Leading by Example - by Eric Mitchell

Two and a half years ago The Jockey Club launched a barrage of initiatives with the hopes of slowing and ideally reversing years of decline suffered by Thoroughbred racing.
Improved TV coverage, fantasy games and social games, new ownership tools, and strong social media efforts were all part of a nine-point plan built off the recommendations of a 2011 report done by McKinsey and Co. entitled “Driving Sustainable Growth for Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding.”

This same report made dire predictions if the sport collectively did nothing to improve its place alongside other professional sports and entertainment. The status quo, it stated, would lead to a 25% decline in handle, a 50% drop in owners, and 25% fewer viable racetracks by 2020.

The Jockey Club invested millions in all the initiatives and has learned some valuable lessons midway through its five-year plan.

For one, it’s often better to be a partner than an owner. The Jockey Club developed two games: the Major League Horse Racing fantasy game and the Thoroughbred World social game (think Farmville), which have both been shelved because they didn’t gain traction in a gaming market that changes so quickly.

“There is a demand for games, but the consumer is looking at Facebook and mobile and other platforms. Even the companies like Zynga are still trying to figure it out,” said Jason Wilson, vice president of business development for The Jockey Club. “There are a lot of other people developing content now. We felt some of those games had gotten to the point where we could provide support rather than be at the forefront of development. We are looking to be more of a distribution partner.”

Also learned is that racing’s target audience should be 20-somethings.

“You look at surveys of people who are involved in racing who are in their 40s and 50s now, and they got involved in horse racing in their 20s or even younger,” Wilson said. “If we don’t focus on this next generation, they are not going to suddenly show up. We have to go out and connect with them.”

One fairly effective means of connecting, so far, has been the efforts launched under the America’s Best Racing banner. Wilson said those efforts have actually exceeded expectations because what started as just a new website morphed into a campaign. Horse racing got introduced to more than 40,000 people in 20 states and garnered 60 million media impressions nationwide through the racing ambassadors tour in 2013. Meanwhile, social media and the website attracted 500,000 followers and generated more than two million page views, of which 63% of all viewers continue to be new visitors.

“We are hitting the demographic we’re trying to,” Wilson said. “We skew toward a younger, more female demographic than an Equibase or a Daily Racing Form.”

Perhaps the most important result to date from The Jockey Club’s initiatives has been raising racetracks’ interest in improving customer service and owner development. Santa Anita Park, the New York Racing Association, Woodbine, and Laurel Park are among the top five sources of traffic to a new online owner resource called OwnerView, a joint venture between The Jockey Club and Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. These same racing outfits also have expressed interest in supporting a new owners conference in the fall, and the Del Mar Racing Club, Keeneland, NYRA, and The Stronach Group have begun working together on their own customer service initiatives for owners and fans.

If the 2011 McKinsey-inspired projects ultimately prove to be catalysts for long-term initiatives that make Thoroughbred racing more attractive to fans, get new owners involved, and improve the welfare of the horses, then it won’t matter as much which of the nine are still viable by 2016. The real goal will have been achieved.

“There has always been the recognition that we cannot continue alone,” Wilson said. “Part of the goal (of the McKinsey study) was to spark discussion and from that standpoint it has certainly done its job.”


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Irrespective of what initiatives are undertaken Horse Racing will continue its decline if the single most important issue is not addressed. What’s that issue? The unreliability of horses comprising daily race programs! Fans want horses that show up to at least run close to their PPs. Very often fans are left scratching their hair in bewilderment at the performances of what PPs reflected to be live horses. This fuels frustration and discourages interest.

This unreliability is due largely to the incompetence existing in the majority of barns sending out horses.  How competent are the mid to bottom level trainers and their assistants? It could not be very good based on the in and out performance of horses from many barns.

The majority of horses racing in the US perform on the powerful diuretic Lasix. What post-race impact does this drug have on horses? Do stable assistances know that a Lasix horse losses 50% more body fluid than a Non-Lasix horse after a race? Do they know the post-race routine that has to be followed to restore depleted electrolytes?

These poor animals are labs on four legs. In in many instances they are brought to the races with energy levels still depleted and the unsuspecting public wagers hard earned cash on horses that are looking for places to lie down.

If there are no initiatives to improve and monitor the competency of personnel comprising racing stables, then horse players will continue to look elsewhere.

A fit, sound, happy, properly conditioned and trained horse will always run to the best of its ability baring misfortune. What is on offer at many track are fields comprised of a handful of good horses and a litany of fillers.

The tracks are beautiful, incentives are appealing and the ambiance of restaurants and bars are great. However, the racing product in many instances stinks and leave a bitter taste in the mouths of serious  horse players.

14 Jan 2014 2:58 PM
Fred and Joan

We wholeheartedly agree with Coldfacts. Young people need to become involved in the thoroughbred industry at an early age. We have seen firsthand the incompetence and stupidity of lower and mid-level trainers and the horses sometimes succeed in spite of DUMB people! The lower claiming and allowance levels of racing need to have the same protections as the high class stakes races. The players finance the industry and should be listened to more and taken suggestions from.

15 Jan 2014 12:55 PM
John from Baltimore

The race tracks in the last 20 years have done things in the racing program to make it easier to get big fields so betters have to spend more to spread out in the exotic bets.  They started paying jockey mounts back to last place to fill races.  The jockeys used to ride to get fifth to cover thier jock mount. Now if your not going to get a good piece of the purse what's the difference if your fifth by two or tenth by twenty five lenghts, you get about the same money.  

They used seperate horses by claiming price so the trainers had to compete.  Now there are so many conditions you just wait to try when you get in with bad group of horses.

I don't mind playing cheaper horses, but they need to go back to making the trainers compete.  It needs to be a competition not a lottery.

To increase field size they uncoupled trainer enties which nobody playing the horses likes. oh well.

18 Jan 2014 8:03 PM

I agree with Coldfacts. Well stated.

Also, in talking with younger people about horse racing, I oftentimes hear comments about drugs, horse slaughter, and trainers who are caught cheating but are allowed to continue to train. As long as people think that horseracing is a dark sport filled with cheating and abuse and that it's stars, the horses, will wind up on someone's dinner plate, they will not be attracted at all and who can blame them.

22 Jan 2014 2:36 PM

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