Two weeks ago I fixed the Kentucky Derby, in shorthand of course. Many nuances need to be tweaked once I’m actually given the power to do so. Want to get bigger? Then lift heavier with better form. Now I’m going to fix the entire sport.
Horse racing is a sport. Professional sports are a business. Ask Jerry Jones of the NFL Dallas Cowboys or the Steinbrenner family of the MLB New York Yankees. The duty and goal for all business is to make money. Business is a brutally tough game and making money is the result of presenting a great product to the public. The market place will decide if your business is worthy. Pretty simple.
Horse racing has been playing the victim card for several decades. Racing is a victim because it’s a rudderless sport run by inept people merely floating downstream in the current. In 2017, floating is insufficient. All licensed plumbers know what it is that goes downhill (don’t make me spell it out).
(A) This is how it’s been working. (B) This is how it should work.
1) Horseplayers and fans MUST come first. Without fans and a public consumer of your product; no business, sport or industry can survive. In horse racing the betting handle creates the purses, tax revenues and profits for all to exist. Better make the bettors happy.
2) Horsemen second. Without horsemen; breeders, owners, trainers, jockey and EVERY single backstretch worker at every racetrack – you have no product. No product = no bettors, fans or racetracks. No racetracks and no breeding industry means fewer primary and secondary businesses, jobs and less money flowing into state coffers. Politicians hate it when that happens.
3) Racetracks and racetrack owners/operators are third. Tracks are the platform. The conduit by which the sport is served. Have a crappy venue and provide poor customer service, customers stop patronizing you. Treat them right, everybody wins – big time.
This is the proper order in the food chain that starts at the top and works its way down, then back up again. NO ONE in this chain is more important than the other. Take out any one of these links, it ceases to exists.
How do we get this all together and fire on all cylinders? In his best selling book, The Road Less Traveled author M. Scott Peck said in the very first line, “Life is difficult.” If we start with this understanding, it becomes a snowball rolling downhill. Fixing this mess is totally doable, it just takes courage. Oh yeah, one more thing, checking egos at the door. Which of course takes us back to > courage. Which of course takes us back to > “Life is difficult.” You get the idea.
I learned long ago, when someone says, “Oh no, we can’t do that.” What this actually means is “THEY DON’T WANT TO”. Why? Because “Life is difficult.” Which translates into “it’s too much work.” Which of course is ridiculous.
As a participant you are bound by rules and the standards and practices of your industry. As a fan you’re participating in something you are willing to exchange your cash, for the pleasure you receive by attending and/or participating. Baseball, Football, NASCAR, Tennis, Golf. Name your sport.
The nature of business competition is ferocious. The world sports faces stiff competition from every direction. When any industry treats their participants and fans poorly, the product suffers and is eventually abandoned by the public. Other than for the perception of Derby Day, horse racing is dying. From the 1930’s thru 1990 Horse racing never had to innovate. They had it all their own way. Santa Anita used to kick the front gate open and 40,000 people would flood the grandstand on an ordinary Saturday. State bureaucrats got used to the heroin drip of tax revenues created by too many racing days while becoming totally addicted to this cash. Those days are over.
The sport of horse racing and the industry at large has been asleep at the wheel for the last 40 years. The elitist “leaders” of the sport, if you call them leaders, were smug and arrogant in their postures. They treated customers and participates like the stuff you find in the muck pits. That action prompted many participants to leave the game and 90% of the fans to stop attending. Some in the industry woke up. But their voice fell on deaf ears.
Lotteries, the proliferation Indian casinos, the rise of the internet, other forms of the equivalent of betting and other entertainment options WHERE THEY WERE TREATED BETTER exploded. Racetrack customer service and consumer confidence is on par with the current level of the airline industry. Public relation nightmares like confusing and contradictory medication rules are but one example. People say, hey, screw this!
The only way to fix the problem is drastic change. Racing must be hungry for, desperate for and demand change from within. Not everyone will be happy. Disruptions are by their nature uncomfortable for those firmly in place. Like the entrenched political class in Washington D. C., racetrack managements, members of meaningless committees, useless horse racing organizations and alliances will be the first to yelp like wet dogs.
Reconstructing the sport of horse racing will be a juggling act based on a cost benefit ratio analysis that must result in a positive price paid, equal to reward received, which results in a positive outcome. And just think, I never even studied algebra.
If today’s racetrack management could figure out a way to get rid of the horses, trust me, they would. They’ve been trying. Want proof? Ever heard of Hollywood Park? How about Bay Meadows, Sportsman’s Park, Rockingham Park, Santa Fe Downs or the dozens of other tracks they plowed under? We probably didn’t need them all but the business did not strengthen because they expired.
Horse racing is trapped in the issue of going out of business slowly at first, then suddenly. It’s just so easy for racetrack management in it’s current form to clamor for slots and gaming tables. If you can figure out a way to commingle additional gaming and entertainment into the fabric or fun, great! Just don’t rely on it. Stop blaming straw-man issues like the weather. Quit asking for tax breaks and state welfare. It’s bad optics and the public doesn’t buy it. Time to save thyself.
And no, do not use this bull crap of how great Kentucky Derby Day is as an indication of industry health. This is the yard-stick of false illusion. Derby Day is NOT a reflection of the industry. Derby Day is a microcosm, an anomaly. Without an industry to support Kentucky Derby Day, the race itself does not exist. Sorry, you cannot pull a group of horses out of a field on the first Saturday in May and present the Kentucky Derby.
9 Key Points to Fix Horse Racing
- Horse racing MUST improve it’s public relations, customer service and perception on every level. This is accomplished via point #2.
- Horse racing needs to be organized with a Commissioner’s Office and a Commissioner who has governing power and sharp teeth like the NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL. Someone who actually understands the sport, with central authority over all racetracks within the organization. The Commissioner needs the absolute authority to represent and lobby for the best interests of EVERYONE in the sport on EVERY level. Racing is going to have to bend and place themselves under a unified umbrella. No more of these fractured little fiefdoms. Racetrack ownership might gag a little at first, but they’ll swallow better later.
- The Commissioners Office needs to adopt standardized medication and participation rules. MLB has uniform rules for balls and strikes. The NFL has standardized rules for pass interference. Both have drug testing policies. Horse racing should be no different. The job of Commissioner is to take on hard projects and get them done. ALL states would get on board quickly if it means clear and uniform medication rules and testing which truly protects the public. Bad P.R. is ruining the industry. Don’t believe me, ask United Airlines.
- Racetrack “take out” on the money wagered is absolutely killing horseplayers. Racing needs a tax cut. Not for racetrack ownership. The take out on the betting handle needs to be slashed for the horseplayers and the fans who might become next generation horseplayers.
- Race dates need to be re-organized under the Commissioner’s Office. Racing needs to be an event, not a daily grind. I know racing dates are a difficult issue. So what? See #3.
- Currently, there is no certified accounting information on the handle generated by racetracks on how money from the wagering handle is held or dispersed. No one understands where the money is actually going based on the legally mandated breakdown of every single wagered dollar. This means money is either being mis-handled at best or stolen at worst. See #3.
- Every individual track under the Commissioners Office should function somewhat like Major League Baseball with regards to small market and large market teams. They share revenues on some level. Not equally but on a certain level. See #3.
- Purse structures must rise dramatically at every level, especially at the bottom and middle to give racing the support system it needs. Better purses are an incentive to protect horses, keep them sound, have longer careers and not be swept off the track to the breeding shed or otherwise discarded. Purses on the Grade I marquee events, like the Kentucky Derby, Triple Crown races and Breeders’ Cup series along with a few dozen other races must go up in a big way. This can be largely achieved in a cultivated corporate sponsorship program via a strong marketing department from the Commissioner’s Office. This leaves more money to support daily purse structures.
- Three parts:
a.) The racing industry must improve backstretch working conditions, including housing and everything concerned with the best interests of the people who toil in obscurity without whom no horse could be prepared to race.
b.) Insurance coverage for jockeys can and should also be solved once and for all. There is power in large numbers when negotiating group insurance coverages.
c.) The racing industry must take the responsibility to find “X” amount of dollars to help fund on a rotating basis, three or four legitimate 501 c3 Thoroughbred retirement organizations each year.
Remember, we are re-developing the sport. Fewer racing days and a better product create more purse money to distribute to all. By virtue, owners, trainers and jockeys should be able to compete and make more money on all levels.
A keen marketing department, empowered by the Commissioner’s Office could negotiate and secure better television rights. Currently horse racing is “paying” the networks to cover racing, instead of the networks paying horse racing like they do to broadcast the Olympics, MLB or the NFL.
Nobody gives you money unless you command or demand it. Horse racing needs to sell itself to the networks, make them understand it has value. Have at the ready pre-prepared, big name sponsorship to place on the bargaining table. Conventional television is no longer the only game in town and they know it. Current broadcast outlets are paying less than a bagful of airline size peanuts to the sport because horse racing is allowing itself to be used.
Yes, yes, I know. I’ve left out lots of unanswered questions. With this post I am only scratching the surface. I’m going to write a very detailed book and flesh out this entire process. I can fix every problem. These major issues are no longer holding horse racing back, they’re destroying it. If you can’t see the writing on the wall, I can’t help you.
This is where the whining stops and courage begins. Racing is long on excuses and short on courage. The horse racing world is currently financing long term debt (it’s future) with short term money (excuses). Any trader or investor will tell you this is a recipe for disaster.
There you go. It’s not that hard if you have true knowledge of the game, the courage of your convictions, the vision to see it through and the willingness to over turn decades of outdated “stinkin thinkin”. It makes me tired just writing about it. But on the other hand, I don’t really have anything else to do. I’m available. Call me. Somebody needs to get in touch with me, soon.
Let the heavy lifting begin.