Keeper of the Flame

Somebody left the gate open, and the fans ran out like their tail was on fire. What happened? How could this have happened to us?? We always kept our eye on the gate, and only looked away once. But that one time was a little bigger than we ever could have imagined.

It’s a little bit bigger than all of the drama, but I think you get the picture. The sport of racing once held a strangle-hold on gambling, and now they don’t even get an invite to the party. What went wrong? We didn’t do anything… Wait, maybe that was the problem all along.

When I use to head out to the races with grandpa and dad. “Papaw” used to tell the same story as we approached the admission gates.” They used to charge $2 to enter when I was a young man. It kept the riff-raff out.” Now, I don’t know if that old tale was true, but if you think about it. It might have held true in a land long ago. As we would hand the admission clerk our daily pass, we felt as if we stepped under the velvet rope. Admission passes were like gold. Our bookie would give out one or two depending on what kind of player you were, and when I used to work in the parking lot. We kept a box of them in the trunk for big tippers. But I digress, whether it was 1949, or today. That part of the game has outlived the need. Drop back and take a deep breath, and read over this. Let it run over your head like cold water after a hard night of cheap draft beer.

Racing missed the boat. On-track handle accounted for 90% of the take, and 10% came from OTB’s, and off-track operations. This was when the powers-that-be should have been planning, but they went fishing instead. After years of complacency, the formula has flipped the other way. Tracks began to panic, and parking and admission became free. That helped some, but the tide was getting bigger.  It was like trying to dig a hole in a bucket of water, but the bucket was the size of the Nile river. As the air is still deflating from the sport, those same powers are still fishing. How about doing something new ?

Since 90% of your handle comes from sources away from the track. Why not invest in your video product? Look at Keeneland, and you’ll get an idea of what the image should look like. Get rid of the simple graphics package, and go to an eye-catchy crystal clear picture. Now you have my attention.

Talking heads are good. Now, lets do something that allows the OTB’s, ADW sites, and off-track locations to have as much information as possible. Give them a winner, and they cash that race. Teach them to handicap with your unique insights, and they become engaged. Talk track bias, weather, interviews between races with trainers and riders, and give out little details that draw you closer to the product. – There is a racing channel that loves to talk “hipster gab” and entertain. Take a look at what they are doing, and go the other way. The gamblers and novice players love information. If you have a planned attack and want the bettors to have the most information available. Take a look at Mountaineer. I know it’s not on the hot tracks to watch list, but they do an incredible job of getting you more information than most trainers know about. When you give players the “inside” scoop of what is happening. They will become a regular players.

Social Media should be used for more than talking about what your kids are doing, and how bad traffic is backed up. It has to be constant, and up-to-the minute. Have it on your track website with a scrolling timeline. Have someone in the paddock, roll your handicappers selections, and allow player feedback. Keep the ball moving at all times. Everyone will not find the info in the same manner. It takes a plan, and it has to be consistent. This has been the “buzz word” for quite sometime, but many are not using it wisely. Keep the info coming, and people will take notice. Twitter is more effective for up-to-the-minute info, and Facebook can be used for selections and reactions. They are out there, so just use them to boost your product.

There is no trick to bringing racing back to the old days. It takes hard work, and utilizing the technology at hand. If all goes well, and you can get your players to engage. We may stem that yearly loss of 5% of the players that drop off the face of the planet each year. Stay optimistic, and get to know your players again. It may be a “special” email, or an offer tailored to their needs. There is so much competition out there, and you’ll have to work twice as hard for half of the return at best. But it sure beats watching a beautiful sport whither up and blow away.