By Alex Waldrop, President and CEO of the NTRA
Here is the situation.
Trillions in stock
market value have disappeared. Similarly, trillions in retirement savings
are gone. The nation’s credit markets are just beginning to recover from
near-collapse. Housing values are down. College savings have been
seriously eroded. And the money companies need to make payroll has all
but disappeared resulting in a 9.5% unemployment rate nationally (likely headed
to 10% by year end).
The Internet is
destroying or redefining business models right and left. Publishing is
hurting. Newspapers are near extinction. Weekly and monthly
periodicals are on the ropes. Even network and cable television is
looking over its shoulder at the possibility of competition from web based
Professional sports are
seeing unprecedented declines. Loss of advertizing and sponsorship
dollars are hurting the seemingly invulnerable NFL as well as NASCAR, whose
business model is frequently touted as one that could resurrect horse
racing. Even new luxury sports venues like Yankee Stadium are having
trouble filling seats.
Closer to home
figuratively speaking, 2009 YTD wagering on Thoroughbred horse racing is down
10.5% and purses paid to owners are down 5.6%. In the Thoroughbred sales
sector, 2008 gross sales of broodmares and weanlings were down 40% and 34%,
respectively, and that trend appears to be continuing in 2009. Stud fees
(the life blood of many commercial breeders) are dropping to match declines in
sales prices. MEC is in bankruptcy. Year-round racing circuits in
California and Kentucky and elsewhere are in jeopardy.
With all of this
negative news, what should Thoroughbred racing do to emerge from this slump?
These are questions we will be asking ourselves over the next few weeks
and months as we convene a meeting of the NTRA Board of Directors to discuss
the strategic direction of the NTRA going forward.
Do me a favor. Let
me know what you think is the biggest single challenge facing Thoroughbred
racing in the coming months and years. And let me know how the industry
in general and the NTRA in particular should address that challenge.
As you consider my
request, keep the following industry strengths in mind. Unlike most other
forms of gambling, pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing is widely accepted by
the public. Because our business model is built almost exclusively
on wagering revenue, we are not as vulnerable to the declines in advertising
and sponsorships that are negatively affecting other sports businesses at the
present time. We have a well developed Internet presence with numerous
legal on line wagering platforms operating on a nationwide basis and a very
active network of bloggers and social networking sites. Our biggest event, the
Triple Crown, is hugely popular with core and casual fans, and our end of the
year Championship, the Breeders’ Cup, has global allure. Finally, our
equine athletes are extremely appealing to almost every demographic segment.
One other advantage of
racing’s much-maligned decentralized, egalitarian business model is the ability
of fans like you to have a meaningful say in its future. After all, it
was you, the fans, who led to the formation of the NTRA Safety and Integrity
Alliance. The Alliance
is already making significant progress toward the goal of implementing safety
and integrity standards on a uniform, nationwide basis. Once again, this
is your chance to help shape our future. Let me hear from you.