How to Better Promote Racing…a Q & A with Mattress Mack

Jim McIngvale | Patty Wolfe

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Jim McIngvale (Mattress Mack) made history when the Houston Astros won the World Series. He made bets that returned $75 million when they won, the largest win ever in the history of sports betting. The bets were tied into a promotion McIngvale has used many times at his Gallery Furniture Stores in Houston. If he wins the bet, his customers get free mattresses.

He's great at getting publicity for himself and his stores, but never had he seen anything like what happened with this bet, the story of which became a huge hit on social media. In particular, B/R Betting, an arm of Bleacher Report, followed McIngvale from Game 1 of the World Series through the team's victory parade and captured the agony and ecstasy of each moment from someone who had $75 million at stake based on the outcome of a baseball game. Mattress Mack content amassed 75 million video views on B/R Betting, which posted the content on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. McIngvale figures he got millions of dollars in free publicity out of the B/R Betting posts.

It just goes to show that when it comes to promoting his business and himself, McIngvale has no equal. Because of his bet and the publicity it received, McIngvale became as famous as the Astros star players. So what advice does this master promoter have for horse racing and how can it better promote itself? Those were the questions we had for Mattress Mack.

TDN: In what areas should racing focus its attention when it comes to improving the visibility of the sport?

JM: People love gambling stories. Horse racing needs to do more to play on the gambling aspect because these young kids are fascinated by it. When I went to Philly and got into that famous confrontation with some Phillies fans, which was not my finest hour, everybody up there knew me. They all know me from all the exposure I was getting with places like Bleacher Report. Horse racing needs to have more connection to young people through gambling and find ways where people can win a lot of money. Absolutely, we should promote gambling more. In Philly, everyone knew Mattress Mack and knew about my bet on the Astros. They knew me because they saw me on B/R Betting or the Action Network or whatever. What's better? Horse racing or the lottery? There's no comparison. Horse racing is a much better gambling game and they need to get the word out about that.

TDN: You won $75 million on your Astros bet. There is no way for a person to make that kind of money betting on a horse race, even at the Kentucky Derby. What's your answer to that?

JM: No, you can't make that kind of money betting on racing, but you can make racing a better product for the bettor. Do whatever it takes to get bigger fields and lower the takeout. Figure out a way to get 15- or 20-horse fields like they have in England. You do that and all of a sudden you have a different game, a better game. We see far too many races and stakes that have five-horse fields with big favorites. People don't want to bet on that. Increase the size of the fields and give people a chance to gamble on a good product. That's all people want. People are fascinated with gambling, particularly with sports betting. You've also got to lower the takeout to compete. It's 5% when I make a sports bet. In racing it's four times that.

TDN: What did you think of the decision to retire Flightline (Tapit)?

JM: You have to have superstars. Retiring Flightline. I get it. They had to make the money. But what a shame there wasn't a way to keep him around longer. Football has Tom Brady and a bunch of other high-profile players. Baseball doesn't do a good job promoting its stars, but basketball certainly does. You have to create household names and get people excited about a horse appearing here or there. To me, that's really important. They have to find a way to keep these horses running longer so they have a chance to become household names. The game has to figure out how to keep these horses around as long as they are sound because everyone wants to see a superstar. Pay them an appearance fee. Pay them money to just show up, whether they win or lose. That's one way to get horses to stay around. We need more superstars like Zenyatta, who was still running when she was six. She stuck around and built up a huge fan base.

TDN: What's your opinion of fixed-odds wagering on horse racing?

JM: Going to fixed odds would be would be outstanding. When you bet at 3-1 and the horse goes off at 4-5, that's hard to swallow. I get fixed odds on my Astro bets. Fixed odds are the way to go so that way people know what they are going to get for their money. I think fixed odds would be a great benefit because pari-mutuel betting is too complicated for the average person out there.

TDN: What are some of the problems you see with horse racing as it is now?

JM: No. 1, it has to be more transparent. The optics on horse racing are not good when these guys get slapped on the wrist for these drug positives. That's horrible. You can't have people thinking a horse won because it was drugged. We've also got to do more to keep these horses safe. They've got to improve the technology. Dr. [David] Lambert has this device you can put on the horse and it tells you when it's going to red line and something is going to pop. That needs to be done in workouts and when they race and it needs to be done everywhere. When those horses red line and are about to pop they need to stop on those horses. All that stuff is doable. Dr. Lambert and I are working on what we call the Runhappy Wellness program. We want to get the racetracks to put these monitors on the horses so they can tell when something is going to go wrong. They monitor the baseball players and they monitor football players, so why can't we monitor these horses and make it as transparent as possible? The more transparent the better.

TDN: What are other sports doing right that racing isn't?

JM: Take a look at F1 (Formula 1 racing). F1 came to Austin, where my daughter runs a restaurant for us. They had the biggest two days in their history while F1 was in town. Five years ago, F1 was nothing. I asked a sports marketing friend of mine, how did F1 go from nothing to something, from the bottom of the heap to the top? It all comes down to a deal they did with Netflix. They told the story of F1 on Netflix and look what happened. It has turned into one of the hottest sports in the world. Racing needs to come up with some creative ideas like that. If F1 can do it, why can't horse racing?

TDN: Tell us about your experience with B/R Betting.

JM: It was incredible. Those guys do a great job. The guys from Bleacher Report followed me the whole time during the World Series. We also have our own social media team that runs our sports website, Gallerysports.com. The amount of hits was just incredible. They know how to make this work. You put something on TikTok and it blows up exponentially. It's just unbelievable. People like to see the agony and ecstasy of the big bet. They loved the story.

TDN: Your bet on the Astros was tied into a promotion you do at your stores, where people got mattresses for free if the Astros won the World Series. You had to give away an awful lot of mattresses. Did you come out ahead?

JM: I won $75 million and we sold over $70 million in mattresses. It's the greatest promotion ever. After the Astros beat the Yankees, that Sunday was biggest day we've had in 43 years. The following day, Monday, which was a non-holiday Monday, we did 25% more than that. I had to cut the promotion off because I had reached the max in insurance money, which is what I call my bets. I was filled up to capacity. If I had kept going through the World Series, we would have sold another $40 million worth of mattresses. I got $100 million worth of publicity off this Astros bet. The brand awareness of my business increased tenfold in the last two weeks. When I was on that victory parade with the Astros players going through downtown Houston, people were chanting 'Mattress Mack, Mattress Mack.' There were two million people there. How the else do you achieve something like that?

TDN: Are you optimistic about the future of racing?

JM: Yes, because there is so much opportunity to make things better.

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