Whether your venue is mainly off-track betting focused or an establishment with an already successful business model – and you’re considering adding racing to complement it – you want to reap the rewards of return visits, right?
However your pari-mutuel income is arranged i.e. by state racing legislature or racetrack directly, you work hard, and that burning entrepreneurial fire in you wants only the best for your restaurant, sports bar, and in some cases, bowling alley!
Alexander Fanti writes that up until the late 80’s we saw the onsite experience at the racecourse migrate off the track to betting shops, and since then, move to a mix of both online and traditional in-store wagering.
Not to mention the other multitude of options thrill-seekers can choose from in the ever-growing digital gaming space. Being in the OTB game today in let’s say Pomona, New York or the Racebook business out in Mesquite, Nevada may seem challenging at times, a bit daunting, and not for the faint at heart. But you need to remember, you offer something unique, a value proposition unlike any other with each daily customer interaction you serve.
Since I was a kid, small businesses always interested me as to why people chose to frequent a local deli, visited the “knife sharpening lady,” or why they bought eggs directly from “the egg guy.” Yes agreed, these are vague descriptions of things that may seem politically incorrect to say in public today, or just plain weird. But the point is that the one-to-one relationship they built with their customers and the personality they possessed resulted in my friends and family doing business with them.
Making it a loyal, lifetime memory.
I was always fascinated where people spent their money and why, and learned an unforgettable financial lesson at eight years old when I had my first job as a paper boy. With the $50 a month I received I was on top of the world distributing the local tabloid, frantically stuffing them with flyers, while delivering them on time with my shopping cart. As the papers hit the doorstep, I earned a steady flow of income that I could decide where, and what it got spent on. I was the boss of my hard earned cash.
It wasn’t until later I started visiting the local pizza shop “Sorizzo’s” that I became a loyal patron of. So much so, that my knack for crafting business agreements became evident at a young age. The owner mentioned to me that his lunch time crowd was slow. Seeing an opportunity, I gave out flyers (yes ma, that’s where all your continuous stationery paper and ink went) and sold friends and fellow students on the experience at school during games of foot hockey, and of course, red-rover. Telling people in the pre-Sham Wow days, “Stop having a boring tuna, stop having a boring life. Get a pizza, wing and coke combo for $3. That’s three loonies!”
Let’s just say I ate my fair share of free pizzas that year!
Since then, things have gotten more challenging for small businesses as rising costs for staff, rent, and other expenses have made it difficult to compete in the marketplace. But whether your OTB is known for its food or billiards tournaments and the racing supports your main offerings (or on its own entirely), I’ve listed some strategies below to marinate a bit if you have been in the business a while, or are new to the game. Don’t worry, you don’t need to break the bank on this. These are merely some shoestring budget ideas that progressively lead up to some more sophisticated ways to engage your current customer base, while keeping your sights on new ones.
Start by saying hello and build that connection with your customers today. Surprise and delight your regulars with in-house draws, swag giveaways, and even with free coffee. I remember walking into a William Hill on a late December evening and I was greeted with tea and cookies at the entrance. How English!
Asking for, and collecting your customer data is very important and a guaranteed way to start building and nurturing that relationship. Send your customers a regular dialogue maybe once a month or every two weeks about upcoming events, offers, or just race day and sports reminders to come on out and visit. You may have missed the Fountain of Youth Stakes yesterday but the Florida Derby at Gulfstream is fast approaching. And if you have the Dubai World Cup feed the same day, try it! Based on budget you can always work on your own through gmail, or with an e-deployment label, or maybe with an agency directly in print form to develop a mail drop campaign (using local postal or ZIP codes to redeem an in-house offer).
Who doesn’t like friendly bragging and all that bravado that goes along with the chance to win or redeem your title as local champion? Players love this stuff. Start small in a fantasy style, and the person to win or cash the most tickets on X track for the day is deemed the winner, you can stretch this out across your network or team up with other counties, whatever. There are so many great ways to include regular and new visitors with this type of concept. Also, based on your state or provincial regulations some OTB’s in Colorado have already allowed for fantasy football-style pari-mutuel bets. Look into it, it’s another way to augment the customer segment and bring in a new revenue flow.
It’s free to use, and when executed properly you can engage with fans of the sport by promoting the racing experience, the OTB culture, venue character and the great promo offers. This new content strategy you’ll implement will bring life to online search for your business, and with a proper website and digital channel locked in place, you will only benefit your SEO rankings, whatever you’re known, or want to be known for.
Use mainstream sports:
You already have 20 plus TVs on, why not show some of the mainstream sporting events held throughout the year, March Madness, NHL hockey, and Basketball. I hope you took advantage of this for the Super Bowl or maybe even the Olympics. Here’s a start then, why not try the World Cup this July? That’s right around the corner. A great way to collect an overflow of people from neighboring places and why not introduce them to your venue, and maybe the menu while you’re at it?
Register with your local chamber of commerce, plaza board committee, or travel listing, whichever. You can always work with your neighbors before or after hours in the form of offering bounce-backs or special offers. Let’s say a betting shop next door to a movie theatre can push them to the OTB if the movie wait is long, or if their date is running late. Why not register for local town days? I once saw an OTB ad on a banner while in Maine during the Old Hallowell Day parade.
You can use local internet review platforms like Google and Yelp to get your digital presence more exposure to potential visitors. Register if you haven’t already and maybe ask your guests if they would feel comfortable talking about their experience about what makes your place memorable. It’s much more than racing, it’s the character of your venue and the people who manage it.
In my previous article I touched on this in greater detail, but OTB’s can really leverage their strong culinary and hospitality skills by packaging up and partnering with food sharing labels to bring horse racing to new customers at home. Budget permitting of course, but labels off the track can work with these platforms and in turn create a loyal OTB goer (just by the menu itself). The attached photo is a meal I had from a bookie shop in the UK. Now, I don’t know if this place was on the up-and-up or not (with their chalkboards of odds and low resolution racing feeds), but come on, look at that meat pie. And if you’re a vegetarian, look at those veggies!
Provided you have the budget you can always work with local print and digital publications to get your ads in broader circulation. People, print is still alive and well and so is radio as we have seen the resurgence of it since 2014 as costs for shorter and more effective tags have hit the waves. Buy up a couple ten or thirty second spots with all the pedigree information necessary to drive a conversion to visit. On the ad copy leave your website as an anchor for further details with the brand story you want to tell.
Invest in your business:
What about hiring a sales team to travel for a fan development junket like local craft brewers are doing to disrupt the beer landscape? Or what about that major renovation you wanted to take place? With this downtime, now’s the window to revamp and get things right for your core business and that new audience you’ve been wanting to bring in. Why not give the décor and menu a second look too? Maybe some new uniforms to create a refined look so that every time guests visit, they know they will get the quality and consistency like last time. Applicable to your sportsbook as well.
Try some of these ideas out. Maybe on your slower days like Mondays or Tuesdays which are typically softer sports and racing days, then transition it slowly to the latter part of the week.
Do what works for you!
The ideas in this post may be in action already, thought of, or voiced before. Which is great! It’s trying to promote different strategies to keep your customers happy while onboarding new people to your racing and or sports business. There isn’t a one size fits all approach, just some new ways to trying things. If we adapt similar methods– it can rise all boats, transcending the sport today, for tomorrow.
Ed – The writer, Alexander Fanti, is Marketing Manager of Woodbine Entertainment