Move Over Media: Here comes ‘The Mansion’

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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.

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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  • Triplecrownquest

    The twenty owners that get to the KY Derby should be allowed in the mansion the WHOLE KY Derby week.  But that would be too nice and make too much sense.

  • Bryan Langlois (ShelterDoc)

    I say if CDI really wants to impress the fans and give them the thrill of a lifetime, hold a contest every year of some kind (either random draw or maybe tie it to a fantasy type game) where the winner gets to go with 10 of his/her buddies to the Derby and enjoy it from the mansion.  At least then you might have some people there who actually are interested in the race and the horses…not just a-list type celebraties who really are only their because their agent told them it is the place to be seen in may…

    • David

      Good idea but instead of $50 for the “opportunity” to purchase bad, ridiculously priced Oaks/Derby seats, the chances for such a sweepstakes will cost a bundle.

  • roger

    Bob Evans is an elitist snob…….you’d think he would be more concerned about all the horses/trainers that left his track.

    • WILLIAM L. ANTON

      Most people in horse racing mgt. don’t have a clue.  Therefore, Evans fits right in with the rest.

  • Watcher

    And I say if Evans REALLY wants to help Churchill Downs he will reduce his annual salary from $5.5 million to less than $1 million with the balance going to purses.

  • Damon Runyon

    Any member of the media who relies on press releases and barn notes for their content SHOULD be regulated to the bowels of Churchill Downs. The old-time writers built the Kentucky Derby into an iconic American sporting event. They didn’t do it with spoon-fed quotes.

    Of course, Bob Evans, and likely all the other C-Level executives at CDI, drool at the sight of a dollar bill.

    • Don Reed

      Make that fifty cents. 

  • Don Reed

    Reminds me of David Copperfield’s “1990′s Magic
    Underground” restaurant- real estate fiasco in Times
    Square. 

     

    Unfortunately, Churchill Downs being an entirely different
    animal, the punch line about Copperfield’s $34 million hole in the ground can’t
    be recycled:

     

    “Compounding the disaster, two perfectly respectable
    adult theatres were demolished.”

  • wallyhorse

    You have to wonder if this is also a move to secure the Breeders’ Cup, an event Churchill may wind up hosting almost every fall as early as next year.  Unless another track with the ability to race at night comes along to be the event hosts (and make a serious bid to host it), I can see it where Churchill winds up with the BC on an almost-permanent basis.

  • Bocephus

    If members of the national media ever gave any impression of racing other than negative and damaging (hello Sports Illustrated, New York Times), I might have some sympathy.  As it is, most of them treat Derby day as a free party with plum seats at track expense.  How about some good coverage and positive promotion, then you can borrow my hanky.

  • David

    Ask as you will Ray, CD and Mr. Evans simply doesn’t care.  You can’t lose what you no longer have and that’s major print publications having wide circulation with turf (not sports) columnists in tow.  The big stuff (aka anything but print) is – literally – on the ground.  Sympathy and empathy will be in short supply today, bet on it.

  • Fredwinters2012

    seems like with the decline in coverage or racing, by the media, in recent decades, one has to ask, what does CD owe the media? seems a no brainer and kudos are due the forward thinking Mr. Evans.

    • Sinkingship

      There is a decline in everyday media coverage of the sport, but the Derby is one event that most newspapers/web sites/TV/magazines still assign reporters to. Why don’t they just make them work in the bathrooms and pipe in the call of the race, the acoustics are great in there.

    • http://Bellwether4u.com James Staples

      BULL DO DO…hes like MITT the BS…BIG HEADED FAT CAT…FORWARD MY @SS…HES BLINDED BY ALL THE DU$T BABY…no ty… 

      • Guest

        ANOTHER BONE HEAD MOVE BY BOB EVANS

  • Mundah

    Again Churchill  goes after the wrong crowd ( the few who show up for just the big races)the social set.  The true horseman, horse lovers and players are put down to the bottom.  No wonder the numbers are down at racetracks, If you don’t want the people, they won”t come.

    • David

      Wrong crowd?  Direct and related Derby income makes up a huge portion of (revenue) totals while day-to-day track operations account for the vast majority of expenses.  Unfortunately “true horsemen, horse lovers and players . . . “ apparently aren’t enough to reverse the trend; can’t blame CD for adapting to the marketplace.

  • $19791973

    Of course if you own a horse in the Derby as part of a partnership you’re on your own. Try fitting 20 in a 6 seat box.

  • John Scheinman

    Speaking only for myself, as co-producer and co-editor of Kentucky Confidential, I will greatly miss the vantage point and posh environment offered to the folks in the Joe Hirsch Media Center. The Churchill Downs overhaul and modernization, completed in 2005, was a marvel to long-time turf writers, who could hardly believe the bouquet CDI had tossed them upon first visit to the sixth floor.

    The Kentucky Derby, as my partner Jessica Chapel and I have said over and over again, is perhaps the greatest storytelling platform in American sports and the primary impetus for our company’s creation.

    Does the move to what can only be inferior quarters – from the best press center in all of racing – mean that Churchill executives no longer values those storytellers? I think it means they value the money-generating potential of the claimed real estate more. As others here have said, hey, it’s a business. Naming the area “The Mansion” couldn’t be any less subtle.

    I will look back fondly on what I had – like the unforgettable arugula and lobster salad Churchill served the hacks a few years back – that’s for sure. Thanks, Churchill. Maybe you can cushion the blow to our status by getting those Papa John’s shuttle buses to operate a little more efficiently next year. See you in 2013.

     

  • http://Bellwether4u.com James Staples

    If Evans REALLY wants to help Churchill he will take the GOLDEN PARACHUTE & BAIL OUT!!!…ps…why the hell do they only allow 14 Fillies to run in the OAKS but 20 HORSES in the DERBY on a RACE TRACK that was never designed to run that many Horses @ one time???…does anyone REALLY believe they care about the HORSES???…HELL NO!!!…ty…

  • http://www.facebook.com/cougar.paisley Cougar Paisley

    I think CD just wanted to one up Monmouth Park. After all, their putting in a “Boardwalk” and a minature golf course. 

    Your 2014 Breeder’s Cup tickets will include a hot dog and a free spin.

  • Ssk12955

    The sausage man strikes again

  • KYBHORSEFAN

    ANOTHER BONE HEAD MOVE BY BOB EVANS

  • John McEvoy

    HEY, let’s hear it–another triumph for the 1 PERCENT!

  • John McEvoy

    HEY, let’s hear it–another triumph for the 1 PERCENT!

  • Francis Bush

    Churchill plays to the money. They rarely watch out for the small daily wagering public. The paddock is too small to see the horses on most days. The betting windows are too old. Meandering through the grandstand and clubhouse is a nightmare. Going up and down the steps in most areas is difficult. Handrails are missing in some places. Food service is okay, but getting to it from one part of the building to another is weird. Grandstand seating belongs in another time zone.   

    • David

      You’re kidding, right?  Look, CD won’t soon be rewarded as this industry’s “team” player but the facility you trash is BY FAR the best in North America.

      • MA

        How many racing facilities have you been to?

        • David

          In NA just about all of ‘em.  I suppose one could find fault with most any facility; the point is CD can accommodate a 50k+ crowd like no other, not even close.

  • Francis Bush

    Churchill plays to the money. They rarely watch out for the small daily wagering public. The paddock is too small to see the horses on most days. The betting windows are too old. Meandering through the grandstand and clubhouse is a nightmare. Going up and down the steps in most areas is difficult. Handrails are missing in some places. Food service is okay, but getting to it from one part of the building to another is weird. Grandstand seating belongs in another time zone.   

  • David

    You’re kidding, right?  Look, CD won’t soon be rewarded as this industry’s “team” player but the facility you trash is BY FAR the best in North America.

  • MA

    How many racing facilities have you been to?

  • Bernieinocala

    “Bonus” Bob Evans shouldn’t get all the blame for this bonehead move.  Don’t forget the “Evil Empire” has the “General Electric Bills” supplying Bonus Bob with a lot of these shockingly “brilliant” ideas.  Where else could you have 3 individuals running the show that know so little about horse racing?

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