Meeker Watches From The Sidelines

by Ed Meyer

posted on December 24, 2008 in General Discussion | No Comments >>

Though Tom Meeker hasn’t been directly involved with the Thoroughbred industry, since stepping down as CEO of Churchill Downs Inc. in August 2006 after 22 years at the helm, he has been an interested sidelines observer. Never one to mince words, Meeker said he doesn’t like what he sees right now, particularly the battle going on between racetracks and horsemen over advance deposit wagering. At the center of the fight on the racetrack side is the man who replaced him at Churchill Downs, Bob Evans.

“The squabbling that is going on right now could not have occurred at a more inopportune time,” Meeker told the Paulick Report. “Throwing grenades back and forth while the industry is crumbling around them does no one any good.”

Meeker said he doesn’t side with either party in the dispute. “In the cold light of day I side with horsemen on a couple of things, but track management is investing their capital and trying to put together a system. I’m not sure there’s a whole lot of money in the ADW business, and the margins can’t be great. I don’t think TVG and Youbet have done that well.

“Racing needs to get much more aggressive about marketing, and there needs to be a consolidation of racetracks and a number of functions so you can run the business in a more orderly manner. With the economic downturn and the squabbling that’s going on, it’s not a good thing. Everyone is just trying to whack up a smaller and smaller pie.”

“The fighting makes no sense. There may be irrational people on the racetrack side or among the horsemen, but at some point even the most ill-informed or most radical will have to realize that we can’t keep doing this.”

“And I don’t see any sense of urgency on anybody’s part,” he added. “I could think of 10 different things that can be done. Let’s agree that we don’t know the answer today, but let’s come to an agreement and have a reopener in a year or two years. We can’t afford not to have this thing out in the marketplace right now because we are losing customers. It takes five times as much energy and money to regain customers that you’ve lost than it does to keep them.”

Meeker said it’s important for racetracks to get into the ADW business . “They will use it as their primary marketing tool, whether it’s ADW or the various deployment devices – interactive television, telephone , the internet, whatever.  That’s going to be the marketing arm of racing.”

Meeker sees other issues that have plagued the industry for decades. “We need consolidation in so many areas,” he said. “We have all these racing commissions, horsemen’s groups, what have you.  There’s no sense of coordination at all on racing programs among different tracks. If Churchill were to cut out a few days of racing, somebody else would jump in and add more days. We need to cut back on the number of racing days.”

He seems happy to let someone else deal with those issues. “For the last few years I’ve just been a mere mortal. I get online now and then and read the racing rags and other things, but I haven’t spoke to Evans since the day I left.”

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