by Dean Towers
It’s time for year-end championships in both harness racing and the runners. Tonight and Saturday, the Breeders Crown is set to sail at Hoosier, and in one week’s time the Breeders’ Cup begins at Del Mar. For those of us who enjoy watching all types of racing, it’s a joyous time to be a fan and bettor of our equine athletes and the humans who work with them.
While a lot of us in the peanut gallery scream for the Crown to be relevant like the Breeders’ Cup, unfortunately it’s just not realistic. You can bet your bottom dollar the Breeders Crown would love to be more popular, and to do more things to attract attention like the Breeders’ Cup does, but it comes down to something it often all comes down to – money. The Breeders’ Cup has it, the Crown does not.
It’s not only the purse money. The Breeders’ Cup spends a good deal of its revenue on the brand, and on the event. They believe – and I don’t think they’re wrong – that without investing any and all profits back into the brand it will fail to grow. This is why they spend millions on TV, print and radio advertising; and why they spend so much on digital.
For the Crown it’s not at all like this, but it’s not because of a lack of effort.
This season, for example, Hoosier has done amazing work to help bring people out to the track. They’re treating the Crown races like their very own Super Bowl by harnessing local TV coverage, using strong event branding and a putting forth a real concerted effort to promote. The Breeders Crown team, to their credit, is right along with them, burning the midnight oil and what dollars they do have to attract a crowd. They should all be commended.
But it’s not enough, and it probably will never be enough.
This is why I think the Breeders’ Crown – and its assorted racetrack partners – needs to move into an area I feel they have not explored enough: the bet.
When I opened the program for this weekend’s races – just like I do every year – I see great horses, drivers and trainers; and millions in purses. But when it comes to the wagering, I see nothing special. Quite honestly, from a wagering perspective it looks like every other card at every other racetrack across the U.S.. In a lot of cases — because of the formidable heavy chalk in the Crown providing smaller payoffs — it can look even worse to a gambler.
One way to attack this negative branding is to jumpstart the card with seeded pools.
With, say, seven Breeders Crown races, why not throw $70,000 in carryover money — $10,000 each race – into the superfecta pools. On the final race of the night, why not seed the Super High Five with carryover money; or alternatively, mandatory pay a jackpot that race.
This one relatively simple policy change can change behavior, and how an event is viewed.
Instead of a fan or bettor seeing a note on their ADW account that there’s a big harness racing card tonight and saying to themselves, “maybe I will flip it on and watch a couple,” he or she is alerted to a huge carryover card with seeded money each race. That customer’s attitude can immediately change from passive interest, to active participant.
This tactic creates a buzz, and since the carryovers are all evening long, it’s a reason to watch and wager on every race.
Make no mistake, the Crown will have partners in this venture. ADW’s like Twinspires, or Premier Turf Club, or the DRF are all willing to promote the Crown card with more time and urgency, because their players will be playing into pools when they would usually be watching OSU play Penn State. It’s a carrot for their customers, and in turn, their businesses.
While some reading might think this is not a terrible idea, carryover money is still hard dollars that could go into a purse, or an on-track event. But as we’ve explored before, carryover money comes back to the business because it drives new dollars. This money is not lit on fire, it has return on investment.
The Breeders’ Cup uses its millions to pay a major network to show the races, for consultants to design apps and websites, and millions more in purses. This is not an option for the Breeders Crown or Hoosier. What is an option is making the Breeders’ Crown card not just a card we want to watch, but one we’d have to have our heads examined not to wager on.
I believe if this (among other things to attract the wagering public) is done correctly, in as little as five years the Breeders Crown handle could double. If that happens, there are more eyeballs driven to the event, there’s more buzz, there’s more revenue, and yes, the Breeders Crown brand grows.