Marketing mishap: La. Downs is running the race backwards

An open letter to Mr. Kevin Preston, President and Owner of Louisiana Downs:

Mr. Preston,

Since you don’t live here — although I am told you visit often — I want to make you aware of something.

Your strategy for drawing people to the racetrack side of Louisiana Downs isn’t working.

How do I know?

I’ve seen for myself. My fiancé’ and I had a great time July 4th, spending the sweltering afternoon sitting in the air-conditioned grandstand, watching an exciting, seven-race card.

Even with free admission to the first and second floors, we did not have a lot of company. That, despite six posts made to the Downs’ Facebook page that day, no doubt hoping to draw a big holiday crowd. Those posts promoted things like food trucks, a video game truck, and something about trying to bust open a box by swinging what looks like a sledgehammer.

Not a single post about horse racing.

The attendance? I asked the Downs’ spokesperson if track management keeps daily numbers. By the time last evening I was told “Yes” — almost 24 hours after my question — it was too close to my deadline for those numbers to be provided. My best guess? No more than 200 people in the second-floor grandstand, and maybe that many in third-floor box seats. The first floor? There was plenty of elbow room.

Belmont Stakes day, you were surely hopeful of drawing a nice-sized crowd, not only to watch live racing, but to watch and bet on the third leg of the Triple Crown. Again, the Downs made several Facebook posts. I saw them while sitting in the cool comfort of my home on a 100-degree day. What I didn’t see was a post suggesting a great way to beat the heat would be to come to the races and sit inside.

Instead, the posts promoted getting food OUTSIDE, and encouraged me to do the “Belmont Boogie” while listening to a musician perform OUTSIDE. I checked The Weather Channel app.

The heat index was 105!

Not a single post about horse racing.

Mr. Preston, this is the ridiculously hot and humid Deep South, where 100-degree, god-awful humidity days are the rule, not the exception. Why would people drive “all the way out” to Louisiana Downs, to stand outside and eat an ice cream cone or take their child to a bounce house?

It appears horse racing has become a sideshow instead of the main attraction.

This is hard to understand, because I am told you genuinely care about horse racing, and have made many improvements for the horses and horsemen. They now live and work in much better conditions. Trainers feel like their concerns and ideas are being heard.

The Downs is full of great stories. Each Tuesday, the Journal runs one of those stories, thanks to a local businessman and horse owner who sponsors them. So, the track gets its name, image and likeness in front of thousands of potential customers, at the (literal) expense of someone else.

I was a local television sportscaster back when the track pulled in 15,000-20,000 people each weekend. I don’t think — I know — robust media coverage was a big reason. Get this: The track had someone hand-deliver to each station, video tapes (that tells you how long ago we’re talking about) of the day’s races.  That meant the track was almost certain to get coverage on the evening sportscasts.

This meet — to my knowledge — it’s been static and color bars.  I asked a local TV sportscaster why his station — or any other the stations — don’t air stories on Louisiana Downs.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” he said.

This market’s traditional newspaper? Not a single story has run.

One more suggestion. Make it easy for people to find out what time the races start. I went to the track’s website. I clicked the “Live Racing Calendar” tab, which seemed the logical place to find post times. No such luck. I have since discovered that post times appear randomly on the website’s home page.

Two months ago today, the thoroughbred meet began with great momentum. You were a cheerleader, and said all the right things. You had people excited about a Louisiana Downs revival.

I hope you will consider promoting the sport, and not the sideshow.

Before it’s too late.

Contact Tony at SBJTonyT@gmail.com

Photo by TONY TAGLAVORE