Reading accounts of Sunday’s Round Table Conference at Saratoga makes me wonder just how much money The Jockey Club wasted hiring the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company to write a report that basically regurgitated every single idea that bloggers and racing pundits have been advocating for years.
“Fewer, better races and better scheduling to increase field size and showcase the best product” and “racing integrity reforms” have been particularly popular points of contention for fans, as have no-brainer issues like “increased television coverage”, “a free-to-play website” and “innovative wagering platforms.” Why did it take some pretentious insider-connected firm to finally make our long-argued complaints legitimate?
Let’s hope The Jockey Club, not to mention the industry as a whole, takes more serious and immediate action on this report than they did the last one in 1991 on drug testing. According to The Jockey Club president and CEO James L. Gagliano:
No offense, Mr. Gagliano, but what malarkey! Taking on only the superficial issues of television coverage and creating a social network game (which apparently would be primarily geared towards women) is merely putting a bandage on this industry hemorrhaging fans. According to their wastrel report, McKinsey estimates that, if current trends continue, “thoroughbred racing will lose fans at a rate of 4 percent a year, and, by 2020, the fan base will be only 64 percent of what it was in 2010.” Considering the fact that horse racing fans are, by far, an aging demographic—one that is quickly dying out—it’s not likely they will be replaced by younger fans if all the industry plans to do is apply a little blush and lip gloss to its product.
The McKinsey presenter concluded that all this can be done without a “commissioner” and without wide-scale national regulatory action. So, here we are, once again paying lip service to the real issues—and once again fretting about what is seemingly beyond anyone’s control, the self-destructive nature of arrogance and power.
What must be addressed is the lack of national leadership when it comes to scheduling and conducting racing, as well as the lack of uniformity in terms of racing regulations and wagering. The Jockey Club isn't the group to lead this fight, despite their apparent arrogant belief that they can. The bigger problem is no one entity wants to give up their autonomous decision-making, regardless of how much this lack of homogeny hurts the sport—and the industry as a business. Until that day arrives, nothing can right this sinking ship, merely prolonging the agony.