By Alex Waldrop, President and CEO of the NTRA
Next week, it’s my privilege to speak to marketers from racetracks and ADWs across the country at the NTRA’s Annual Meeting and Marketing Summit in Las Vegas. I plan to speak frankly about the challenges Thoroughbred racing faces as a result of a down economy and a business model that evolved in an era of protected markets and limited competition from other forms of gambling.
One of my goals is to inform the attendees of the many programs available through the NTRA to assist them in their local markets. It often surprises people to learn that the NTRA still produces award-winning television, radio, print and web-based advertising spots for its members. Coupled with these resources is the television the NTRA pays for and produces on ESPN showcasing some of the best racing in America to a national TV audience.
But marketing in the 21st century is so much more than advertising on radio or television.
The NTRA has a promotional staff which includes support from one of the top PR and marketing firms in the country. They work together every day to build the contacts and relationships necessary to place stories concerning racing in every media outlet possible, from national news media, to late night television, to Internet blogs and entertainment sites. On Monday, they will be accompanying jockey Joe Talamo to an appearance on “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien. See Eric Wing’s recent blog for more detail on our efforts. A quick read of the comments to this particular blog shows a healthy skepticism by some of you about the NTRA’s commitment to working every possible angle to get more publicity for our sport. Let me assure you that Eric and his team are doing everything suggested in those comments and much, much more. Suffice it to say that given the decline in traditional media outlets and resources, it’s a tough environment for even the highest profile sports and athletes to garner “earned media” attention.
This changing media landscape explains why the NTRA has embarked on an aggressive Web 2.0 media strategy – to enable us as an industry to take advantage of the many social media outlets to spread the word about our game and its stars. The fact is, traditional marketing and advertising strategies aimed at creating new fans are becoming less successful and less relevant by the day. The good news is that racing’s key attributes—a “social” and “analytical” experience, coupled with a chance to “make some money”—very much track with the Millennial generation (18-29). We know from extensive, multi-year research that our fans (that means you) are smart, connected online and opinion influencers in your communities. Everything we do on the Web demonstrates to us that if we ask you for input, you deliver. You love this sometimes frustrating sport of ours and you want to help make it better. That gives us a significant opportunity to reshape this sport in ways that you, the fans, most prefer.
For instance, your input has taught us that safety and integrity must be more than slogans or platitudes – they have to be central to our business. Hence, the formation of the NTRA Safety & Integrity Alliance, which is now supported by 55 racetracks and every major horsemen’s organization. The Alliance’s primary goal is to establish uniform safety and integrity policies at racetracks across North America through an accreditation program resembling that utilized in other fields like healthcare and education. By listening to the fans, the Thoroughbred industry is quickly coming to the realization that our commitment to the safety of our human and equine athletes and to integrity in the conduct of our racing is central to our ability to sell racing to a new generation of fans – not to mention reconnecting with many in the current generation of former fans.
And don’t forget the NTRA’s legislative strategy aimed at eliminating barriers to owning horses and wagering on horse racing. Without owners and players, we have no game. It’s a full time job for our public affairs team convincing members of Congress to remove the many legal and regulatory barriers to these pursuits such as unfair federal income tax depreciation schedules for owners and burdensome tax withholding and reporting obligations for bettors.
The bottom line is this. Every dollar we at the NTRA raise and spend and every program we offer is ultimately aimed at helping the industry produce and sell a product – wagering on Thoroughbred horse racing - that supports every facet of our game. It’s this broader view of marketing that I will stress next week.
Do me yet another favor. Let me hear from you about things you want relayed to industry marketers. Are there ads or promotions you like or dislike? Are there particular aspects of racing you think should be better highlighted? What about pricing of the product? Is the takeout (i.e. the amount of the track commission) a big consideration for you when you bet? What about the racing schedule? If racing did a better job of coordinating high quality graded stakes races by time and date, would it make it easier or more enjoyable for you to follow and wager on Thoroughbred racing? Give me your thoughts and ideas. Tell me what’s important to you. I will take them to the marketers.
And thanks as always for helping us reshape this game in ways none of us could have imagined a few short years ago.