HRU Feedback (2018-03-11)

Flaws in the logic of devoting 5 per cent of purses to marketing

I see that the Sunday, March 4, 2018 issue of HRU contains an anonymously sponsored page (page 2 of the 2018-03-04 edition) suggesting that USTA members push USTA directors to support a member survey identifying member support or opposition to a proposed 5 per cent withholding of purse monies earned at gaming supported tracks, for the express purpose of better marketing our sport in the hope of offsetting a diminishing and aging customer/participant base.

While I understand the gravity of our aging industry base, and while I think the industry certainly needs increased and better-directed marketing, I find myself annoyed enough by this page, that I can’t help but comment.

Whoever, or whatever group, is behind this suggestion should identify themselves. Anonymity is never a selling point or confidence builder, and the identity of the idea’s proponent is relevant to possible personal objectives, conflicts of interest, and agenda.

The notion that marketing efforts aimed at re-energizing the standardbred industry should be supported disproportionately by tracks that benefit from gaming is interesting, and has merits and concerns associated with it. While I may be misinterpreting the intent, I infer that the 5 per cent purse cut contemplates primary funding to come from owners losing 5 per cent of purses won, and, perhaps, from trainers and drivers, who might be expected to also lose 5 per cent of purses earned. I fail to see any reference to matching donations emanating from gaming related racetrack owners, from breeders, sales companies, and other industry sectors that have at least as large a vested interest in industry viability as do owners, trainers, and drivers. Whatever funding may some day be created for this and other efforts at industry resuscitation, they must be equally borne by all industry sectors that would benefit from a healthier industry. Certainly owners cannot be expected to be the primary funders! Even the non-gaming racetrack beneficiaries should participate via conditional debt should they subsequently stand to benefit from an initiative initially funded by the few more financially liquid racetracks.

There are innumerable potential sources of industry funding. Purse withholding, buyers premiums from industry auctions, per cent sale price surcharges, funding through a potential not for profit foundation created for the purpose of raising capital for specified industry purposes — these, and many other ideas, can be utilized… but the guiding principle must be relatively equal sharing of the financial burden from ALL industry sectors.

Another annoying aspect of this requested survey is that the survey itself will be flawed unless universal contribution from all sectors is spelled out, and unless the survey addresses the mechanism and/or individuals or new entities which would be responsible for creating, directing, assessing and implementing the survey and follow up actions. Without the creation of a new, independent organization to run and implement major marketing efforts, the financial contributions of all will be wasted. There is no professional individual or organization within our industry capable of properly handling the creation of a project like this. Without the creation of a new organization specifically created for this purpose, manned by non horse industry professionals and led by a top marketing/turn around specialist — all fully paid at outside industry norms — this survey and all the marketing dollars in the world will be a waste of time and money.

In other words, we need to lay the proper structural foundation before we start figuring out where monies will come from. Equality of contribution is essential in any case. Complete pre-support from all industry sectors to the creation of a new entity to assess, address and implement appropriate industry marketing efforts is crucial. And it would be foolish not to broaden the reach of this new organization to also act as an ombudsman for our industry, empowering and funding it to restructure all administrative/governmental interfaces with an eye to upgrading our industry’s response time and administrative accountability, to eliminating wasted funding, administrative overlaps, and to raise and administrate needed funding for a legal war chest, and to oversee an outreach program to governmental contacts encouraging a joint industry/governmental effort to bring the industry to stand alone profitability. Identification by our industry of a real path to profitability (starting with racetrack profitability) will generate government cooperation borne out of perceived mutual interest. Without that, only government opposition will result…and we will lose that fight!

Let’s focus on all of us working to create this needed foundation/organization! As in any business environment, people are only as good as the comfort level they feel in their job allows them to be, and to the extent that their clear understanding of job parameters and belief in their ability to achieve defined objectives pushes them to succeed. Let’s create this environment for all those in our industry. They deserve it, we need it, and a macro approach like this – rather than one after another surveys and narrow solutions – can finally get this industry moving in the right direction….

— Gordon Banks / Coral Gables, FL

Free programs can drive handle

For years I have read all kinds of experts opine on how to increase the handle at the tracks. I have steadfastly posted it is a problem with a simple solution. Yonkers Raceway is proving my point in the last month. Posting past performances for free on their website on Mondays has led to an immense increase in their handle. Yes, I did like the passing lane and I do think drug testing of horses is important. But, I do believe free past performances can increase the handle considerably at any track. I could get the past performances for free through TVG. But, then I am required to bet that day. Maybe, I look at a program and decide not to bet that day? I would love a test to be done with Fraser Downs on a program. I bet their handle would triple with free pp’s?

— Al Gatto / Roselle Park, NJ

Hollywood’s tribute to McKee

Wonderful article by Bob Hayden paying homage to Sam Mckee (full article here).

Hard to believe that it has been a year already. Bob did a nice job helping all of us remember the collective loss we suffered with Sam’s premature passing. There is no doubt Sam is up in heaven keeping a close eye on the sport he so loved.

— Sal DiMario, executive director Delaware Standardbred Owners Association / Dover, DE