Power Cap

Power cap- existential handicapping

01 June 2009

Racing Does Not Need A Commissioner

Racing's greatest strength is that it does not have a national commissioner. Every other sports league has the same format, uses the same market research and same approach to lure the same groups of masses to buy their t-shirts and plunk down a few hundred to sit and watch an AV show at one of its games. Racing is the only diverse kid on the block, it is a different type of game, with a distinctive yet authentic appeal. Racing should not try to emulate sports leagues like the NFL or NBA or MLB. These sports leagued peaked in the 1990's and have began their decline. Kids are no longer interested in Baseball much anymore, and as a game it will greatly reduce in popularity over the next generation. Instead of copying a tired formula racing should do what it has always done, but do it better. Let the market forces at work downsize the number of tracks in operation, there is too much racing and most of it is forgettable. Right size, form new racing circuits and accentuate the positives of a great game. Racing's authentic appeal has stood the test of time, we could be one or two years away from a tremendous renaissance, spurred by a return to all things authentic and racing's internet advantage.

This diversification of ideas and management styles keeps the game fresh and surprisingly strong when the death of racing was long ago expected. A national commissioner of racing would have the game controlled by some over educated, under experienced bore, who would employ well worn marketing techniques to all tracks. Racing would expose itself to the same affliction that the banking industry is suffering. Too much consolidation and too many banks all doing the same exact thing, using the same risk models killed banking. Banking was better off when there were hundreds of banks all doing different things. The competition is working for tracks like Keeneland, NYRA and Tampa. These tracks have improved their product in recent years and surged forward past tracks that are stuck in a rut. Without diversity of management news ideas are stifled under the weight of me-too think.

Racing is a real game and not a master planned, referee controlled, TV commercial vehicle. Racing is different and different is a good survival technique. In real estate terms racing is like an aging urban neighborhood. Horse racing is old, filled with history, with well built brownstones that have stood the test of time. The masses stay away do the rough conditions and the bitter degenerates found on the corners there. However one persons slum is another persons opportunity. A cosmopolitan capitol like Rome could become a backwater is a few generations and an aging urban neighborhood has potential to become the next hot area. Life works in cycles. Racing has the potential to expand as it has a steady and permanent revenue source in wagering and racing is just north of Excitinsvillle.

Sports like the NFL or NBA are master planned neighborhoods in a Sunbelt Cul-De-Sac borefest. People are leaving these suburban master planned communities in droves. Like a master planned community the action in TV balls sports are contrived, phony and shallow. Master planned areas are so 1980's. Racing has the authentic appeal to attract people when they are sick of the phony action, when the horns prompting them to cheer no longer work and when they become tired of sportscasters telling them what to think. When the days of the master planned community in the suburbs fell out of vogue a former working class area like Williamsburg Brooklyn was there to take advantage of the stream of young hipsters looking for an authentic experience. Racing could be there too when sports fans tire of the phony master planned sports experience.

Where I am from in Brooklyn was a working class European neighborhood in 1960 then after some government intervention coupled with cheap suburban housing the working class neighborhood was suddenly a burnt out wasteland in 1977. After about 20 years of drugging, whoring, and robbing this former wasteland is now a hot area attracting trust-fund hipsters to experience the authentic energy of an old-school urban environment. Bushwick is a clear example of a turnaround, racing has the potential to have a similar turnaround.

Racing has the same authentic appeal of an older neighborhood in any of the great Northern hemisphere cities. Times are always changing and life works in cycles. If a wasteland can become the next hot neighborhood, racing can be the next hot sport. Racing's time is coming around again, and the worst thing it could do is to try and re-model the game around a master planned community that is suddenly going out of style, complete with a commissioner, mandatory races and trumped up inauthentic excitement. Racing needs to keep its authentic appeal and trim some of its weaker content. Racing has, is and will continue to take advantage of the internet. The internet is great for racing. The investment that Twinspires has made in the twinspires.com website has been impressive. Between internet wagering, internet past performances and internet replays, following the horses has become a seamless experience with tremendous amounts of information at your fingertips. Racing works better on the internet than any other sport.

What racing has to do is right size. The prime issue in American racing is quantity. There is too much racing. The preponderance of slot machine racetracks is weakening the game. Horses are racing but nobody cares and few people are betting on these races. These mundane, slot machine revenue distribution vehicles are pulling horses away from racetracks that support real racing. Real racing is a card full of horses that people want to watch and want to bet on. Real racing is an event, not a slot machine revenue distribution vehicle. These slots fueled races are like model homes that sit idle, subsidized by slot machines they pull residents from the vital area of town. If this continues soon racing will look like Detroit. If the slot tracks survive and cherished facilities like Pimlico or Hollywood have to close we will have to deal with it. The market forces will handle right sizing the game better than a commissioner could ever dream of. It is better to have a healthy game than a game on life support filled with disease ridden tracks.

Racing in the mid-Atlantic needs to organize, a circuit should be formed from Delaware south to Virginia. Perhaps Twin Spires owned Arlington, Fairgrounds and Churchill could work their way into becoming a circuit. Perhaps the three slot tracks in Pennsylvania could become a circuit as well. Finley expands on many of these points. They are building yet another track in New Mexico to take advantage of slot revenues, this is terrible news as it should mark the end of Texas tracks like Lone Star and Sam Houston. Who thought that when Presque Isle opened a few years ago that it would diminish Churchill?

The diversity of management styles of the different tracks and governmental agencies running racing ensures competition between tracks and a steady flow of new ideas. Racing is just a lucky horse away from catching fire once again. Unfortunately like in Brooklyn in the 1970's government intervention is stifling the renaissance but we can be sure that racing will have its time in the limelight soon enough.


R.U. Creyzy said...

"...the competition is working for tracks like Keeneland, NYRA and Tampa."

Tampa? They run nothing but maiden 8,000, non winners of 2 for 8 and non winners of 3 for 8. racing is terrible. The only thing they have going is the weather.

Glenn Craven said...

The problem with your logic that racing doesn't need a commissioner is that racing does need some standardization.

It's confusing and detrimental for medication rules to vary between jurisdictions. Standardized trainer licensing would instill more confidence in the public that the people who are in charge of the horses know what they're doing. Track safety initiatives and the quality of racing surfaces are better managed by a single entity with concentrated expertise than by individual states or jurisdictions, some of which might lack the personnel or the resolve to really get the job done.

Horse racing also needs to be marketed differently (I see ads all the time for racing DURING racing on TV, almost never during anything else).

Without a coordinating body, most of this never gets done at all, let alone efficiently or well.

As for Finley -- and a significant number of the others who believe there's a horse shortage -- his regional circuit idea misses the mark because Finley doesn't actually know what the problem is. He'd have to know or talk to horsemen outside the elite tier of trainers to get the real picture, and I kind of doubt that he does.

The barn at Churchill is as full of horses as ever; it's WHOSE horses and WHICH horses that are the key.

Meanwhile, 100 miles away at Indiana Downs -- where the maiden-special purse is $18,000 compared to about $48,000 at Churchill -- they have 108 horses entered tonight for a 10-race card. ... Mr. Finely should try to explain that amid a "horse shortage."

Anonymous said...

Ahhh, Racing is doing so well without any organized central leadership.

Enough, Wake up!


malcer said...

But how do you want to stop over-saturation without a central authority? How do you want to limit the influence of individual states and track operators without one?

FG, AP and CD could become a circuit, but why would CDI do so? They would be the only ones shouldering the cost (lost income/market share from several months of racing at AP), but every one would reap the rewards. And why wouldn't the state of IL just transfer those dates to another track? That's the very dilemma at the heart of free market self-regulation: the more competitors work together,the higher the incentive for those that do not participate, and can’t be forced to.

That the free market will create a self-sustaining balance of supply and demand is the old mantra of neoliberalism. It has yet to work in practice. This theory has proven to be especially questionable in regards to agriculture-based industries and such that require an investment-intensive, long-term business model. Racing fits both descriptions.

Those racing jurisdictions that have prospered over the last couple of decades have done so through a concerted effort, lead and supervised by a central office.

Btw: your banking example proves quite the opposite. Hundreds of banks allowed the interests of the company to take a backseat to the individual interests of their investment bankers and managers precisely because they lacked an oversight authority dedicated to the health of the industry, the same as we see in racing.

Anonymous said...

The impact that alternative gaming has had in the state of California , primarily through the growth of Indian Tribal Casinos, has been absolutely devastating. It is essentially impossible to compete against a monolopy of this nature.

We have also seen the growth of small regional tracks that have been able to generate slots revenue sky rocket. This is, of course, because they have been able to supplement purses leading horsemen to run where they are able to launch a viable economic venture.

There may not be so much of a "horse shortage" as a lack of revenue generated for horsemen which is leading the "work a day" owner/trainer to cut back or leave the game entirely.

The horse racing industry, like any other, is driven by economics and they simply are not favorable to many horsemen during these difficult times. Filling races is extremely challenging due to these factors.

Cholly said...

Thank you Gregg for advancing this topic…interesting thoughts by both you and your detractors. I may disagree with much of your logic, but I’m down with the precept that a quasi-governmental lord will not magically appear and lead our people to a land of milk and honey.

I also agree that it’s dangerous footing to compare horse racing w/ major league sports. They are more media/entertainment intensive whereas racing is more of a retail consumable product. I keep waiting for one of the tracks/circuits to wake up and establish themselves as a “category killer”, a la WalMart, Southwest Airlines, etc. Say one entity decided to combine $100,000 maiden races, 8% take-out, over the top drug testing, and the proviso that the only way you can access our product is through our website. My guess is that they would end up with a lot of horses and bettors…and be in a position to dictate an altered landscape of the sport. And the first alteration would be to drive a lot of Mom & Pop tracks out of business.

G. C. said...

That is a interesting idea, the horse racing category killer. That would send ripples through the industry and really shake things up. There would be so many unintended consequences of a track like this but I think that it is the ground fire needed to clear out some of the burdensome underbrush.

Amateurcapper said...

I understand your point about the indpendence the game currently has.

Central question I have for you: I horse racing as a whole thriving? No.

Second question: Is the game attracting anyone not already interested in horse racing? No.

As for your real estate example, sports cannot be equated. When a sport is supported, it stays supported. When it's on life support, it stays on life support or dies. There is no cycling in sports like real estate markets fall in/out of vogue. Unless a crisis (MLB or NBA strikes) turns off the public, the sport thrives year in/out.

I agree that there is too much racing...take a look at this last Saturday's Hol card: avg. 9.1 starters on a 10 race card...including the 4th where there were only 6.

As for reorganization in mid-Atlantic states and New Mexico's new track...this is best done with a central body to control the product.

Erin said...

I wanted to read your ideas but the glare off your "it's" wouldn't allow me to.

Its vs. it's

* Its is a possessive pronoun showing something belongs to “it.”
o Example: The book has a tiger on its cover.

* It’s is a contraction of “it is.”
o Example: It’s sunny out today.

Talking about something that belongs to someone? Use its.
Will the sentence make sense if you use “it is”? Use it’s.

G. C. said...

Sorry for the errors Erin and the glare that ruined your reading experience. I got my IT guy right on the problem and it's solved.

Erin said...

ahh thank you...and thanks for thinking critically on this issue and comping up with some very provocative reasons why a commish wouldn't be a good idea. I'm not sure your analogy isn't flawed, but I think there are still valuable insights to be gleaned from it. Nice work, and nice to see someone willing to step outside the box.

Anonymous said...

The whole problem revolves around the good horses being retired to soon. In other sports you have the same headliners year after year. Fans can't wait to see the favorite in action,
Racing, it has to re-invent itself every yesr. You remember John Henry, had a big following, was a household name. Why, how long did he race, and win. You seen the following Curlin was attracting -- then gone!
The high powers of racing are to stupid to realize, or, understand what the fan wants. Their only thought is money in their own pocket. There has been blame put in every area but the right one. Synthetic tracks, medications, standardization, they all miss the mark. Actually they have been created to take the focus off the real problem, early retirement. The people at the top are the one's killing racing through their own greed, and stupidity. You start out with a wrong premise -- synthetic tracks, medications, standardization --- you wind up with wrong answers and conclusions.
Frank Lancelotti

Erin said...

Along the same lines as above, I believe the key is to generate an experience that allows people to fall in love with the sport. If I'd known a the outset all the realities that are more common public knowledge now, I'd never have allowed myself to become attracted. But now it's a guilty pleasure and I'm the girlfriend who can't not go back, no matter how bad the breakdowns/slaughter stories/drug infractions.

Racing should have transparency. But removing the shroud without making racing minimally digestible to contemporary cultural mores first is killing racing.