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.