Editor's Note: Be sure to also read "Not in the Same Ballpark," in the Feb. 23 issue of Blood-Horse. Frank Angst explores how far racetracks have fallen behind other professional sports stadiums and arenas in terms of offering clean, attractive and modern amenities.
By Earl Abraham Ola
Before going overseas I learned that while less than 2% of our American population had any interest in horse racing, there were nations boasting a 25% plus general population interest in the sport, and I was determined to find out why.
I spent a month in Australia recently and from that base learned how Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan, etc., promote horse racing in a way that brings new people to the racetracks and keeps them coming back.
Thinking back to the 1950s when I was a boy reading the racing pages in our major daily newspapers, I remember how horse racing was popular with Americans. Our racing was perhaps not run as well as other nations but the general idea was the same and our results were positive.
aving access to easily understood information about the sport is one problem for American horse racing today. Our three American major sports are popular for the same reason—the general public reads about them in the sports sections of our daily newspapers, just like horse racing was once covered. Plus, in the 1920s to the 1950s there was a free simple racing form in our American newspapers.
After reading foreign racing forms, I believe our racing forms do not give the most valuable necessary information to our sophisticated bettors and it confuses potential fans. A $4 to $6 racing form that reads like Chinese is too expensive for most fledgeling racetrack attendees, and one reason that the first time at the racetrack for most Americans is the last time.
America’s major and minor retailers have found they can promote their products and services successfully by putting a free pullout advertiser in the center of our major and local newspapers. Australian horse racing uses this same model, producing a free, simple racing form with easy-to-understand information, that comes to the general public as a center pullout in their local newspapers. Because the free racing form is popular, Australian newspapers provide an additional full page or two with horse racing coverage in their sports sections, just like American newspapers once did.
I showed this promotion to the manager of a major racetrack, someone I consider one of the most progressive in America. He said it was the best idea for promoting horse racing and increasing attendance that he had ever seen and asked me to implement the program. The racetrack’s owners, however, refused to finance this project only because it had not already proven here in America. It did not matter that I’d shown them how successful it was in a host of foreign nations.
There was no doubt in this racetrack manager’s mind that this promotion would have increased his attendance and betting handle by at least 50%, possible more.
Any open-minded person can see that American horse racing is in a steady decline, that present promotional ideas are not working and that casino gambling at racetracks has proven not to be the panacea tracks had hoped for. Actually, casino gambling will overtime bring about the sure demise of American horse racing.
How many cups, umbrellas and hats do you give away? How many failed gimmicks do you pay advertising agencies for, etc., before you realize that these promotions don’t work? I have seen a number of successful horse racing promotions already working overseas and cannot be ignored by American racetracks.
What American horse racing needs to do is increase fan attendance, which will increase the wagering. Attracting a larger audience is the only way for American horse racing to grow and prosper.
Earl Abraham Ola (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an equine performance and training consultant living in Florida.