Grading the NYRA Experience (Part 1 – Off-Track Customers)

This is the first in a two-part series aimed at evaluating the NYRA customer experience.  This has been a major thrust of the NYRA business plan, and you can hardly find an interview with NYRA President and CEO Christopher Kay in which he fails to mention improving customer experience.  Additionally, in May, NYRA hired Lynn LaRocca to join the senior management team as “Chief Experience Officer,” responsible for “all aspects of the relationship between NYRA and its guests, both current and future.”  (See May 27, 2014 NYRA press release, available at  Mr. Kay has made the guest experience a primary focus of his tenure as President, and Ms. LaRocca has now had several months on the job.  As (very) frequent guests of NYRA, both at the track and over the internet, the Thorobros have tried to critically examine the current guest experience and evaluate how the NYRA team is doing.

The first installment of this series examines the off-track experience.  While not discussed nearly as frequently as the on-track experience, the off-track consumer is arguably more important.  On any given day, there are more people watching the races on TV or the internet and far more money is wagered on a given day’s races from off-track than on-track.  Therefore, this post looks at the things that comprise the experience of watching the races off-track:  (i) the video quality and availability; (ii) the online wagering platform; (iii) the website and social media presence; and (iv) the information provided by the track handicappers, analysts and race caller.  Although it gets very little attention, on the whole NYRA does a very good job of presenting and providing its product to the racing fan that can’t get to the track.

Video quality and accessibility — A.

This is NYRA’s strong suit.  The video feed available on NYRA Rewards, NYRA’s ADW platform, is available in HD.  It is also available in Spanish in HD (big shout to our bilingual readers).  Watching racing in high definition cannot be compared to non-high definition.  The difference is stark, particularly when watching on a computer or iPad (or iPhone for those of us who watch the races at work, which of course is not me).  NYRA also provides its HD feed to people with a Roku box.  Also, NYRA tracks are available on both TVG and HRTV, which is great since many cable providers only carry one – such as Comcast in the Philadelphia area.  Therefore, no matter which horse racing network I have at home, I can get NYRA.  It doesn’t stop there – NYRA’s website posts race replays very quickly after each race is run, and in a format that is easily accessible right from the website home page.  The one criticism I have here is that the race replays are not posted in HD.  I have asked NYRA about this (via twitter) and NYRA claims they are working on it.  We shall see.  I suspect the issue lies with some contract NYRA has with Roberts Communications (the company that appears to provide the race replays), but that is pure speculation on my part.  If I am right though, I hate Roberts Communications – give me the replays in HD!

Online Wagering Platform – B+. 

I happen to like NYRA Rewards.  I know there are others, including my fellow Thorobros, who tell me that other sites, like Xpressbet, are better, but thanks to a ridiculous law I can’t use Xpressbet because I live too close to Parx Racing.  Regardless of that, though, NYRA Rewards is pretty damn good.  It’s got all the key tracks, both in the US and abroad, and for many of them, it has live video.  You can easily play two tracks at once if you have TVG/HRTV on your television and NYRA Rewards on your iPad, and as mentioned above, you can watch the NYRA feed in HD.  Also, the NYRA Rewards wagering platform is easy to use, regardless of whether you use NYRA2 or Classic (I prefer Classic, but I think both are pretty user-friendly).  The touchtone phone wagering is also convenient, as is the live operator wagering, although it is pretty clear that NYRA is trying to steer people away from using live operators by disqualifying wagers made in that format from certain rewards promotions.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly to ADW bettors, the rewards program is pretty good, with much higher rebates than other ADW providers.  The negatives about its rewards program are that the sign-up bonuses are pretty substandard (although they have been improving), and the rebate program is pretty difficult to understand.  For instance, there are different points for NYRA and non-NYRA tracks and different rebate percentages based on the type of bet made.  If NYRA asked for my opinion – and let me be clear, they haven’t – I would say they should move to a bit more generous sign-up bonus and had a much more straight-forward rebate system.

Website and Social Media Presence – A-.

For a quasi-governmental organization (at least for now), NYRA’s website is pretty good.  It is updated frequently, it has easily accessible information, it is generally well-organized and it is focused around the information users most want to see – big news stories, expert picks, twitter updates, etc.  It also has the easily-accessible race replays mentioned above, as well as easy-to-get-to entries and results.  The results and payouts are updated very quickly after a race goes official.  It also has a handy “live toteboard” function at the top of the homepage which is great.  My main criticism of the website is that the right hand side is super-cluttered with promotions and other boxes which lead to a messy feel – almost like a news-aggregation website where there is just content everywhere.  If NYRA could figure out a way to present that information in a crisper, more coherent format, I think it would make the website far more aesthetically pleasing.

NYRA also has a significant social media presence.  NYRA and its primary analysts, Andy Serling and Maggie Wolfendale, are omnipresent on twitter.  NYRA’s twitter account is also prolific, and it seems that anyone who tweets at NYRA with a picture from the track or a comment on the races will get a retweet or a response.  This is remarkable responsiveness, and I think it really does go a long way to making fans feel like they are part of the whole experience.  NYRA’s YouTube channel is also fantastic, posting race replays and analysis on regular basis.  Similarly, NYRA’s instagram account regularly posts great pictures.  NYRA also has a Facebook account, but since it’s not 2008 I doubt there are many people who visit that.

Information provided by the track handicappers, analysts and race caller – B

Anyone who visits this blog knows how the Thorobros feel about Tom Durkin – the best ever.  So we don’t need to revisit that in this post.  I mean, we are putting together our 40 favorite race calls from Durkin and our biggest concern is that we have too many great calls to choose from.  So that is an A+.  Also, Wolfendale is amazing – her analysis is spot on.  She has one of the best eyes for horses I have ever seen.  I urge readers to spend a day following her on twitter and paying attention to how many horses she picks out based on looks that end up winning or outrunning their odds.  It’s uncanny.  Her twitter personality is also endearing – well thought out tweets, gracious to people tweeting at her, etc.  So why does NYRA get a B?  Because the main NYRA analyst is Andy Serling.  We like Serling, but for some reason he has decided that it makes sense to be a condescending blowhard on twitter.  Perhaps that’s his real life personality (if so, he should work on that), but it is very abrasive.  And it’s bad for NYRA.  The expert bettors and handicappers are going to play the NYRA tracks no matter what, so Serling’s interactions with them are meaningless – they don’t build the brand or encourage anyone who is not already a fan to become one.  But if you follow Serling, you see many people tweet at him who are clearly only occasional bettors/racetrack-goers.  Even though they are not hardened racetrack vets, these people generally have spent time handicapping the races and have gone on twitter to offer their opinions to Serling.  Serling acts like a diner at a restaurant who is served rotten fish – he rejects the opinions out of hand and with extreme prejudice.  He generally takes a short and condescending tone that says to the bettor (and NYRA customer) “your opinion is stupid.”  When you are in an industry that is struggling in a difficult and competitive marketplace, it’s exactly what you DON’T need.  Let me be clear:  Serling is a good handicapper.  He knows what he is talking about.  He provides good information.  But in my view, he is a net negative for NYRA because most casual fans that interact with him on social media are dispatched as morons who should never have deigned to tweet @andyserling.

All in all, however, the off-track experience for a NYRA customer is very good.  There are some spots for improvement, but NYRA generally does a better job than its competitors.  The next installment in this series will be posted next week, after the Thorobros enjoy the Saratoga on-track experience this weekend.

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