New York Racing Association Makes Huge Strides in Customer Experience Department

When Lynn LaRocca began her newly created position of chief customer experience officer for the New York Racing Association−which manages three thoroughbred race tracks in the state: Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga−her No. 1 job priority was to create and deliver a new and better guest experience.

During her session, “Tradition Meets Tech: Bringing Modern Marketing Techniques to a Sport Built on History,”  last week at the 10th annual Loyalty Expo, LaRocca joked about an immediate technological barrier.

“They were still using Lotus 1-2-3,” she quipped about the discontinued spreadsheet program from Lotus Software, which was very popular in the 1980s.

Unlike the NFL, NHL, or Major League baseball, thoroughbred racing doesn’t have a national governing body. What’s more, after five years of state oversight, NYRA will be returned to private control and operate as a nonprofit organization after Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders agreed on a deal with the passage of the state budget last month.

LaRocca and her department have made huge strides in her three years to create a customer experience that sparks guests’ passions during what she calls the “evolution” of NYRA. The challenge is creating a customer experience that aligns with all expectations.

By analyzing data and leveraging voice of the customer feedback to understand what customers truly want, NYRA is focused on every channel and area that is a direct touch point for customers, including marketing, communication, the box office, sales, and a variety of customer hospitality services.

“The overall experience leads to customer retention,” LaRocca said.

Thoroughbred racing is steeped in history and Saratoga Race Course, which opened in 1863, was named by Sports Illustrated as one of the Top 10 Sports Venues of the 20th Century.

But, LaRocca noted, before she began at NYRA, horse racing had fallen on hard times. The state of New York came in during 2013 and requested NYRA to improve the quality of racing, improve its financial fitness and return to private control, and improve the customer experience.

“NYRA is in a state of transition as we modernize legacy infrastructure, develop new systems and improve processes to keep pace with business demands, while creating a more connected organization,” LaRocca said. “These efforts are helping to define a new guest experience while fueling our growth as an organization and sport.”

LaRocca offered her version of KPI:

Keeping it simple
People, processes, platform
Improve continuously

Under LaRocca’s direction, NYRA focused on digital: customer data capture, email-centric, upped social media presence, added a virtual venue feature, segmented customers from casual fans all the way up to serious bettors, and redesigned the NYRA website twice.

NYRA uses the journey-mapping process extensively to empower, enhance, enable, and engage customers.
“Everything has to be measurable,” LaRocca said.

After a difficult 2014 Belmont Stakes, which was negatively impacted by long lines, an inadequate supply of food and drinks, and transportation blunders, NYRA capped attendance at 90,000 for the 2015 Belmont Stakes, where American Pharoah raced into horse racing lore by becoming the 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed accomplished the feat in 1978.

NYRA launched a three-day festival of racing in 2015 with the Belmont Stakes as the centerpiece that showcased a quality of racing not seen outside of the Breeders’ Cup. The Goo Goo Dolls played after the races on Belmont Stakes Day that year.

LaRocca noted some key statistics connected to the NYRA customer experience:

78 percent database presentation, engaging fans year-round

Launched NYRA Bets in 2016 and Saratoga Live, which offers fun features and breaks down barriers, and created the Season Perks program at Saratoga.

Continuous positive feedback

Conclusion of 2016

Record attendance Saratoga: +6 percent
NYRA Bets: +60 percent over Year 1 projections
Web sessions: +11 percent
Unique users: +27 percent
Mobile sessions: +40 percent
Average time on pages 2:19: +104 percent
A former email list of 10,000 is now more than 200,000

Social Metrics through 2016

Facebook: +15 percent
Twitter: +25 percent
Instagram: +52 percent
YouTube: +38 percent

NYRA Now is the official video streaming app of The New York Racing Association, featuring thrilling thoroughbred horse racing from Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park, and Saratoga Race Course.

LaRocca said aggregating customer data is an ongoing process to NYRA can obtain a 360-degree view of the customer.

A ringing endorsement and esteemed honor for her department’s hard work came when the 2015 Belmont Stakes earned the Sports Event of the Year from the Sports Business Awards. This prodigious achievement for NYRA was flattered by the fact that its competition included Super Bowl 50 and the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Presented by Loyalty360 – Association for Customer Loyalty, Loyalty Expo has earned the reputation of being one of the industry’s premier events.

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