Buzzworthy: Mohawk name change a hot topic on social media

by Garnet Barnsdale

“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

So said Juliet in the The Bard’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet. So, what’s in a name, specifically the newly re-named Woodbine at Mohawk Park, where all of the Woodbine Entertainment Group’s major league harness races will be conducted going forward? Plenty, according to many social media posts this past week.

There was lots of reaction to this question posed in the 26,759 member “Harness Racing History” Facebook group posed by member Joel Kahan, including responses from Woodbine Entertainment Group chairman Clay Horner.

What do members think of the name Woodbine Mohawk Park? I hate harness at Woodbine and love Mohawk Park. To me it is good riddance when WDB ends. I find the name stupid.

“I have been saying this for weeks,” posted group member Jim Morgan. “Mohawk Park. Sure, it is run by Woodbine Entertainment, but it has been for years. So why change the name now? I just don’t get it.”

He wasn’t the only one expressing bewilderment over the name change.

“Although I agree 100% that the name change is STUPID, RIDICULOUS and borderline INSANE, it is here to stay,” wrote William A. Blessing. “The simulcast program and my online platform call it Woodbine. After watching the first two nights of racing, I can safely there is no mention of the word Mohawk in any of the graphics. They are trying to bury the name Mohawk and have done a good job of doing so to date.”

Not all were quick to pile on though. Craig Barss, a mainstay trainer at WEG tracks was one of those who expressed that the name change might have some benefits to offer the standardbred side of the business. “Relax,” Barss posted. It might even help web traffic to our product if someone Google’s Woodbine.”

That’s where Horner jumped in. “Kudos to Craig Barss,” he wrote. “The name is to capitalize on the much greater recognition of the Woodbine name in broader gambling markets, particularly in the U.S., while maintaining the Mohawk heritage. You can call it by whichever name works for you but there is an important business reason behind the name.”

Prominent local owner Adriano Sorella chimed in with a Facebook status update of his own. “Good on WEG to brand both Racetracks with the Woodbine name. Branding is important in 21st century. But what the heck do I know,” he wrote, and that’s the part that people might be missing, according to Horner.

“We have a very significant recognition of the Woodbine name in U.S. wagering markets and with U.S. thoroughbred players,” he explained. “We want them to recognize the Woodbine name and branding on our standardbred racing as well and give it a look too. We had 19 $5 million plus thoroughbred cards last year and a high of $13 million on a single card. We want to cross sell that audience on our standardbred product. Existing fans and horsepeople can refer to Mohawk (I still do) and we are proud of the Mohawk heritage. We make decisions to build our businesses and we think this is completely consistent with that.”

WEG CEO Jim Lawson further explained the re-branding in a HRU on page 5. “We all have sentimentality about Mohawk Park. People may call it Mohawk, people may call it Woodbine, but our new customers, international customers, Internet customers… they don’t want to go on the Internet and be confused. And 75 per cent of our wagering is on the Internet. That’s how the world is evolving,” Lawson said.

“Our growth is largely international, that is where we’ve seen the growth, in the United States and Asia and Australia. That’s where we need to take this brand.”

Physically, Mohawk will officially be known as Woodbine Mohawk Park, but its standardbred racing signal will be Woodbine SB. The thoroughbred signal will be called Woodbine TB.

Personally, anyone that knows me is aware that Mohawk is pretty much my favorite place on the planet. In 1998, I took my wife Kim on our first (blind) date to “The ‘Hawk” and 10 years later I proposed to her on one knee in front of the winner’s circle on a race night. So, at first, I didn’t really know how to take the name change. But having worked in the corporate business world for several decades, I understand why companies re-brand certain products and, in some cases, their entire corporation. As an owner, bettor and media member, I have a lot at stake locally and obviously am in support of any changes that will increase business and improve the product. I understand the sentimentality attached to the “Mohawk” name and I will simply continue referring to my summer home as “The ‘Hawk” as I have been doing for several decades. But the hoopla in this case – at least from where I sit – is much ado about nothing, and soon the focus will be on the superstars of the sport showing up for stakes season with the corporate name change long forgotten and the summer meet thriving as always.