The Dave & Gabe Show will be a step forward for the Big M

“Cater to the customers you would choose if you could choose your customers”

by Dean Towers

Just this week, the Meadowlands announced that its broadcast team is getting a refresh (full announcement here). With the incredibly sad passing of Sam McKee (along with Jennifer Bongiorno moving on to new pursuits), Pompano’s Director of Racing Gabe Prewitt and past Big M stalwart Dave Brower have been pushed front and center.

I applaud this move, because I believe it has a chance to be valuable for the Meadowlands’ long-term handle prospects.
Allow me to share a story.

LEGO is a Dutch company that you and I are probably very familiar with, and for years it did pretty well. Kids loved making buildings, or animals, or entire towns out of those neat little bricks. But by the 1980s, the world was beginning to change.

Study after study, big data, and just about every business leader was talking about the “digital natives” – people who were born later than 1980. The theory said that this demographic wanted instant gratification; they did not want to spend time on hard-to-learn (and time consuming) LEGO projects any longer.

In response, LEGO made their building blocks bigger, making their projects easier to complete. They diversified by buying LEGO theme parks and creating kids’ clothing lines. They tried to leverage their brand by being everything to everyone.

The strategy failed miserably.

“We are losing money with negative cash flow, and a real risk of debt default could break up the company,“ LEGO’s CEO told the Ashcroft Report in 2004.

Then, more than a decade ago (as told by Martin Lindstrom in “Small Data”), researchers decided to study the digital native, not with big data, but on a one-on-one basis. One interaction with a young LEGO customer ended up changing the company forever.

While at the home of an 11-year-old German boy, researchers asked him what his most proud possession was. He pointed to a pair of old Adidas sneakers. He said those shoes – which soles were worn in a very unique way — were his “gold medal” because they were evidence; evidence he was very good at something, in this case skateboarding. As the researchers dug further and further, they learned that in some pre-adult markets, social currency can be attained by being the master of a skill. This was a light bulb moment.

Almost immediately, the company began shifting focus back to its core product. If mastering the skill of LEGO was worth something, they made smaller bricks to make projects more difficult. They designed with more detail; they promoted how hard the puzzles were to complete; they created prizes and tournaments for LEGO masters. Their marketing was focused solely on the product and spoke directly to these young, engaged users; not their parents, or anyone else, just them.

In one of the more remarkable turnarounds in business history (certainly in the digital environment), sales in 2015 were over $2 billion, and LEGO surpassed Mattel as the world’s largest toy company.

Back to horses and tote boards, instead of bricks and skateboards: the LEGO experience provides a strong lesson.

The Meadowlands is the greatest gambling racetrack in harness racing, and I don’t think that’s going out on a limb. No, it doesn’t have the purses or the horses of a Yonkers, but for a pure gamble — and if you want to bet harness racing in serious fashion — you bet the Meadowlands. As I noted in a two part series for the Thoroughbred Daily News recently, for tracks like the Big M whom have this draw, increasing handle and interest is about the wagering; more than anything else.

“When someone is betting (thoroughbreds) on a weeknight they aren’t tuning in for pomp and pageantry or for great horses. They are hard-core super-users, looking for action and bettable races. These tracks should give that market what it wants. Through their deliverable – a simulcast feed – I believe everything should be about the gamble.”

I think the recent Big M announcement addresses this.

Dave has an excellent grasp of handicapping and is a solid line-maker. Gabe has a strong understanding of gambling, and he walks the walk and talks the talk. If Gabe and Dave (along with Justin Horowitz and the TV team) can create a simulcast product that uses their strengths – and speaks directly to the stats and handicapping super user – I think it’s a big step forward.

Most simulcast feeds are about sameness and speaking to everyone. At a gambling racetrack the feed should be about statistics, warm-ups, scoredowns, interviews with drivers and trainers about their stock in the upcoming races, and a focus on betting customers. The Meadowlands, in my view, has a chance to do that this summer, and they will stand out if they succeed at it.

For those who tune in for the majesty of our fine harness horses or the stakes racing, that’s of course still going to be there. It’s what a harness race is to a fan, and to many participants who do not gamble. But that audience is going to watch anyway, and always will watch.

Marketer Seth Godin once wrote:

“One vestige of the TV-industrial complex is a need to think mass. If it doesn’t appeal to everyone, the thinking goes, it’s not worth it. No longer. Find the group that’s most profitable. Figure out how to develop for, advertise to, or reward them. Cater to the customers you would choose if you could choose your customers.”

LEGO learned that their customers weren’t into theme parks or clothing; they wanted to build LEGOs. Harness racing’s heavy users are not watching a simulcast show for the tangential stories, they’re watching because they’re gambling on the harness racing product.

I believe that adding Dave and Gabe to the team can make a difference at the Meadowlands. I fully realize this isn’t a low takeout bet, or bigger fields with more betting variance. But I think it’s a good first step that should not be discounted.