by Marty Adler
The sport struggles with an identity crisis. It no longer has the monopoly on what the sport was created to do — provide a venue to gamble. In fact, modern day gambling opportunities have blown right on by like a dropped down invitational pacer in with nw of $1000 in the last 5.
Casinos now have found their back door into towns and cities by infesting the racetracks, and eating their young.
Some may say today’s surviving racetracks are holding their wagering, but casino wagering at those tracks are blowing the roof off pari-mutuels.
And grandstands are empty compared to racing’s heydays.
So what’s the fix?
Racing needs to re-invent itself.
Once the leaders do it, the rest will follow.
I repeat, once the leaders do it — WEG and the Meadowlands — the rest will follow.
So what to do?
Start with the product.
1. Get rid of the modern day race bike.
A horse sitting fifth is not five lengths off the lead, but more like 8-9 lengths back, because of the longer shafts, and leaned-back driving style.
Not fair. Not pretty. And certainly not exciting.
Check out North American leading drivers to see how many front-end wins. And who are we kidding with race bikes that allow those heels touching horse hocks.
Not fair. Not exciting and pretty vanilla racing.
2. There needs to be more ‘spectacle’ albeit ‘danger’ in a race. Unrealistic, but think along the lines of Roman chariots with razor-edged daggers on the wheel hubs.
Or maybe Calgary Stampede-style chuck-wagon races.
CBS would love the ‘Ben Hur’ effect.
Current two-turn racing is boring when everyone is on the pylons by the first turn, and maybe a single horse coming first up down the backstretch. Can you imagine a file of thoroughbreds all sitting on the rail?
How about combining two races into one, shorten the charge to the first turn, and race two miles? How about some strategy in a race, with a coach (trainer) mapping out a play to victory?
Say what you will, drivers are not very creative, but then they don’t have to be.
Just like today’s specimens in hockey, football, and the like, horses need more challenges.
Today’s harness horse, with its advanced breeding, is too big and powerful for simple mile events. With 20 horses, the outside 10 hole is back in play, because it is free to ramble, and lock in competitors, using strategy.
As for purses, double them too, with payoffs for the first 10.
And every class gets to play.
More spectacle on the track.
Not enough horses you say?
Eight race cards with horses that go to the post ON TIME!
Now, off the track. This one is simple — more ‘creature comforts’. It’s all about ME, and what am I going to get?
Casinos learnt this lesson, and master bodies in the seats at the slots. They give away tons. Gifts and meals and bet slips and rooms and tickets.
Long ago, the $4.99 prime rib dinner at Windsor was so successful, it required two nightly seatings.
Racing today dares you to come through its doors. Maybe a free program, but you print it out. Five programs, and you have to replace that $20 ink cartridge.
And finally, the television presentations have no entertainment value, or ‘sex-appeal.’
Pre-race paddock driver and/or trainer interviews.
Possibly, post-race ticked off interviews make great copy.
In a nutshell, it is as easy as 1-2-3.
1. On the track, make racing a ‘spectacle’ with a danger element, (20 horses over 2 miles)
2. Off the track, creature comforts — not just hats.
3. Lastly, the big boys start the ball rolling with WEG/Meadowlands and TVC sex-appeal.
You may question the specifics, and have some of your own, but don’t dismiss the strategy.
Marty Adler is a track announcer, TV sportscaster, TV executive producer and marketer.
“No amount of marketing will make racing a major league sport… until it re-invents itself.”