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Volume 24 No. 156

Events and Attractions

The Maryland Jockey Club yesterday announced details for this year's Preakness InfieldFEST, which will include "live entertainment, other events, and a $20 mug for unlimited refills of beer," according to BLOODHORSE.com. The MJC is "attempting to build on its newer approach to the infield party held in conjunction with the Preakness Stakes, which this year will be held May 21 at Pimlico Race Course." Musicians Bruno Mars and Train will play "extended sets on the main stage," while three other acts "and a bikini contest will be held on a secondary stage." In addition, "two 160-foot 'MUG Club' areas will be available in the infield and another in the Top of the Stretch section." There also will be an "infield beer garden offering $2 draft beer" from 8:00am-12:00pm ET. Infield tickets cost $40 in advance, and will increase to $50 beginning May 16 (BLOODHORSE.com, 3/14). Baltimore SUN music critic Erik Maza wrote Bruno Mars and Train represent an "extra shot of star power" for the InfieldFEST, now in its third year. The festival is the MJC's "attempt to organize the infield experience, which before 2009 had a reputation for its rowdiness" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 3/14).

THINGS ARE LOOKING DOWN: In Baltimore, Hanah Cho reports the MJC's recently submitted financial statements reveal that the organization "lost tens of millions of dollars in recent years, including at the once-profitable Pimlico." The Laurel Park and Pimlico tracks "lost more than $14 million" in '09 and nearly $12M in '08. The financial documents show the "first annual losses at Pimlico in the past decade despite the fact that it hosts the Preakness, the state's largest sporting event." Cho notes the revelations come as the Maryland General Assembly "considers a proposal that would divert slot-machine revenue earmarked for track improvements to help fund the day-to-day operations of the Jockey Club for several years." In exchange, Laurel and Pimlico "would not curtail live racing but at a minimum would maintain a schedule similar to this year's." A House committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the proposal today (Baltimore SUN, 3/15).

The BNP Paribas Open, which runs through Sunday, is a "passion project" for Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who purchased the tournament and Indian Wells Tennis Garden in December '09 for a reported $100M, according to Leighton Ginn of the Palm Springs DESERT SUN. It is the "fifth-most attended tennis tournament in the world," but "most casual sports fans are not familiar with the event's cache in the tennis world." Ellison: "I don't know if you can make it better than a slam. It's hard to be better than Wimbledon with all that tradition. It certainly is the best tournament in the world that's not a slam, and it can be more enjoyable than some of the slams." The tournament runs during the opening week of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, and Ellison said it is "hard to overcome March Madness." But he added, "I think we have a good audience in general. Tennis Channel has been great for tennis. We want to make sure the die-hard tennis fans can watch all of these matches and enjoy watching these players compete." Ginn noted the Hawk-Eye replay system has been added "to all eight match courts" for this year's tournament at an estimated cost of around $500,000, making the BNP Paribas Open the "only tournament in the world with instant replay on all courts for all matches." Meanwhile, Ginn noted Ellison "has had many opportunities to expand his sports portfolio," and in the past his name has been "linked to bids trying to bring an NFL team" to L.A. Ellison: "Certainly, if we could bring an NFL franchise to Los Angeles, that would be great. It's ridiculous there's not an NFL presence in the second-largest market in the United States" (Palm Springs DESERT SUN, 3/13). In London, Alexandra Willis writes under the header, "Why Every Tournament Should Aspire to The Indian Wells Tennis In The Desert Phenomenon" (INDEPENDENT.co.uk, 3/15).

TOURNAMENT SAVIOR: In L.A., Bill Dwyre wrote of Ellison, "In corporate tennis circles, his purchase of the Indian Wells event is seen as something almost heroic, a move that not only injected cash and stability into a tournament that had become a crown jewel of the sport, but also sent an important message: If Larry Ellison thinks enough of the sport to spend around $100 million on it, and even commit to improving a tournament that didn't seem to need much, [then] tennis is still a big player on the international scene." Ellison: "I love the sport. Nobody had to sell me on doing this." Dwyre noted there was a "possibility that, with financial difficulties, this tournament might be sold and moved to another country, likely China." But Ellison said, "Nobody wanted to see this tournament go to another country" (L.A. TIMES, 3/13).