Under the Lights

This Friday, for the first time in its 135-year history, Churchill Downs will race under the lights.

It what they are calling "Downs After Dark," it will be the first of three night programs offered by Churchill this summer (also on June 26 and July 2) and will offer patrons "a dramatically different paddock scene accented by special lighting, a festive cocktail lounge atmosphere, food and drink specials, a beer garden, live music, and a special guest DJ." Post time will be at 6 p.m. and last until about 11 p.m.

I'm wondering what you fans think of this experiment. It is obvious that Churchill's intent is to make the event not just about racing, but a fun night out for friends and couples. They are probably hoping to attract a different kind of crowd and perhaps a whole new set of future fans. For a one price, couples can also take part in "Date Night," which includes "an evening of dinner and dancing underneath the spires."

Do you like the idea? If you lived in the Louisville area, would this entice you to go to the track on a Friday night?

I think the concept is a good one. I believe that racetracks need to compete with other forms of entertainment and not solely rely on gambling as a draw. Make the atmosphere at the racetrack fun for people again. Suffolk Downs has also done something similar in recent years and it has been successful.

In talking with people about this, most like the idea, but some were turned off by the admission prices. Churchill is charging $10 this Friday and $6 each of the other two nights. Or, for $15, you can go all three nights. Twin Spires members and seniors get in for only $1. Normal admission price is $3. Some think $10, or even $6, is a bit steep, especially when they want you to gamble your money and also buy food and drinks. Others understand that everything has a cost (the installation of lights cost Churchill millions). I'm wondering if the admission charge would keep you away or if you think it is worth it for the atmosphere being provided.

Anyway, I'm encouraged that a handful of racetracks are doing different things to attract new fans. I think we need more of this. We need new marketing campaigns to attract younger fans. With so many other forms of entertainment available, it is essential.

One idea that recently came to my mind on a national level involves female jockeys. Why not try to use the looks and skill of some of these young riders, just like they do in golf and tennis? It seems that are several young, attractive female riders just getting started right now that could be the focus of a new marketing campaign. Just a thought.


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