A Pretty Picture – Devo Rides (Part 4)

by Trey Nosrac

Part 1 here

Part 2 here

Part 3 here

My Werewolves of London ringtone began to play. The caller ID read, ca/tech guru. One of the titans of the Internet age was using my personal cell number. I smiled, pushed the button and chirped, “Trey’s Pizza, Palm Reading and Personal Transportation. Please hold.”

The tech wizard from the west did not miss a beat, “A small pepperoni, a short reading, and can you get me at Hillcrest Hospital at three.”

“Considering the big money you pay, I would get you in Calcutta at midnight. How’s your mom?”

“Very good, her new hip is in. She was on her feet this morning, amazing for 79. Thanks for asking, I’ll be on the bench by the front entrance.”

And he was. His wiry body sagged slightly when he climbed into my front passenger seat. He leaned his fuzz of greying hair against the headrest and closed his eyes.

I asked, “Long night?”

“Yeah, I probably didn’t need to stay.”

“Why don’t you go through Uber or Lyft? Is your adopt-a-driver for Ohio transportation an expensive rebellion against the machine by one of the builders of the machine?”

“I set up a similar situation back home. I got to know a driver; her name is Marie, a single mom with a teenage son. Her son struggles with MS. We hit it off. She quit the company and now drives exclusively for me. My money helps her and I enjoy getting into a car with a driver that I know. It’s more comfortable, more social.”

“I get the socially awkward thing. Sometimes riders, especially new riders, climb into and out of my car like it’s a hostage situation.”

“Overpaying Marie makes me feel good, very good. It’s one of the perks of wealth.”

“You have permission to feel spectacularly perky when I drive you around.”

He laughed.

“Seriously, if you want to hire me to drive you back to Silicon Valley I’ll retire on your dime. You feel like a racing session or you want to rest?”

“Always ready to talk harness racing.”

“Let’s try a new slant. The sky is always falling in racing. People in the game seem to have lost steam. Don’t pick apart what is bad, or what you think needs to be changed, tell me what is good. What possible interest would a dinky old sport like harness racing hold for tech barons who rule the universe? Paint me a pretty picture. Give me a great scenario.”

He looked out the side window and thought for a few seconds.

“Harness racing is a sport, not a big sport. The demographics are ugly, but you are a sport. We have a great interest in sports. When a less restrictive wagering window opens, we will be ready. The money will flow.”

“Flow to who? Or is it, flow to whom? And why?”

“That may be us, and sporting franchises. Sports, all sports, have an irreplaceable asset — time. They are DVD and DVR-proof. This is extremely important on several levels.”

“So you think horse racing could have a niche?”

“Yes, harness racing could be what we call a time-immune content franchise.”

I nodded sagely, at what I did not know.

He was now in TED Talk mode, “We are struggling with the trend where movies, television, almost everything, can and will be, viewed whenever the audience wants to watch. Sports and big events demand the viewer be there on time. In the future, content that demands real-time attendance from the audience will be absolute gold.”

“Yeah, in racing if you don’t show at the right place you can’t win”

“A horse race is inexpensive content. Compared to other sports, a race is easy to stage and readily available. Currently, horseracing presentation is not terrific, but racing is a form of gambling content that replenishes itself. If the timing is good, if the horse racing product is improved, when the casino band-aid falls off, the future could be bright.”

I slapped my forehead, “Cheap, easy and on time… that could be the title of my autobiography.”

“We just produced a four-part series, some outer space crap based on a video game. It cost a ridiculous amount of money. We will make a profit, but only for a limited time. The content will soon be useless and we need to make another movie, and another TV show and continually feed the beast. Sports operate on autopilot. People wager on sports, they wager plenty of money, and we are sniffing around that money.”

“It’s always about money.”

“Not completely, it is also about power and synergy. Do you know about synergy?”

“Of course,” I lied.

“A ball game or a horse race demands that the viewer be there on time. Studies find that people watch big games or events like the Oscars in groups. They are social experiences and they have more energy. We can do much more with groups of people as far as advertising and social media is concerned.”

I asked, “Suppose you are an investor in a racetrack today? What do you do, cross your fingers, wait and hope. Are you a buyer or seller?”

He paused. I glimpsed him pinching the bridge of his nose, and then he spoke softly, “I would have to look deeper, but my first thought is that I’m a buyer. I would take some chances with new wagers and new presentations, take some short-term losses and position myself for tomorrow.”

“Despite the gloom and doom.”

“This moment won’t last, it never does. The tricky part is how long the legal walls against Internet gambling hold. The forces are strong on both sides, but in the long-term, walls fall.”

“So you have hope?”

“Sure. It’s kind of ironic because for years your game has depended on casinos and states. Now gambling is up in the air because of technology, and to some extent, your fate will be in the hands of the Supreme Court. If the chips fall, or if mega companies decide to push their chips in, they will determine how you fit.”

I turned into the driveway of his family farm and sighed, “Horseracing is only a pawn in the game.”

“True, but sometimes pawns can be turned into Knights or Queens. I have some ideas about moves to make your pawn more valuable. Let me dig a little deeper tonight. Pick me up at nine tomorrow morning for a return trip to the hospital. I’ll have coffee and a few ideas.”