Harrisburg, PA — Pennsylvania’s statewide marketing program for horse racing, both Standardbred and Thoroughbred, continued to produce positive results for the 2021-22 cycle, according to representatives of the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association.
A review of the last period and a look at 2022-23 was provided during the Oct. 25 Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission meeting. The PHRA, created by the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition, which is made up of horsemen’s groups and breeders’ associations in the state, includes a statewide marketing plan in conjunction with targeted promotions and educational programs at the state’s six racetracks.
Ashley Eisenbeil, director of marketing for the PHRC, which oversees the PHRA, said that in 2021 and into 2022 the focus was on bringing people back to live racing events after COVID-19. There was a 16.4 percent increase in pari-mutuel handle on live racing, she said, even with a decrease in the number of live racing days compared with 2019.
“It’s a key performance indicator for our statewide branding campaign,” Eisenbeil said, noting that the PHRA staffed big-event days at all six racetracks.
Pete Peterson, president of the PHRA, said the mission continues to be increasing public awareness of racing and breeding, increasing handle and growing the fan base. The organization, he said, will continue to take a hybrid approach — utilizing online resources and driving traffic to live racing events.
The PHRA website in the last cycle experienced a 58.5 percent increase in traffic, with the page that offers links to free past performances on specific days throughout the year coming in at number two. The website also has separate pages for the Spanish-speaking fans and participants.
“We’re doing more to customize our message to that community,” Peterson said.
Eisenbeil said providing educational content including videos has been successful. More than 360 children from 19 classrooms participated in virtual programs, and 15 classrooms responded by providing feedback. She said such school outreach programs will continue, and that the PHRA hopes to have enough staff in 2023 to again have a presence at some of the harness racing fairs held around Pennsylvania.
Anthony Salerno, who oversees the Standardbred bureau for the PHRC, said roughly $2.3 million in purses was paid during the fairs. Before the Oct. 7 finals at Hollywood Casino at The Meadows, there were 21 scheduled stops at 17 venues, but the final regular season event at Meadville in Crawford County was canceled because of rain.
Salerno also said there was a 10 percent increase in the number of 2-year-olds participating at the fairs in 2022.
A meeting will be held in January to map out the 2023 schedule, he said.