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Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Worst Marketed Sport in History

An interesting (not to mention apropos) interview with Mike Repole by Jay Privman in Thursday’s Daily Racing Form, including this astute observation by Repole:

I think racing is the worst marketed sport in the history of sports. If not for the passion of the fans, the sport wouldn’t exist. Racing has done almost everything wrong to the fan, and for some reason the fan sticks around. Any track can do whatever they want. There’s no governing body like NASCAR or the NFL, no one person to go to. It would take me a year to turn it around. You start with the fan. Everything else comes underneath. The fan who shows up with $20 in his pocket is just as, if not more, important than the gambler who shows up with $2,000. Racing doesn’t get that. It’s all about the handle. All the brands I’ve built are about education, awareness, and trial. This sport doesn’t educate owners or fans. Awareness? Ask people what they think about racing, and it’s a 77-year-old man smoking a cigar, or a blue blood from Kentucky. Is that perception or reality? You have to change that.

Talk about preaching to the choir! Amen, brother. Why isn’t there a concerted effort to organize start times nationwide, so fans and horseplayers don’t have to choose which race to watch or bet on? Why can’t we have one set menu of wagers with the same low take-out? Why don’t we develop and honor horses for a yearlong body of work, not just aim them for one big year-end race—and the easiest route to get there? Why can’t we establish more stringent rules regarding drug usage and other dangerous practices inflicted on the horse—and enforce them nationwide, with lifetime bans on trainers and owners when appropriate? Why don’t we consolidate racing dates and tracks to ensure full fields and the best quality product possible at every skill level of the sport?

Sorry, but he’s absolutely right. If all that the sport is concerned about are horseplayers and handle, then the sport will die. Gamblers can and will move on to other gaming opportunities, but without the fan—those whose love for the sport motivates them to wager, or perhaps even become owners themselves—horse racing can and will implode. Read carefully. That is not to say that horseplayers and handle aren’t important for the sport—obviously they are. However, they should not be the only focus of what pitiful marketing the individual tracks do, because their interest in the game is fickle. If a better opportunity for financial return comes along, their attention wanes. It’s the fan who, for better or worse, will stick around until the bitter end.


The_Knight_Sky said...

Mr Repole said:
The fan who shows up with $20 in his pocket is just as, if not more, important than the gambler who shows up with $2,000. Racing doesn’t get that.

The sport has little but gouge the $20 fan and the $2,000 a day bettor.

Behind closed doors the philosophy has always been "the less they know, the better off WE will be". Thankfully the internet is changing the way horse racing is being run, albeit slowly.

Anonymous said...

When does someone become a fan of thoroughbred racing? What sparks the interest of someone to stand at the the finish line to watch a race? Who thinks they have the best method to handicap a race? Who wants to get their picture taken in the winners circle? How can I watch (fill in the blank) race without TVG or HRTV? How can the strict gambler appreciate the horse (not the number) they are betting on? How can racing in USA be appreciated more than Europe/Dubai/Australia racing? When will the KY Derby be less about the celebrities attending and more about the stories of the contenders and connections? I don't have the answers yet, but I'll find them. I am a 27 year old male and I live in Kansas. I am studying Marketing/Entrepreneurship in the pursuit of a career in the thoroughbred racing industry.I see a need and I want to fill it.
I'm always accepting friends on facebook- Dustin Ray Van Gorp

Pullthepocket said...


Nice thoughts in your paragraph.

Why indeed!

Consolidated post times? It is all about money. If I am a track and I can squeeze another $3000 by posting 0 minutes to post - when it is not really zero minutes to post - I will, and others follow.

Similar betting menus? Wow, another pipe dream. HANA spoke to a bunch of insiders about something as simple as showing probables and reporting prices in like fractions, rather than having seven or eight different reporting/probable prices. They were told they were nuts to even ask.

Racing horses more? Or not pointing them for one race, or two races? If Repole wins the TC his horse will be worth $75M if he retires the next day. $60M if he loses a bunch of races after that and looks mortal. It's best to go easy when you are a good horse because the breeders run the sport.

Stringent rules on drugs? When you punish someone he gets a lawyer. If you beat a dog you get caught, go to jail and never are allowed to own a dog again. If you mistreat a horse you get a weeks vacation and come back to make your living.

Sorry to start the day off on such a sorry reply, but this sport is a mess beyond comprehension.

Fix it or get slots? Racing chooses the latter.


Dave Schwartz said...

You said, "If all that the sport is concerned about are horseplayers and handle, then the sport will die."

The problem is that the sport is absolutely NOT concerned about the horseplayer. Sure, they are concerned about the handle, but only as in, "I don't have enough money to pay they rent," concerned.

Racing, and anyone who considers themselves a "fan" of racing, had better get this:


Ignore that at your own peril.

Anonymous said...

It's a terrible shame, but 99% of people in a position of power and or influence in racing are dolts. Dolts with very little real ability, other than a desire for self preservation.

Valerie Grash said...

Hi Dave,

Although I could read your posting over on the PaceAdvantage forum, I was unfortunately unable to register so I hope you will communicate to your friend affirmedny and others my comments here.

Where to begin? Perhaps with an emphatic defense against the claim that I am anti-horseplayer, although I’m not sure why I should bother because some people simply don’t know how to read or choose to twist people’s words to suit their own martyr complex. I am a horseplayer myself, by no means a “whale” nor can I quit my day job, but I do all right according to the taxman. In the DRF’s 2007 Public Handicapper Challenge, I finished in 29th place, which is damn good. I regularly put my handicapping analysis out there, on my blog, over at Thorofan, at Hello Race Fans, and even on the NTRA website. I’m pleased to be included on Ray Paulick’s Derby Index. To claim I somehow detest horseplayers or wagering when I engage in it myself is ludicrous. And I have never, ever claimed people need to come out to “see the pretty horses”—how incredibly sexist! Just because I am a woman does not mean that I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to horse racing. Since I didn’t see anyone attacking Repole’s opinion which motivated my post in the first place, I assume it’s fair to think this is a misogynist thing?

Contrary to their own superior sense of worth, a small number of radical narrow-minded horseplayers who think they hold the sport of horse racing by the balls don’t—just ask all those tracks losing boatloads of money, or those who only survive through the infusion of slots money. My comment about gamblers being fickle and taking their business elsewhere is true. Everywhere there is bitching and moaning about takeout and boycotts—just how many potential wagers do you think are redirected to poker and other forms of gaming every day? My main point—and I suspect Repole’s as well—is that those people who already do (or potential could) wager on horse racing need to be FANS of the sport as well—have a vested interest in its long term survival as well as appreciate its rich history. In every way possible, the industry today is failing to develop fans who may become the horseplayers of tomorrow. As I said in my post, tracks should not solely focus on horseplayers, but also more heartily embrace fans—you know, those silly women who just like to look at pretty horseys. Being a fan and being a horseplayer are not mutually exclusive things.

I also stand by scoffing at that moron Todd Schrupp’s idea years ago that a stakes race should be named after a horseplayer. Because I disagree with a self-absorbed television analyst pandering to his minions does that mean I hate horseplayers? Ridiculous.

Thank you for reading, though. Even if there are issues that we obviously disagree upon, at least we’re fighting for a sport that, for what reason, we love.

Jon Luman said...

Hey Valerie

It is beyond kind that you would take the time to explain yourself to one of the shills of the Pace Advantage board. Original thought, and/or reading comprehension are rare skills amongst them.

Especially those particular charlatans that sell the Morning Line Top 4 while attempting to paint themselves as "handicapping authorities". Who could be a help to horse racing by teaching fans how to play the game.

Of course, that is difficult to do when your source of ideas are polls on Pace Advantage, and what can be culled from others who do know the game.

Like Mr. Schwartz, horse racing may suffer from never having learned anything from the 117 year old pursuit known as past performance handicapping. At least as far as that pursuit would point a student of the game in a better, more successful direction.

Or, it may be, that Mr. Schwartz and horse racing have both learned the only lesson that the 117 year old of past performance handicapping can teach. That it is the best way to keep the most suckers on the hook for the longest time.

This started coming to the public intuitively in the 70's. But, for those whose perception is tuned more to, "how can I get the most money from the most suckers for the longest time", the signals will not land until the last HorsePlayers head out for the lottery line.

Jon Luman

tvnewsbadge said...

The REAL problem is that horse racing is simply not a television friendly sport, and this is the age of video.

Even the Kentucky Derby, an hour or so of lame boring features and filler capped by two minutes of action and they're outa there.

You can get away with that with the Derby, but how on earth can you do that week after week, especially when the horses with star power are only running a couple of times a year?

Especially, when most of the potential fans have no way to access the sport because the industry is so restrictive when it comes to making the product available.