SBD/Issue 167/Events & Attractions

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  • Preakness Attendance Falls 31% Due In Part To New Alcohol Policy

    Pimlico Race Course On Saturday Sees
    Smallest Preakness Crowd Since '83
    Saturday's Preakness Stakes drew 77,850 fans to Pimlico Race Course, down 31% from last year's crowd of 112,222, the "lowest level since 1983," according to a front-page piece by Scott Calvert of the Baltimore SUN. Plenty of fans "steered clear" of Pimlico because of its "new policy banning bring-your-own alcohol." Maryland Jockey Club President & COO Tom Chuckas said that he had "expected the dip" in attendance, and that he "did not regret the BYO booze ban." Chuckas predicted that it would "likely take two or three years for numbers to rebound." Preakness organizers "had hoped to compensate for the alcohol change by adding a rock concert, beach volleyball and a bikini contest, and by dispensing $1 cups of beer during the morning." But the "crowd size dominated conversations" at the track. Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon said, "Definitely you can tell the presence is lighter than normal." But Dixon "blamed the difficult economy more than the alcohol policy," while others "thought another factor might have been the cool, gray weather." Calvert noted the "attendance drop underscored concerns about the future of the Pimlico track and the Preakness itself" (Baltimore SUN, 5/17). In N.Y., Jerry Bossert noted Pimlico raised general admission prices from $50 to $60 for Saturday's event, and the track "paid the price" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/17). Meanwhile, total handle on the Preakness was $86,684,407, up 17.9% from $73,457,510 last year and the "fifth-highest in event history." The following chart shows the attendance for the Preakness at Pimlico since '99 (THOROUGHBREDTIMES.com, 5/17).

    YEAR
    ATTENDANCE
    '09
    77,850
    '08
    112,222
    '07
    121,263
    '06
    118,402
    '05
    115,318
    '04
    112,668
    '03
    100,268
    '02
    101,138
    '01
    104,454
    '00
    98,304
    '99
    100,311

    WHERE'S THE PARTY? Chuckas said of the revamped alcohol policy, "Do I have any regrets? The answer is no. Do I intend to reverse the policy? The answer is no. I understand that tradition and culture, and change can be difficult, but I think change is good. I think this will benefit many people and hurt only a few." In Baltimore, Gus Sentementes notes corporate sponsorships for the race "were expected to be down" about 10%, while Bob Nettles, who owns the track's main merchandise seller, All Pro Championships, reported a 40% drop in "sales of shirts, hats and other items at its infield locations" (Baltimore SUN, 5/18). Also in Baltimore, Kevin Cowherd noted normally there are "60,000 beered-up fans shoehorned into the infield" for the Preakness, but Saturday there was a "fraction of that." Cowherd: "In one of the great Baltimore protests of all time, the sweltering masses rose up as one and thundered: You won't let us bring beer to your party? Fine, we won't show up at all. ... The ban sure did chill the party" (Baltimore SUN, 5/17). In DC, Lisa Rein wrote, "The usually crammed infield at the Preakness Stakes, which earned that nickname because of drunken fighting and other forms of debauchery, was far from full as post time neared" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/17). In DC, Thom Loverro wrote Pimlico "was a ghost town compared with previous years" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 5/17). NBC’s Tom Hammond acknowledged the attendance drop during the coverage, noting the Preakness “bills itself as the ‘People’s Race’ and the ‘People’s Party’ and traditionally, most of the partying has been done there in the infield. But as you see from that aerial shot, obviously it is much less crowded than normal." He noted the new alcohol policy appeared to have "really substantially cut into the crowd in the infield” ("Preakness Stakes," NBC, 5/16). 

    O'Malley Says Preakness Will Remain
    Maryland Tradition During Interview
    STAYING POWER: NBC's Bob Costas interviewed Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley during the trophy presentation after the race and asked O'Malley, "Can you assure the people here and the people watching that the Preakness will remain in Baltimore?” O’Malley: “Well yes. The legislature also took other actions, like finally breaking through the partisan gridlock over slots to bolster racing. The fact of the matter is that in good times or in bad times, and for all of the economic challenges that our country is facing, the Preakness is a Maryland tradition and the Preakness will remain a Maryland tradition.” NBC’s Kenny Rice said the Maryland general assembly and O'Malley, in an attempt to keep the Preakness at Pimlico, “realize that everyone is not an avid (horse) racing fan." Rice: "They have pointed to something else, something that still touches the hearts of Marylanders that happened 25 years ago -- when the beloved Colts in the middle of the night packed up and left for Indianapolis.” He added, "One of the points that they’re trying to get across here to everyone in Maryland to get the backing to keep Pimlico … is that unlike the NFL, they cannot get another franchise for the Preakness” ("Preakness Stakes," NBC, 5/16). Washington Post reporter Liz Clarke said, “The horse racing industry is huge in (Maryland), and there are many, many people who depend on it for their livelihood up and down different facets of the industry. Without the Preakness, the state really loses its calling card" ("Washington Post Live," CSN Mid-Atlantic, 5/15).

    TRIPLE THREAT: Rachel Alexandra became the first filly to win the Preakness in 85 years, and in DC, Stephen Whyno notes she "gave horse racing a heck of a show" by holding off Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird. Rarely does the "end of a Triple Crown bid bring as much excitement as its continuation," but that is "exactly what happened Saturday in the Preakness." Whyno notes "two aspects of horse racing bring in crowds and media attention: brilliance and rivalries." With Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird, there was a "mix of both" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 5/18). The WASHINGTON TIMES' Loverro noted the "novelty of the filly's win will turn out to be the next best thing to a Triple Crown horse heading into the Belmont Stakes" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 5/17). NBC's Costas: "Ordinarily interest in the Belmont Stakes dips a little bit if there isn’t a possibility of a Triple Crown champion, but not in this case. ... We have the possibility of a mile-and-a-half duel between the two people’s choices" ("Preakness Stakes," NBC, 5/16). SI.com's Mark Beech wrote Saturday's race "provided vindication for two horses, and more than a little redemption for the sport of racing itself" (SI.com, 5/16). CBS' Michelle Miller: "With her win, observers say Rachel Alexandra has already given the sport a much-needed giddy-up" ("Evening News," CBS, 5/16). In Philadelphia, Bob Ford: "Now the question, of course, is: How will horse racing mess it up this time? Or will the sport finally regain some of the traction with the public that has been lost while spinning its wheels in the slop for seasons?" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 5/18).

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