SARATOGA SPRINGS — As another summer begins to wrap up, early indications suggest that it has been another positive season for the local economy in Saratoga Springs.
The Saratoga Race Course has continued to attract strong numbers, surpassing one million paid fans for the eighth consecutive year, excluding 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a total paid attendance of 1,105,683 according to a press release from NYRA.
The Race Course saw an average daily paid attendance of 27,642, which is reportedly the first year since 2019 that it has drawn an average over 27,000 per day. The all-sources handle was reported at just under $800 million, a slight decrease from 2022, which was mainly attributed to inclement weather. The release states that 65 races were forced off the turf this summer due to weather.
“Thanks to the fans who visited Saratoga Race Course over these 40 days, and all those who watched and wagered from home, the popularity of the summer meet continues to exceed all expectations,” said NYRA President & CEO Dave O’Rourke in the release. “The world-class racing held here each summer is made possible by the owners, trainers, jockeys and backstretch community who collectively dedicate so much to the horses and the sport.”
The Saratoga County Industrial Development Agency released a study in January conducted by Camoin Associates on the economic impact of destinations in the city, including the Saratoga Race Course.
According to the study, which measured figures from the 2021 season, the Race Course is responsible for over $370 million in sales and nearly 3,000 jobs annually. It also generates roughly $2.3 million in tax revenue for Saratoga County.
Pat McKenna, NYRA VP of Communications, said the study proves “the popularity of the summer meet is at an all-time high” in recent years, which he said in turn benefits the local economy.
“The importance of the summer meet is not strictly within the gates. Obviously, world-class racing is exciting and dynamic,” said McKenna. “We see that each and every day of those 40 days. But the enduring and growing economic impact outside of the gates, what those visitors mean to hotels in Saratoga, in Clifton Park, in Albany, and throughout the Capital Region. As the support for the summer meet and the popularity has grown, it means that economic impact continues to expand beyond just Saratoga Springs itself.”
Todd Shimkus, President of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said that his interactions with the local business community this summer were “entirely positive.”
“Overall, anecdotally, I had incredibly positive comments from folks,” Shimkus said. “I think the combination of bad weather and some of the national headlines relative to inflation certainly, I would say, caused some anxiety. I think there were some folks that were being conservative in their estimates in terms of what might happen. But all numbers pointed up from what I could see.”
Marianne Barker, co-owner of Impressions of Saratoga and The Dark Horse, said many of the store’s products were well-received, noting both stores “had a great season.”
“For our business, and our type of business, this is our Christmas,” said Barker. “Where most people look forward to the holiday season for their business to go crazy, we look to the summer. We love it.”
According to Darryl Leggieri, President of Discover Saratoga, the 2023 summer was “one for the books,” despite the weather. He said that it was a “very robust season” for Discover Saratoga’s lodging partners.
“Revenues were up, year over year, for sure,” Leggieri said. “When people come to stay in a destination, they spend money. So our retailers and our restaurants, all did very well throughout the city and Saratoga County as a whole.”
Shimkus also emphasized this, saying if hotels do well, “everyone else does well.”
“The early indications are that the hotels did really well, that demand was up slightly, and that the average daily rate that visitors were willing to pay was also slightly up,” added Shimkus.
While figures for the entire summer have not yet been released, lodging trends reported by Discover Saratoga stated that, in the month of July, the revenue per available room had increased by 6.2% in the City of Saratoga Springs, while the average daily rate increased by 14.4%.
“Despite the concerns about the economy and high prices, folks were still very confident to travel, and those numbers support it,” Leggieri said.
Entering the fall, Shimkus said the short-term outlook is strong, noting the calendar of LiveNation performances at SPAC continues through September, and mentioned numerous other events planned in the city in upcoming months.
“The City Center also starts kicking in now with events. And there’s some festivals coming up,” said Shimkus, naming The Saratoga Giant Pumpkin Fest, the Fall Festival, the Victorian Streetwalk, and the New Year’s Fest as examples.
“Our fall calendar looks like we’re going to continue to drive visitors and people together here in Saratoga, which again is just great for the local economy and the businesses that are here.”