Mississauga only part of Woodbine push for customers

File: Horses cross the finish line during the running of the 153rd Queen’s plate at Woodbine Racetrack in Etobicoke. (Canadian Press)

As Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) cuts thoroughbred race days this year, President and CEO Nick Eaves says Mississauga will only be part of a larger push to attract new customers.

“We’ve got a marketing focus that manages our core group of customers,” Eaves told YourMississaugaBiz.com Thursday during a news conference at the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame.

Eaves said while WEG will look at Mississauga’s proximity to its flagship racetrack, Woodbine, for a marketing focus, he also mentioned targeting cultural demographics that may provide a strong customer base.

“We’re trying to target the communities that culturally make the most sense and the communities that are geographically most logical for us to get a new customer who is most likely to come to the races and bet on a racing product,” he said, citing the affinity for racing in countries like Hong Kong and Japan. “But it is younger, sports-minded customers who we’re really trying to target. It’s those strategies in combination.”

Eaves also explained that Mississauga wasn’t a particularly large customer base for the Woodbine Racetrack because there are already three Champions off-track wagering locations in the city.

“So on the one hand we want people to come to the racetrack, from Mississauga and from everywhere else,” he said. “Yet on the other hand we recognize that as a secondary strategy you have to have a way to distribute the product into the market. We’re trying to balance serving that market.”

The WEG executive said going to the Woodbine Racetrack on Rexdale Drive in Etobicoke is more about an entertainment experience, whereas going to a Champions location is about distribution of that wagering product. “They’re two different customers,” Eaves explained.

Eaves said it was imperative his company had a smart marketing strategy that would enable them to reach those customers that haven’t yet chosen racing as their entertainment or gaming choice.

“We must continue to focus intently on bringing new customers to our business. It’s a competitive field and it’s a tough fight but that’s our focus.”

On Thursday, Eaves confirmed WEG would still be holding the Queen’s Plate as part of its thoroughbred racing season this year, but the company would be cutting the number of thoroughbred race days to a total of 133, a reduction of 34 days from the previous year.

Last year the Ontario Liberal government announced that the slots-at-racetracks revenue sharing program at Woodbine would be terminated March 31, 2013. On Thursday, Eaves confirmed there would be a switch to a rent agreement for an annual fixed amount.

The Ontario government signed a transition funding deal Wednesday with WEG in a move the province says will ensure a sustainable horse racing industry in future.

Deals with other Ontario racetracks are expected in the next few weeks as the Ontario government weans the industry off $345 million in yearly subsidies in its fight to balance the province’s books.

In addition to the three off-betting Champions locations in Mississauga, WEG has two locations in Brampton and one in Oakville on North Service Road West. WEG also owns Mohawk Racetrack in Campbellville, Ont.

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