Op/Ed: A Great Opportunity. Will We Blow It Again?

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Edd Roggenkamp

by Edd Roggenkamp

Millions of Americans are in lockdown–bored, grouchy, tired and looking for entertainment at a time when major sports are shut down and people are sick of looking at 20-year-old reruns. What an opportunity to expose millions of new people to the excitement of horse racing.

So, I propose a three-month (May-June-July) interim experiment.

In several places, horse racing has proven a unique ability to operate safely during these times, with careful and adequate social distancing. Since horses, grooms and riders are already on the grounds, including racing in the afternoon requires minimal additional staff in a no-spectators format.

But this advantage will not last forever.

At the same time, while we are attracting a vast new audience, we can financially stabilize three critical elements of our sport: our thousands of racehorse owners, our racetrack facilities and massive numbers of skilled backside workers.

So here is my simple proposal that needs no new computers, inventions or technology.

Work closely with cooperating racetracks that are willing and able to aggressively try to attract new viewers. At a minimum, the tracks should provide free daily live racing videos on the Internet and design and operate free non-financial internet bet-like games to pick winners with competition for prizes. Design creative ways to entice novice viewers to begin to pick race winners. But also include free past performance data and tutorials to help people with time on their hands learn the fine and contagious art of handicapping. Can’t you hear a family in their living room, cheering for Lucky Ducky to win race #4 so they have a chance to win a new flatscreen t.v.?

With all actual financial betting being online, a key component is the ADW organizations. They will benefit greatly if the audience for racing is much larger and more dedicated in the future, so they need to invest by bringing their expertise and computer systems to the party. At the same time the tracks are providing free games to new audiences, the ADWs will reach out and provide easy real betting opportunities to millions of people who can’t visit the slots at their local casino.

We know the racehorse owners are taking a major hit right now, because they cannot race their horses for purses (and in many cases because their other businesses are in dire condition). Many are in serious short-term financial jeopardy. This interim plan will provide an opportunity to earn some purses to cover costs during this downturn. Purses, in turn, will lead to maintaining (paying) the backside work force.

The question is how to fund this project? I suggest that the starting position would be to drop take-out at cooperating tracks to 15%, which would lure many bettors back to the sport. From this 15%, allocate 5% directly to purses, to stabilize the horse owner base which is so critical to the future of racing (and the breeding industry). Next designate 5% to the tracks, to cover the cost for backside space for the horses, maintaining the track, hiring crews, and for providing the free video, contests and prizes to the new audience. Finally, that leaves for 5% for the ADW (which is better than 10% of nothing).

The last step is to get The Jockey Club involved to provide free past performance data to the tracks to eliminate this cost of entry to both old and new viewers.

At this point, if horse racing was a fully functioning sport, the national commissioner would pull together all the critical people, ADWs, track operators, and horse owners to hash out the details, finalize agreements, pass out assignments, and then announce and promote the program. Of course, we are not a functional organization. And so, as has happened so many times in the past, this opportunity to grow and stabilize our sport will probably fade away, and we’ll blow it again.

For those who always find reasons why it can’t be done, perhaps we could pull together some old retired Sears executives, and they could reconstruct their year 2000 list of “100 reasons why Amazon can’t possibly work.”

Edd Roggenkamp retired long ago as General Manager of Dealer Operations for General Motors, to a modest little farm in Versailles, Kentucky, in order to have more years to enjoy his horses. He now devotes most of his energy to raising, training and racing Thoroughbreds on the Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio circuit. His biggest thrill is watching one of his “homebreds” cross the finish line first, as several did last year. As breeder, owner, and trainer he has viewed horse racing from many different angles since he bought his first broodmare in 1990.

 

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