The Breeders’ Cup Forum: A New Santa Anita

by | 12.09.2010 | 8:07am

If anyone who markets horse racing has “seen it all,” I daresay that person would be Allen Gutterman. Starting out at a small harness track in Monticello, N.Y., Gutterman next moved on to Yonkers raceway and then the Meadowlands, which gave him his introduction to Thoroughbred racing. He went from there to the New York Racing Association, where he helped create Super Saturday and Breeders' Cup preview days, bundling major stakes races into mini-festivals.

Since leaving his management position at NYRA, Gutterman has worked at Hollywood Park when it was owned by Churchill Downs, spent a year at Arlington Park, consulted for Sam Houston Race Park, and now, as vice president of marketing, oversees Santa Anita Park's marketing program for MI Developments. “I am constantly having the time of my life wherever I am,” he said.

Gutterman is excited about the upcoming Santa Anita meet (opening Dec. 26) with its return to a conventional dirt track, higher purses and new stables arriving from the East Coast, all positive developments that are tempered only by the increase in exotic wagering takeout over which he had no control.

There really does seem to be more buzz about Santa Anita's winter meeting than I've heard in a long time. For one thing, there's been no racing since April, with Oak Tree's dates having been moved to Hollywood Park while the main track was being replaced. Add the excitement over the dirt track to the new stables, higher purses and you're probably champing at the bit to get started.
It's true, we'll be seeing some new faces this year and the increase in daily purse distribution is a very significant development and, hopefully, will help us get off to a solid start. We expect to average about $425,000 a day including stakes money.  But, I think the return to dirt has created the most buzz and we have Frank Stronach to thank for that.   (Track president) George Haines and Ted Malloy have overseen a magnificent and timely installation and we're right on schedule for opening. I'm hearing nothing but raves about the new track from trainers, owners, exercise riders, clockers, everyone.  Of course, Ted will be the first to tell you that, this being horse racing, that could change after the first race on Dec. 26.   We feel that there has been pent-up demand for the reopening of Santa Anita, especially on this side of town. We will have been dark nine months by the time we open.  We know we can't make everybody happy, but, no doubt, there is a well of goodwill toward the return of Santa Anita to prime time.     

What are your objectives as Santa Anita's vice president of marketing? Make big days bigger? Increase average daily on-track attendance? Handle? National handle?
All of the above. Big stakes days are golden opportunities to start off with a larger base, and then do all you can to increase it. No matter how bad we may be flailing as an industry, there are certain days that the public earmarks for horse racing and they stay constant. Shame on us if we don't take advantage of those days. As for the rest of the calendar, larger purses and four-day weeks in January and February should lead to bigger fields which generally lead to higher on-track handle, statewide handle and nationwide handle.  With all due respect to our MID partners at Gulfstream and the terrific show they put on every year, I believe Santa Anita will card the finest programs in the nation this winter and hopefully it reflects in the handle.  

Except for the one admittedly HUGE area of jobs creation, most economic indicators have been on the upswing the last couple of months.  I think discretionary spending on gambling–be it on horses or slots or lottery games—as opposed to, say, eating, may be one of the last indicators to turn, but we're going to put on the best show possible under the circumstances that exist and keep fighting our way out of it.   

Are you primarily trying to reach out to sports fans or people who are inclined to gamble?
Gamblers, sports fans, entertainment seekers, foodies, anybody breathing.  But, no matter what else we try, we should never forget that we're always gambling. That's why we exist. Gamblers are our customers and the truth is they find us. They love horse racing and love the challenge of betting on horses.  Horse players are the most cerebral gamblers of all because they look beyond luck.  Before they place a wager, they've spent an inordinate amount of time determining who they like and what kind of bet to make.  Our problem is that each generation is producing less people betting on horses and it's because we've been interrupted at the gambling gate by simpler gambling like slots and lotteries. One time in this country, if you had the gambling gene and you wanted to gamble legally, you went to a racetrack and racing thrived.  Now there are so many choices. Learning to read the DRF or a program is a lot of work compared to mindless gaming.  
On the other hand, unlike slots or lotteries, we are blessed by being a sport, too.  And once our stakes programs kick in, leading down the roads to the Triple Crown and the Breeders' Cup, this industry puts on a pretty exciting and amazing show.  Just look at the last two Breeders' Cups. Our horses are our stars. At Santa Anita we have 46 graded stakes including nine Grade 1s and on any given day you might just see the next superstar.  When it happens, it is still an astonishing, breathtaking sight.   

What are the biggest changes in marketing horse racing today from 20 or 30 years ago? Also can you get a bigger bang from your buck using email, loyalty programs and social networking sites instead of having to rely on the old standards like TV/radio/newspaper buys and direct mail?
My brain functions better because I have a terrific staff, all of whom are about half my age. They never knew when racing, along with boxing, were the two most popular sports in America so they don't kvetch about the good old days. And I don't either. We move forward and they make me better.  Facebook, Twitter, E-mail blasts, texting, YouTube, blogging, Flickr, Tycoon Mobile, Groupon, Yelp are integral parts of life at Santa Anita.  I'm proud of our website, our growing on-line community and how it continually evolves. We have a workout cam, fresh daily video and on line handicappers.   Technology always moves us forward, even if the results won't be seen for 10 years.  Social networking allows us to communicate directly with fans and horseplayers and let them know what's happening at Santa Anita this weekend.  Direct mail seems old school, but is still phenomenally productive and permits us to talk to great customers for very little money, particularly, to those who don't have Blackberrys or I-Phones or are not web savvy.   

Truthfully, we don't spend a lot of money these days on print, but we do buy a lot of television. We buy all of Los Angeles county—cable and broadcast– about five times a year for our biggest events and we make smaller sustaining buys (usually within 15 miles) to maintain our brand in a very competitive entertainment marketplace.

The LA area is a great melting pot. Are you doing anything to target specific ethnic groups?
The San Gabriel Valley is a hub for Asian immigration.  There are over 32,000 Chinese residents in Arcadia alone. We've always budgeted marketing efforts to our Chinese neighbors but for 2011 we are being more aggressive than ever. We've engaged an Asian marketing firm, Intertrend, based in Long Beach, to help us communicate better within the community. We'll start next week with intercept surveys, followed by radio remotes, a Lunar New Year's event, Chinese advertising and direct mail. We have an Asian clientele everyday at the track, but we want to try to do better with our neighbors.  We also host a Japan day each year that includes Japanese cultural activities and food and the Grade III Tokyo City Cup.

What else is Santa Anita doing differently this year to market its product?
Los Angeles is, as everyone knows, a driving town.  One of the more intriguing social phenomenons in the last couple of years has been the onslaught of food trucks traveling around the city and Tweeting their latest location to their fans.  We think our infield is a perfect location for a Food Truck Festival so we've scheduled one for Sunshine Millions Day, Jan. 29.  We'll have Canter's Deli, Don Chow Tacos, Border Grill, The Grilled Cheese Truck, Baby's Badass Burgers, Dante Fried Chicken, South Philly Experience, Dogtown Dogs and some others. We had Takosher for a while (Kosher Tacos), but I heard they can't come on a Saturday.

We're likely going to have Snow Day which was a big hit with families when it we tried it before. All you guys back east may not think that's a big deal—snow in the winter—but in Los Angeles it's magical for kids.  The night before we covered a good part of the infield with snow and an artificial ice skating rink. We're probably going to do some karaoke contests, other live music events, photo day, bike day, maybe even bring your dog to the races day. We'll have shirt and hat and cooler bag giveaways, but to me the opening day calendar is still the best premium we give away. This year's theme is movies that have been shot at Santa Anita and the calendar includes two new great shots of Zenyatta.  Opening day, too, the Red Bull Air Force team will be landing somewhere in the Santa Anita infield — I hope.

In April, we're partnering with City of Hope, the premier cancer research and care center on the West Coast, to host our first-ever Post Parade to Victory Over Cancer.  On April 17, the last day of the meet, we'll be inviting everybody on this planet to walk down the length of the historic Santa Anita stretch and exit through the winner's circle. To take the walk, we're asking for a minimum $25 donation to City of Hope. Come with your friends, come  in groups, carry signs, sing songs, snap photos, dedicate the walk to a loved one and have a memorable time. We will ask the TOC, the CTT, the CHRB, the CTBA, any other group with initials as well as other tracks, jockeys, families, friends, racing fans and people who have never been to a racetrack before to take the walk in support of City of Hope.

CHRB commissioner Bo Derek has agreed to be a team leader as has Jill Baffert. On this day, we want horseracing to make a major contribution to City of Hope's Womens Cancers, Womens Cures program. City of Hope will dedicate their resources to create a Wellness Center that day in the infield.  Besides doing something wonderful for others, its an opportunity for us to  showcase Santa Anita, our great game and all the generous, good hearted people in it.

The David Milch series called “Luck”will soon make its debut on HBO. Do you think there will be any positive residuals from that series being  filmed at Santa Anita?
A small group of us from Santa Anita were privileged to see the nearly completed pilot of “Luck.” It's a magnificent opening episode and sets the stage for a great series. It is very exhilarating for all of us to have this series shoot nearly every day at Santa Anita. To witness Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte, Jon Ortiz, Dennis Farina, Michael Mann as well as David go about their work is pretty cool stuff.  Some of the Santa Anita staff and some horsemen have become extras, although they expressed no interest whatsoever in me. Seriously, this is television that you have come to expect of HBO on a Sunday night so it augurs very well for horseracing. It will create a stir in our industry, no doubt, but it will be the most honest and forthright depiction of horse racing ever.

Do you think Zenyatta or a movie like Secretariat has any carryover effect in tempting new people to come to the track?
I don't think movies do.  If I remember, right after Seabiscuit opened there was a short window where we saw a bump in attendance at Del Mar and I think the film got some credit.  Then again, it was Del Mar and they're terrific. Secretariat made a whole new generation aware of Penny Chenery and racing's carefree days of 40 years ago, but it had no discernible effect on business today. Zenyatta, on the other hand, is extraordinary and maybe her longest lasting legacy, long after she's had babies, is that she made new fans for horseracing. What more could you ask of a mare who gave everything she had every time she was asked.

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