Since beer worked so well as an enticement last year, the Preakness is breaking out the hard bodies.
Before the horses compete Saturday in the 136th running of the Preakness Stakes, beach volleyball will be the main attraction on the Pimlico infield.
This is the Preakness' latest stab at boosting attendance, particularly among the always coveted young male demographic, since it banned fans from bringing their own alcohol to the track after the 2008 race. In 2009, attendance dropped by 35,000, which led to last year's introduction of unlimited beer for $20. That was enough to post an increase of 18,000, and the hope is that the lure of world-class volleyballers and their glistening physiques can push the figures closer to the pre-ban levels.
(Yes, there is a men's event, but the press release did not feature any photos of male players showing off their tans next to the horses.)
So what's in it for the volleyball players, aside from the honor (or at least the distinction) of having played at what some locals call The People's Party? Publicity, pure and simple.
The National Volleyball League is the newest version of the pro beach volleyball tour. The AVP shut down last summer after running out of money, although it plans to relaunch. The Preakness is the first of six tournaments for the NVL this year, and a splashy debut could help generate the buzz it needs.
The NVL will not have marquee attractions such as Olympic stars Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh, which makes it a tougher sell to the casual fan. Its remaining events are scheduled for Miami, Malibu, Virginia Beach, Aspen, Colo., and Long Beach, Calif.
Ultimately this is case where the Preakness and the NVL are hoping that 1+1=3. Gotta love the creativity of capitalism. The ownership of the Pimlico track has survived Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings and is focused on reaching a new generation of fans that doesn't quite buy into the tradition of the sport.
That's why the other new wrinkle this year aside from volleyball is the introduction of a mascot named Kegasus. Like a figure from Greek mythology, Kegasus is half-man, half-horse, but there's no question that his beer belly is distinctly human.