By T. D. Thornton
It might seem odd that during a Tuesday panel discussion titled “Capitalizing on Racing's Global Footprint,” one presenter at the 2022 Symposium on Racing hosted by the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program insisted that localism trumps globalism when you're trying to market the sport worldwide.
Yet Simon Fraser, the senior vice president in charge OF international simulcast signal distribution for 1/ST Content, made his case effectively by drawing upon his experiences in managing the content rights, data, odds and signals on behalf of a broad portfolio of global partners who work with the world's leading fixed-odds, spread-betting and commingled wagering companies.
“One of the points that I've learned over the years is that racing is an inherently local sport. It isn't a global sport. It's a very local sport,” Fraser said.
As example, he pointed out that racetrackers worldwide, “all speak a version of the same language, and we all can understand each other when we talk.”
But when a bettor from one part of the planet opens up a racing publication or looks at past-performance data from another corner of the globe, it can be very difficult for them to interpret the information with enough familiarity to confidently place a wager.
Other local/global differences exist. Think fixed odds-versus-mutuels, dirt-versus-turf, jumps-versus- flats. Now toss into the mix different rules and officiating styles, plus the inherent disorientation of working across multiple time zones.
“To take advantage of the fact that people really do like racing, and they like to bet on racing internationally, you have to react to what the local market needs,” Fraser said. “First of all, the local product has to be right. If the local product isn't right, then it doesn't matter what happens internationally. And all of the revenue that you're really going to make to make the local product right comes from the local market. Anything international is just the cherry on top.
“Now, when you do the local product right, you can take it to countries and you can adapt it, and you can work with local partners and local betting companies and local journalists to turn that product into a suitable product for that market.”
Fraser gave the specific example of selling North America simulcast signals to Turkey, where the only wager routinely attractive to players in that market is a Pick Six. That means his focus on providing content to that market revolves around providing six strongly bettable races.
“But that work for Turkey doesn't translate to Italy,” Fraser explained. “It doesn't translate to Australia. It's very specific for that market, and you have to do everything differently for each market.”
Bill Nader, currently the president and chief executive officer for the Thoroughbred Owners of California, drew upon his decades of executive-level experience with the New York Racing Association and the Hong Kong Jockey Club to remind his U.S.-based audience that global participation is a two-way street.
“Not just America trying to find out what it can gain from venturing outside the country, but also horses coming in and running in our races, and trying to capitalize, from their own way, on global participation,” Nader said.
As a prime example, Nader cited the recent rise in international prominence for Japan-based Thoroughbreds. He, too, tied in that global shift to what's happening locally in Japan.
“You don't really see the top Japanese horses running in the [GI] Breeders' Cup Turf, because at that time of the year they have their own races. But in the dirt program, they don't. So where will they go? They'll go to where dirt racing is at the center of the global universe, America, and target [Grade I] races like the [G] Kentucky Derby, the [GI] Belmont Stakes, and the Breeders' Cup,” Nader said. “In Japan, there's only one Grade I race on dirt. And I think that's their next chapter, and they'll develop more with their dirt program in the next five to 10 years.”
Maybe not so much in sprint races, Nader postulated. But because Japan's bloodstock program is adept at cultivating runners that excel between nine and 12 furlongs, their horses as a whole tend to be, “stronger in more [of] the staying races,” he said.
“You've seen the broodmares that they continue to buy, especially here in America. They're just getting stronger and stronger. But I do think that eventually, they'll come for us on the dirt. And when they do, it's a good thing.”
Why good for American entities?
“Because if a Japanese horse is running in those races, all of Japan is watching. The benefit of that is incredible,” Nader said, in terms of long-term, trickle-down economics.
At one point, Fraser was asked what a typical, mid-level American racetrack can do to stand out to international bettors.
“One thing to remember is internationally, people don't necessarily know what is a mid-range [American] track [or] what is a top track. I know that might come as a surprise,” he said.
“Some of what you would think of as mid-range tracks are very popular internationally because they run on the right days. They run on days when there is not much going on. So if you are in the winter on the East Coast, there's not a lot of evening racing happening in France, or the U.K., or in Ireland during the winter. So those tracks that run Tuesday are pretty prominent tracks [overseas]. Whereas some of the bigger tracks that all run on Saturday and are crowding against each other don't get much share or voice.”
Data compatibility across different cultures is a topic that has percolated at racing's international conferences since the advent of global simulcasting. Tuesday's panel discussion re-examined the issue.
Dean McKenzie, the managing director for McKenzie Sport International, Ltd. in New Zealand, noted that bettors in other parts of the world are baffled when they encounter an American equipment change listed simply as blinkers on or off. They're used to being able to find out exactly what type of blinkers are being used among the many variations. And if a trainer decides to tell his rider to switch running-style tactics, in many foreign jurisdictions that gets communicated to the public via stewards.
Nader noted that gamblers in other parts of the world are used to judging a horse's fitness based on its body weight, which is a standard and widely available stat outside of the U.S. but practically unheard of here except for a couple of brief experiments at various tracks.
Tallulah Wilson, the head of international partnerships for UK Tote, pointed out that global rules conflicts, such as a horse running for “purse money only” in a big race like the Breeders' Cup, can create significant confusion. (Such a concept is unheard of outside the U.S.)
But, Wilson added, stakeholders have to overcome these sorts of challenges.
“You have to adapt for the benefit of your customers,” she said.
When Fraser chimed in on the topic of what U.S. content providers need to do right to be more internationally appealing, he pinpointed two nagging issues that the American racing industry has long debated but just can't seem to get right: offering decent field sizes and adhering to published post times.
“Eight-plus runners, and [going] off on time is crucial,” Fraser said.
Although the tie-in went unspoken by anyone on the panel, that final comment from Fraser dovetailed neatly with his initial point about racing entities needing to optimize local practices before trying to scale up to the global level.