I suppose the first question at Tuesday's press conference to outline plans for The Mansion at Churchill Downs will be, “What about us?”
The proposed upscale Mansion, described by CDI chairman Bob Evans as “the pinnacle of live sporting event experiences,” is expected to be located in what is currently known as the Joe Hirsch Media Center. It's a large room on the sixth floor of the clubhouse that holds up to 200 media members on Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby day and is virtually empty (with the exception of staff and a couple of local reporters) the rest of the year.
In fact, in what might be called cruel irony, Tuesday's news conference will be conducted at the Joe Hirsch Media Center.
There is a balcony outside the media center that overlooks the racetrack just past the finish line that affords an outstanding view. It's pretty sweet, if you're lucky enough to get a media pass and a viewing position in front. People who are not in the media pay thousands of dollars for that kind of a view in adjacent suites and balconies.
By most accounts, accommodating the media is an important thing to do, but so is making money. And in this case relocating the media and selling their former space – a piece of prime real estate – will generate a boatload of money for Churchill Downs Inc.: close to $8 million over three years.
Like any fine Southern Mansion, The Mansion at Churchill Downs will have every possible amenity for its guests (who'll arrive via private elevator), including fine dining from award-winning chefs and a wine list that could rival the finest restaurants. The space will be divided into several rooms, including a parlor, a library (perhaps with handicapping books?), a living room, dining room, bar, and an outside terrace and veranda, with views from the paddock to the racetrack. Flat-screen televisions and pari-mutuel windows will be scattered throughout The Mansion.
Average price per seat will be close to $9,000 per year over three years, with the best tables commanding prices upwards of $50,000, as much as $12,500 per seat each year.
Who is such a pricey Oaks and Derby experience designed for? Certainly not news-hacks like me. And probably not for most people engaged in the horse industry throughout the year. Expect this to be where Hollywood celebrities and titans of industry spend their time at one of America's premier sporting events.
But back to the original question: “What about us?”
Where will media members cover the Derby? Most likely it will be on the ground floor of Churchill Downs, where an auxiliary press box already is located. The media alert about Tuesday's press conference said Kevin Flanery, the track's president, will “reveal details and information about additional facility renovations during Tuesday's news conference.”
The media used to have the best seat in the house for sporting contests at nearly every stadium and racetrack across the country. Newer facilities, like Cowboys Stadium where the Dallas Cowboys play, has a press box closer to the end zone than the 50-yard line. Many reporters covering big events like the Super Bowl work in the bowels of the stadium or even large temporary buildings, watching the games on television but having access to pre- and post-race press conferences.
We can only hope the food and drink will still be free.
There will be plenty of griping about the media's relocation, just as there was from longtime Churchill Downs box-holders who had to pay a personal seat license fee to keep their Derby boxes. Things like PSLs are part of the sports world we live in today.
Money trumps everything, including media.
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