HAMBURG, N.Y. --- The 'Back To The Track' promotion returns to Buffalo Raceway on Sunday afternoon (July 13) with a 1:05 p.m. post time. It's a way to bring long-time horse players and newcomers to the track for a fun-filled day of activities for all ages.
The day will include the harness racing bingo game, free t-shirts, pony rides, sno-cones and cotton candy along with some great racing including the New York Sire Stakes Series for 2-year-old pacing fillies.A total of 13 races are scheduled.
The man in charge of the 'Back To The Track' event at Buffalo Raceway is Director of Operations Jon Cramer. He said of the upcoming promotion, "This was an idea by the United States Trotting Association and we've been involved since its inception. They've taken the lead role in the promotion of it. They've also done a great job with it along with the guaranteed pool promotions such as the $5,000 Pick-4 we've had."
And while the USTA has been involved in getting people back to the track on a national level, it's Cramer who is spearheading the Buffalo Raceway campaign to increase business at the Hamburg half-mile oval.
"I'm committed to Western New York and harness racing here," Cramer said. "My family and I are all from here and I can't see myself leaving."
But harness racing was the furthest thing on Cramer's mind when he graduated from Keuka College with a marketing degree. He said, "The only thing a knew about harness racing was that there were horses involved. I wasn't involved in the industry at all. When I was growing up as a kid, I wasn't thinking I wanted to work at a race track. It never crossed my mind.
"I think I saw harness racing once before I got the job here," Cramer added. "I worked for the Erie County Fair full-time and as an intern. For marketing, it's a sprint with the fair because it's just 12 days long. In harness racing, it's a marathon." Cramer, who also got his feet wet in marketing at Walt Disney World, with the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Bisons, said, "When I took the job at Buffalo Raceway, I really didn't know the harness racing end at all."
Chief Operating Officer of Buffalo Raceway Jim Mango said of getting Cramer, "Denny Lang (Chief Executive Officer of the Erie County Agricultural Society and Buffalo Raceway) told me about Jon when he was working on the Fairgrounds. Denny said Jon would be a good fit here on the racing side. I didn't know anything about Jon but we needed someone because we had long-time employees leaving back then. When we first met, Jon and I sat down and said this is what we have to do to succeed here."
Well, it has become a perfect fit for Mango, Cramer and Buffalo Raceway.
"Jon was a quick study. He picked up things quickly," Mango said. "His value has grown as I've gotten older."
Cramer was the Marketing and Simulcasting Coordinator for five years and now has been in the role of Director of Operations for the past two seasons.
"I am kind of like the jack of all trades at our track," Cramer said. "You have to be with a small staff like we have here. I've found the more you know, the better off you'll be. If I can't find the answer to a problem, I'll call in an expert."
Mango said of Cramer, "Jon really knows a lot about marketing and simulcasting. He does everything I don't want to do and things I can't do," he added with a laugh.
"He's in his 30's so he's a perfect fit for using social media," Mango continued on to say. "Social media is something that has long passed me by but Jon knows how to use it."
The 34-year-old Cramer said, "I think social media is very important now. We are finding ways to keep the fans engaged with the track and the horsemen. It's the generation now. Using all the social media outlets is so important to keep everyone informed."
Simulcasting continues to grow at Buffalo Raceway as the export signal is up 20 percent this season. Since the arrival of Cramer, Buffalo's export handle has grown from $7.1 in 2006 to what will exceed $14 million in 2014.
"It was an area that I thought we were lacking in," Cramer said of the simulcasting numbers he saw at Buffalo Raceway when he first started. "I think we've made strides in getting into some key outlets. I attend the annual simulcast conference and put on my salesman's hat."
What has also help drive up the export numbers was the new television graphics that the track added at the start of the 2013 season. "It made our simulcast product much better," Cramer said. "We added new cameras, new sound, new video presentations and graphics and improved lighting in the front stretch."
Mango said, "I've think we have a pretty good relationship with our simulcast outlets now. We give some priorities to some like the time we race. I also think we've developed a pretty good relationship with TVG thanks to Jon and (former Buffalo Raceway announcer) Gabe Prewitt."
Michael Carter, Buffalo Raceway's first year announcer said of Cramer, "Jon is very professional. He has great knowledge about the business side but equally cares about the harness racing side as well. I know he cares about the long-term stability of Buffalo Raceway. I also really appreciate him as well for taking a chance on me as an announcer."
So for the guy who knew little about harness racing when he started, he is now completing his seventh season.
"The fun part of my job is I learn something new every day. It's always a challenge. But we all have to continue to work together, the track and the horsemen," Cramer said.
And with Cramer still learning, he's keeping all facets of Buffalo Raceway on the front burner.
by Brian J. Mazurek, for Buffalo Raceway