Kentucky Derby for 'common man' has uncommon prices

Jan 22, 2008 8:37 PM

Burnt Offerings by Stan Bergstein | With a straight face not unlike that of a White House press spokesman, the vice president of guest services for Churchill Downs announced last week that his storied employer wanted "to create something for everybody" on Kentucky Derby Day.

That act of magnanimous generosity sparked my interest. What, I wondered, was Churchill Downs going to do for the common man on a day that scalpers treasure.

The Churchill spokesman, Tom Schneider, explained that the Derby :is not just about the multimillionaire being able to get high-end turnkey experience. It's about folks that can't afford that type of dollar."

How nice. What kind of folks might that cover, and what type of dollar would their "turnkey experience" require?

On the low end, it turns out, the number is $1,649. On the high end, $11,399. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. That covers both the Derby and the Oaks, for fillies, which has become a major event in itself the day before the Derby.

Churchill has linked up with an outfit called Quint Events, formed seven years ago, which specializes in packaging travel and hospitality along with event tickets. It does not sell tickets. It sells packages, for the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl, under an agreement with the National Football League, and has other major events as well.

So the common man who utilizes Quint will get, for his common man’s money, tickets, transportation and accommodations, depending on which level he buys, the low end or high end, or something in between.

We thought we would find out exactly how this works, so we visited the Quint web site, which turned out to be a fancy promotional blurb for Quint. It tells how it developed from "a 100-year-old travel agency" and offers a million incentives, along with sourcing, planning and on-site management. It calls itself "a solutions company," and identifies itself as "the Exclusive Worldwide Provider of Official Tickets and Hospitality Packages for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks" It also offers vacation packages to more than 300 destinations.

Quint's president and chief executive officer, Brian Learst, told the Lousiville Courier-Journal that buyers' contracts would be with Churchill Downs, not Quint, and Churchill's Tom Schneider would not say how many seats are involved with the packages. He did say the number is more than Churchill sold on its own last year, but less than 2% of of overall Derby and Oaks seating. That's what -- 50,000? 75,000? -- so the packages might involve 1,000 or 1,500 seats.

Churchill did not sell out the three tiers of packages that it offered on its own last year, but it plans to try a deal this year involving short term, personal seat licenses for one or two years that range from $80 a year for a bleacher seat in the grandstand to $12,000 a year in the Skye Terrace on the sixth floor of the new facility.

The latter is not for the common man, but Churchill is trying.

Elsewhere last week, a study in Columbus, Ohio, home of Ohio State University, revealed the startling information that college kids, including college athletes, are gambling. It quoted an NCAA report that more than 17% of Division I athletes admitted violating NCAA rules by betting on college sports.

A sports management professor at Ohio State, Frank Turner, told a Columbus Dispatch reporter those numbers did not surprise him, saying gambling is the second-fastest growing addiction on college campuses. We thought sex would top the list, but Turner says it is alcohol. The two can race as a strong entry.

It would be unfortunate if Ohio State is right in reporting that 975 of 2,000 students in a 2006 survey showed symptoms of compulsive gambling. Some of those 975 presumably are Ohio State athletes, and if, as the report suggests, some "are getting a bit over their heads" with online and other forms of gambling, it carries a distressing note for more than the kids and their parents, who presumably will be called on to pay the debts. It also rings alarms that have rung loudly in the past, of potential point shaving and other temptations for athletes from gamblers waiting in the wings for such problems to arise.

It has happened before, and can happen again.