Tracks like to team with stadiums


If the Washington Redskins move to a stadium next to Laurel Race Course, it won't be the first marriage between an established racetrack and a sports team.

In New Jersey, The Meadowlands sports complex consists of three buildings that are home to two NFL franchises, an NBA and an NHL team, season-long college football (Rutgers) and basketball (Seton Hall) games and such events as the National Horse Show and weekend flea markets, as well as year-round live or simulcast thoroughbred and harness racing.

In Florida, Calder Race Course sits on the same block as Joe Robbie Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins and Florida Marlins.

In California, Hollywood Park is across the street from The Forum, a 17,500-seat facility built by Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke in 1966, which is home to the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Kings.

In Massachusetts, Foxboro Park, a five-eighths-mile harness track owned by the Westwood Group, shares parking lots with the New England Patriots, housed at Foxboro Stadium.

Officials at all four tracks said recently that the racing industry benefits from its association with the other sports, either by sharing something as practical as parking or something as intangible as being part of a larger sports picture.

But benefits vary from track to track, depending on the relationship that exists with the management of the joint facilities.

There seems to have been a negative effect in Miami. Calder president C. Kenneth Dunn said that the track registered 6 percent declines in handle and attendance last summer, partly attributable to the Marlins' first season.

"But that's statistically hard to prove," Dunn said, "and there were other factors involved such as the sluggish economy, negative press in the area [reports of murders of foreign tourists] and a decision to simulcast our races at Hialeah, which was stopped after the first 12 days.

"Still, there was increased competition for the entertainment dollar, and there was something just next door that attracted 3 million fans that wasn't there before."

At The Meadowlands racetrack, "The biggest plus for racing is being included in the largest entertainment destination in northern New Jersey," said Jim Gagliano, director of operations at The Meadowlands. "It legitimizes racing. It means we don't stand alone. It's like operating a boutique in Rockefeller Center."

There is some spillover of fans.

"After a hockey game, for instance, we might get an extra 400 people to come to the races," Gagliano said. "We honor their ticket stubs [for free admission]. And I noticed after the Army-Navy game, there were a lot of midshipmen roaming around the track with their heads down."

On that day, Gagliano said, The Meadowlands, which has parking for 27,000 cars, was host to nearly 100,000 people -- 70,000 for Army-Navy, 3,000 for afternoon racing simulcasts, 11,000 for live night racing and 14,000 for a New Jersey Devils-Chicago Blackhawks hockey game.

"We spend a lot of time on scheduling," Gagliano said. "And we have huge parking and security forces, maybe as many as 2,000 people working in those departments. We keep the parking [for each event] separate. We don't want the race fan cut off by someone going to see Disney On Ice."

At the proposed Redskins stadium at Laurel, there would be parking for about 25,000 cars, said track operator Joe De Francis.

During Giants and Jets games, there is no live racing at The Meadowlands. "On those days, they [the NFL teams] get the property," Gagliano said.

He added that there is some joint promotion between sports, but because of the gambling aspect of racing, it is limited by team managements. "For example, none of the teams have casinos as sponsors, and they lump us in the same category," Gagliano said.

At Hollywood Park, publicity director Rick Simon said there is much more cross-promotion between racing and the Lakers and Kings.

"We have a great relationship with the folks across the street," Simon said. "We do ticket giveaways, and we each use each others' reader boards to advertise our product.

"We also do a lot of joint community promotion. The mayor of TC Inglewood [where the track and arena are located] likes to advertise the area as the place people in Southern California come to play."

Hollywood Park is in the process of building a card club, a shopping mall and eventually a music dome on its property.

Caton Bredar, media manager at Calder Race Course, said the biggest benefit the track gets from Joe Robbie Stadium is the shared location.

"People might not know where Calder is, but they know how to get to the stadium," she said. "In all of our advertising we use the tag line -- 'located right next to Joe Robbie Stadium.' "

Carol Malcolm, media relations director at Foxboro Park, echoes Bredar's sentiments.

"It seems to add a little zest to the track when people call up and we can say we are beside where the Patriots play," she said.

But Malcolm said that is about the sole benefit of the racetrack-football connection.

Both facilities became entrenched in a parking-lot battle when Foxboro Park added an abortive thoroughbred meet last year. The Patriots reclaimed a chute used for the races when the meet failed and turned it into parking facilities.

"We can't use the parking lot at all when they have an event, even if we need it for 100 cars," Malcolm said.

In addition to 158 days of live harness racing, Foxboro Park is open year-round as a simulcast center, taking as many as 12 signals daily.

"On the day after Christmas, after racing fans have been sitting at home for two days and are chafing at the bit to bet, we are closed because there is a Patriots game," she said. "That will cause us to miss a big day."

Malcolm also added that there is no cross-promotion between the two sports.

"We've heard that the NFL doesn't want the players seen at the racetrack during the season, although I've seen a few here and [Patriots coach] Bill Parcells comes and peeks in every once in a while."

Greg Aiello, a spokesman for the NFL, said the league prohibits promotional appearances and advertising spots for players, coaches and other NFL employees in gambling-related activities.

"But they can do what they want to as a private person as far as attending racetracks," he said.

Hal Handel, executive vice president for racing at The Meadowlands, said that basically the track has its own set of customers. "Except for the football games and a few concerts, the stadium is just a big empty building. We feel more of an impact from what goes on at the arena."

De Francis said he doesn't anticipate needing to protect racetrack rights concerning parking facilities and scheduling conflicts in regard to the Redskins.

"We're only talking about eight home games and a few other limited events a year," he said.

However, if the Bullets and Capitals were to build an arena adjacent to the track (in what's called the Howard County parking lot on the west side of the grounds), it might have more of an impact on racing. But apparently those talks are just in preliminary stages.

In Florida, Bredar said Calder initiated a promotional campaign last summer with the Marlins.

"We did ticket giveaways, showing our races on the stadium's television screens," Bredar said. "Each section of the stadium would be given a horse. If the horse won, people in that section received free admission to the track."

She said that, like The Meadowlands, there is not much relationship between the ballplayers and racing.

"Gulfstream [Park] once hired Joe Namath as its spokesman. But I don't think we have that kind of money to hire someone like Dan Marino," Bredar said. "But we do get players and coaches coming to the races. Another plus is sportswriters. On the way to the games, a lot of the beat writers stop here and bet."

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