Mid-Atlantic Musings, by John Piassek — Friday, December 18, 2015

Mid-Atlantic Musings

By John Piassek

Friday, December 18, 2015

In Friday’s edition of Mid-Atlantic Musings, we’re going to take a closer look at some of the proposed ideas for improving racing from the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing & Gaming, which we began exploring yesterday. The symposium featured a session called “45 in 45”, in which a wide variety of panelists presented forty-five different ideas for racing in 45 minutes. Here are a few of the others that stuck out, and my take on each of them.

“make cool, interesting names”
Even though interesting names may buy the non-racing fans’ attention for a few seconds, there can only be so many cool names out there before they have to be educated on what the sport’s about. This is the equivalent of some baseball executive saying that his fellow owners must sign guys with cool names so that more people will watch. It has some surface appeal but, long range, it’s borderline nonsensical.

“have a ‘director of animal welfare’ at each track”
Especially at lower-level tracks, having one of these sounds like a great idea in practice. The only issue would be if such a director, left to their own devices, implemented policies that were detrimental to the racing product. This is what happened at Aqueduct last year, when a slew of new ideas led to small fields and uninteresting racing, before being abandoned after a few weeks.

“cross-promote with other equestrian sports”
Given that racing is already the most popular of all equestrian-related sports, if anything, other equestrian sports should be looking to cross-promote with racing, not the other way around.

“offer a million dollars on any given day”
Virtually every major track gives out more than a million dollars every day, in the betting handle dispersed out to the winners over the course of the program. Of course, that might not be what the panelist meant: He may have been referring to purse money (we’ll explore this in a column in the near future) or, more likely, some pointlessly gimmicky wager that should be offered to lure new bettors into chasing some uncatchable carrot. Brilliant!

“offer takeout rollbacks on lower handle days”
Among all the ideas offered at this session, this was my personal favorite. What better way to encourage bettors to play on slower days than to give them a discount on bets? It’s awesome!

“salary-cap-based racing days to convert fantasy sports players into racing fans”
Another great idea here. If fantasy sports players form “teams” of sports players, why can’t they form a stable of horses for a day, or a team of trainers and jockeys?

“invest in business and economic research”
The vagueness is real.

“offer a personalized handicapping service for newcomers based on personalized data”
Giving new bettors access to only information that they want has its benefits and disadvantages. On one hand, it can’t hurt to simplify things at first for the new bettor. On the other hand, if they’re not betting with the same information that almost everyone else is, are they really getting a fair shake?
Steve Crist, in his book Betting on Myself, notes that in the mid-1990s, Equibase tried a similar product for newcomers, which broke down handicapping into easy-to-read pie charts. The effort was a failure. Would a product like that work today?

“revive Kids to the Cup”
Kids to the Cup, for those not familiar with it, was an initiative in the late 1990s and early 2000s, designed to (surprise!) introduce kids to horse racing. The program was popular in its time, but unfortunately wound up fading away.

Monmouth Park has a similar idea (the Monmouth Park Kids’ Club), which is successful, but is only offered on a few days during the meet. If such a program was implemented every weekend (or at least every other weekend) at major tracks, there’d be momentum going among the younger set.

“full video coverage of stewards’ inquiry process”
“centralize race officiating”
“industry twitter dedicated to inquiries”
I combined these three ideas because they all represent the same basic idea. What we’re talking about here is an overhaul of officiating in racing. When there’s no consistency in judgments from race to race at one track, let alone at all tracks, how can anyone expect the judges to be taken seriously?

The second point is the most interesting one, as, going more in-depth on his idea, the panelist suggested having a central office (not unlike MLB’s replay center in New York City) where a team of judges can review inquiries, and make decisions on disqualifications. The process would be displayed to the betting public in its entirety, and a twitter account would give further explanations as to the decisions. Anything to improve transparency in racing is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.

“offer rebates to losing tickets”
The Meadowlands had a similar idea a few years ago, in which fans could redeem their losing tickets to enter themselves in a drawing to win prizes. An idea like that would be fun for fans, as they’d have incentive to hold on to their losers, in the hopes of turning them into gold.

“limit track admission to create premium experiences”
I never really imagined the Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes this year as being “premium events”, even though those events had capped attendance. Besides, in a time when racing is looking for more fans, why shut people out from going to the track?

Tracks usually have these, either in the form of reward cards for “players club” members, or betting vouchers for the non-club members. If anything, tracks should try to advertise vouchers as being like betting credit cards of sorts.

Overall, what were the ideas at the symposium like? There were some hits, some misses, and some that ventured into the realm of the absurd. Obviously, having bettors get takeout discounts on some days and a universal judging system are terrific ideas. Having horses run down the middle of the street, not so much.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, but even if some of the good ideas are implemented, and racing begins to focus itself on bettor-centric marketing, the future can be bright.

JohnPJohn Piassek is a student at Loyola University in Maryland. He prides himself as a supporter of racing in New Jersey and Maryland. John in aspiring race track announcer, marketer and writer. His “Mid-Atlantic Musings” column on DanonymousRacing.com focuses mostly on NJ and MD racing, ways to market them, how the states can improve their racing, and how racing should start focusing on bettor-centric marketing.

You can follow John on Twitter @Theyreoff

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