, like your food truck, [live] your music, your entertainment, your gifts… I think for $10, that’s a good deal for your money.”

The gift program retails for $5, but cheaper self-service options are still available – which of course led to conversations about customers looking for the latter option. Should the hard people who bet on the Mohawk year round be asked to raise $10 for the privilege of betting on the track?

“I’ve heard that [question] too,” said McKelvie. “The thing I think we should remember is that we are trying to develop the industry… All the extras don’t have to target gamblers. I’m sure hardcore horsemen probably don’t care if we have food trucks and bands and we share them [souvenir] rally towel. Those things aren’t what they’re there for, I get that. ”

(Bringing back paid admission is a Woodbine Entertainment Group decision, not attributable to a single person, he added.)

One aspect of the entry fee is working in the interests of Mohawk’s repeat customers, McKelvie said. “We have our racebook area at Woodbine Mohawk Park and have carrels. We actually charge for those carrels on a night like that,” he said. “I can understand a horseman thinking, ‘This is my usual seat, every night. More than 200 nights a year I’m here, and I sit here for free and I watch the races.’ On the nights before we started charging entrance fees a few years ago, you’d have a huge crowd coming in, and you’d see someone who might not have been on the track before picking it up. [carrels]… We give all our regular horsemen the opportunity to order [carrel] seats long before. If they reserve their seat, it covers their entry ticket.” (The fee is $10/carrel.)

As of Wednesday (June 22), the numbers are already in: more than 4,000 customers attended the Mohawk on June 18, to race and eat. (Casino customers are not included in the count.)

“Now that we have some kind of new benchmark, we can build on that and continue to push forward in the years to come,” said McKelvie. “We haven’t had the North American Cup in June since 2019. If you think about it, we’ve had over a decade of racing at Woodbine Mohawk Park, so I think it’s been one of those events that people in the area always knew was coming. around mid-June, towards the end of the school year, to start the summer.”

There are no official attendance records for the 2008 North American Cup, which he supposedly holds the modern unofficial record, belonging to the superstar Somebeachsomewhere. The 2022 edition doesn’t have that big of a horse to race on, but in his view, “it’s a race that’s basically going to create stars,” as Pebble Beach emerges victorious.

Worth the ticket price?

“I understand that some of them in the industry will be a little sensitive to it, because we want to get as many people in the door as possible,” McKelvie said. “But I think those who are looking for an event – ​​like a lot of the people we see in the crowds on North American Cup night – are people who are just looking for an event. They’re looking for a party. They were looking for something a little different, a night out. Can they tell you what horses are on the track? It’s our job once they’re in the building, to educate them and hope they get the program. Hopefully the experience we give them will make them want to come back.”

“When you look at all the lights and shows going on, on a night like that, I don’t think anyone would be too upset about having to put $10 at the door for a great night.”

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