By Dean Hoffman
TUCSON, AZ–The 45th Global Symposium on Racing began two days of sessions Tuesday morning at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson. Sponsored by the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program, it drew several hundred racing executives from around the world.
The morning kickoff session addressed integrity in commercial sports. Jack Anderson, an Irish-born professor and director of Sports Law Studies at the University of Melbourne in Australia, gave the keynote address.
“In most areas, the United States is ahead in commercialization of sports, but behind the world in regulating integrity in racing,” he said.
Anderson said that while some in racing worry about such things as crime syndicates in Southwest Asia trying to fix races, he emphasized that threats to the integrity of sports “always come from within.”
He detailed a long list of scandals in sports and how they’ve affected integrity and public perception.
“My key job is to identify integrity issues and what lessons we can learn and apply,” he said.
Anderson emphasized that he’s been enthralled with racing since he placed his first bet, illegally, as a 12-year-old in early 1986. During the course of his life, Anderson noted that the local bookie has been replaced by a computer program. He added that the “controlled unpredictability” of sports is a big part of its commercial stability.
“You want to see your horse or your team win,” he said. “And some days your team or horse does win.”
Anderson stressed that integrity is essential to public confidence in racing, as well as hopes for corporate sponsorship.
“If the game is already fixed, why keep score?” he asked. “That’s not sport. That’s the WWE. If the game is fixed, why sponsor it? Nothing corrodes the commercial base quicker than corruption.”
Anderson cited greyhound racing as an example of how integrity issues can kill a business, on the heels of Florida’s recent vote to phase out dog racing.
“There is only one dog track left in London, formerly the heart of the sport,” he said. “In Ireland, dog racing is virtually a TV gambling sport. And we know what has happened in Florida.
“Cheating in sports has been going on a long time,” Anderson pointed out. He mentioned the “Black Sox” World Series scandal in 1919 when gambler Arnold Rothstein lured baseball players into cheating.
That event is an infamous incident in American sports history, but it’s hardly the only example of fixing, he said, noting that frequently athletes are approached about fixing the outcome of a contest.
“Who is the whistle blower?” Anderson asked the audience. “Sport does whistle blowing very badly because the community is very small.”
He noted with irony that the policies of the Russian Anti-Doping Program ultimately became the Russian Doping Program.
“Tennis has a huge problem with match fixing,” Anderson continued. “15% of tennis players had knowledge of fixing. Not at the major events, but at the lower-level events.”
He said that horse racing can learn lessons from how other sports have spotted integrity problems.
“There is a tendency in sport to hire ex-police officers to protect integrity, but you need people who know the sport and know the types of scams that can occur,” Anderson emphasized. “The first step in assuring integrity of racing is the quality of the stewards. I cannot make that point any stronger. You need people who know the sport.”
Match or race fixing knows no borders, and the United States will find this out quickly, he predicted. Fixing depends on inside information.
He cited a recent case in British horse racing in which a horse was injured before a big race. A veterinarian bet big before information on the injury was made public.
“He was later cleared,” emphasized Anderson, “but 60 employees in that yard could also have done this.”
In a final warning to racing officials, Anderson showed attendees the iconic photo of Muhammed Ali standing over Sonny Liston lying on the canvas in their May, 1965 heavyweight boxing title re-match in Lewiston, Maine.
“It’s almost certain that this was a fixed fight,” he said. “Liston took a dive because he had gambling debts. If you don’t protect your sport, your bottom line will take a dive.”
Yenni Vance of Remington Park in Oklahoma spoke on content marketing and said that the old rules of marketing don’t apply in today’s environment, citing marketing guru Seth Dogin’s comment that, “Marketing is no longer about the stuff you make, but the stories you tell.”
“Everyone has a story and our job as marketers is to listen,” Vance emphasized. “Listen and get people involved.”
Vance pointed out that marketing must: (1) engage customers, (2) build suspense, (3) foster aspiration, (4) drive empathy, (5) harness emotion, (6) amplify your champions and (7) collaborate.
On the point of collaboration, Vance noted that Remington Park has 30 different strategic partnerships. Marketing must focus, Vance stressed, on speaking directly to customers.
“People will never forget how you make them feel,” she added. “Your favorite ads are those that evoke an emotional reaction. Marketing content must be relevant, entertaining and informative. You must connect quickly with the customer or the customer will go elsewhere. Create content that inspires people.”
Several speakers participated in a complex panel discussion on Blockchain and Cryptocurrency in horse racing, acknowledging that it’s largely unknown in the racing world today, but predicting how important it will become in the next three to five years. Blockchain is a secure system for storing data.
While describing the advantages, the panelists noted that Blockchain can be valuable in multi-jurisdictional license applications and renewals and also in compliance, but also admitted that possible problems in security, cost, and system failures are drawbacks.
The panelists admitted that while Blockchain is new to racing, embracing it will give racing a chance to be on the cutting edge.
The symposium wraps up on Tuesday with another full day of sessions.