Did Preakness Alcohol Ban Backfire?

Attendance drops sharply after track bans BYOB

The officials who chose to ban outside alcohol from the infield at the Preakness this year had the best of intentions. As they say, however, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Port-a-potty races and flying beer cans were far from safe activities for the thousands of people who crammed into the infield on race day. They've been dangerous for a long time, though, and choosing this year as the line in the sand could have a sizable impact on the future of the race. 

Why? Magna Entertainment, owners of the Preakness, filed for bankruptcy in March and said they were considering auctioning off the race and Pimlico, its home track. The state of Maryland put an end to those thoughts by threatening to seize the track under eminent domain law. Rumors have bounced around about Orioles owner Peter Angelos, or some other deep-pocketed Baltimorean, buying the track, but nothing has come to fruition. That leaves Pimlico staggering financially, and Saturday did nothing but push the track closer to the brink. 

Attendance dropped 30 percent, or nearly 35,000 people, and most of the drop can be directly attributed to the change of policy in the infield. It was sparsely populated on Saturday, even with ZZ Top performing and alcohol still on sale, and that doesn't figure to change in the future without a reversal of the policy. Reversing the policy will be quite difficult at this point, as those good intentions stand in the way of just throwing the door open to a rowdy, drunken bash all over again. 

There's been talk about the Preakness leaving Baltimore for many years, and it may just remain talk. But if anyone was looking for an argument against keeping the race in town, they got it on Saturday.  

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.

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