Mark Berner

Mark Berner first worked with horses on a small farm in upstate New York in 1973, where he mucked stalls and cared for racehorses with infirmities that were turned out there until ready to resume training.

He joined American Teletimer as a clocker in 1976 and operated their electronic timing equipment at many east coast racetracks until 1978, when he was permanently stationed at NYRA's three tracks, Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park & Saratoga Race Course.

Berner did freelance handicapping for the New York Daily News in 1982 & 1983 before joining Newsday in 1984 as a handicapper and later a sports reporter. Berner teamed up with Pricci to win the United Press International's 1985 UPI New York Newspaper Awards for Best Sports Story. In addition, Berner wrote and handicapped for several trade publications including, Daily Racing Form, Sports Eye, Racing Action, The Thoroughbred Times, Horse Player Magazine and New York Sportsnet.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2018


Racing on Television Needs a New Perspective


When viewing races on television, the New York Racing Association is the industry leader in terms of production and forward thinking technologies.

Indeed, the NYRA produces more racing programming nationally than the rest of the industry combined. It also leads in streaming its races via NYRANow, NYRABets and on its website, NYRA.com.

Despite NYRA’s lead in this area, no one representing them gave a presentation at the 66th annual Jockey Club Round Table during the recently concluded race meet.

The McKinsey report, commissioned by The Jockey Club, was the focal point of the Round Table. McKinsey & Company is a global business management consultant specializing in the business of sports.

And when that report was presented, the stewards of the sport only heard words that applied to one medium: Television. And not only did they fail to get input from an organization does it best but apparently is only learning that television in its present state is not the answer going forward.

Jockey Club Chairman Stuart Janney was quick to pick up on the fact that only 24 racetracks supply a high definition signal to TVG--but McKinsey did not state that TVG is mostly carried on standard definition cable channels.

The demographics that racing covets does not watch conventionally broadcast TV. They sometimes watch on a TV, but not the major networks. The closest they get to that is ESPN, which broadcasts the X-Games but once upon a time did actually show horseracing.

Xennials, Millennials and Gen X-ers time-shift, stream, and watch sports on their phones and have phones in their watches. I must admit that I have watched racing on my phone at a restaurant more than once. Hockey, too.

Google is something not only millennials use, but most probably do not fully understand it. If you use a free service on the internet, you are the product. Google knows who you are, what you search for, where you go, and how long you spend there.

Google is one of the top four profiteers on the Internet. How does it rank up there with Apple, Amazon and Microsoft? Apple, Amazon and Microsoft sell many products. But Google’s product is us.

Google sells our profiles via tracking. It knows who, where, and when, then figures out the why and applies how to it. How do they do that? Google, G-Mail, Chrome browser, YouTube, Google Maps, Google Pay, Android phones and a couple dozen more apps.

Any tracker can create a data set with a user’s information but that data is very specific and narrow. When Google combines data sets gained via several of their products, it gets a much broader view of its users. Knowing all a user’s routines and habits is the key to the future.

Thoroughbred horseracing cannot agree on much, so there is little hope to get combined data sets from the entire industry.

Dan Singer leads McKinsey’s Global Sports and Gaming Practice, based in New York. Singer is a strategic advisor to seven of the ten largest sports leagues in the world as well as numerous sports teams, conferences, and governing bodies.

Singer chose to bring former McKinsey colleague Chris Pollak to the Round Table and few noticed the significance. Pollak is Head of Sales Strategy & Operations for Google, and was formerly an engagement manager for McKinsey & Company in the Entertainment and Operations Practices.

“Every time you get a new mobile phone, you may notice you download a few apps and it asks some permissions, said Pollak. “You have to basically give permissions to know where you are.”

“One of the things you can do with technology, basically Google can help you understand a full footprint of somebody digitally,” continued Pollak.

“They understand what websites you may have been visiting. They understand YouTube or other videos you've watched. They understand things you may have purchased, or think about purchasing. They can predict whether you're likely to get married or have other life events.”

“Digital video is different than television,” Pollak added. “It's mostly people watching on their mobile. It's a totally different type of screen. They're frequently watching it while they're also watching television.

“And they're often looking for other things. They're looking to engage in a sport in other ways than they would with whatever they're seeing on a main broadcast.”

The cost of producing digital content is a bargain, according to Pollak. “Instead of shooting a regular TV commercial or a six- or 15-second ad and putting it on digital, you can have a background, a foreground, you can have the product.

These are separate pieces of information and the computer will create a custom ad based on what it knows about that person, the second they click on a web page, and give them the ad that speaks to them based on whatever they're interested in.”

Pollak spoke of Dude Perfect, which is five best friends and a panda that make funny videos on a sports channel comprised of trick shots, world record attempts, alternate sports, and combined sports, including some Rube Goldberg type setups.

SO WHAT SHOULD RACING DO?

Knowledge gained through combined data sets is the kind of thing that will help bring racing into the future. In addition, we should get Dude Perfect to come out to the racetrack and check out what perspective they could lend.

Major sports leagues in the US already are set up to take advantage nation-wide sports betting and has a huge advantage over horseracing with computer aided graphical representations of each sport.

Ice Vision, is the NHL’s new multi-camera, 3-D 360 degree tracking system. It is light years ahead of the NHL’s old tracking system, recognized in racing as a Trakus system. The Jockey Club subsidizes the NHL’s castoff technology.

This is what we get when we need technology that will tell us gate velocity & maximum acceleration and give a 360 view that can aid stewards when they have to decide on an inquiry and/or objection.

Last year, Major League Baseball phased out PITCHf/x, introduced in 2006, in favor of Statcast, a newer and more advanced system that tracks the ball and players by using a combination of radar and cameras.

The National Football League has used Zebra Technologies’ MotionWorks as its official on-field player-tracking system since 2014. MotionWorks uses radio frequency identification (RFID) to capture high-speed player data and convert it into real-time, usable statistics. This season the NFL inserted RFID tags into footballs.

The National Basketball Association has a new distributor for its statistical information and its player tracking data this season. Sportradar also uses a multi-camera system, replacing STATS SportsVu’s roof-mounted cameras.

In racing, NYRA is closer to the future than others in the industry are. They have the capabiity to get the combined data sets necessary to get a broad digital footprint of its customers.

NYRA already streams its races live in HD and offers a split screen to watch odds, probables and will-pays and view the live action from a plethora of camera angles, including the popular pan-view, head-on, finish line, and stretch-view angles.

Fans can also catch pre-race action and watch horses as they are saddled from the paddock camera and watch morning workouts from trackside cameras.

They say ‘Everything old is new again’ but racing cannot go backwards into the future. NYRA’s marketers see the future and The Jockey Club was remiss to leave them out of the equation at its yearly conference.

ALL WEATHER MATTERS

Saratoga Race Course is more than bulletproof, a phenomenon that keeps giving back to the sport from 1863/64 through today. Moreover, like it or not folks, the exclusivity and "event pricing" of Kay's vision has not stunted its growth.

NYRA announced total all-sources handle generated during the meet was $659,083,549, the second highest ever with $148,826,388 bet on track. The attendance was 1,124,149, topping 1.1 million for the third straight year.

Sadly, these good figures do not figure to extend when racing begins again downstate on Friday.

Racing will be conducted three days per week at Belmont Park, Friday, Saturday and Sunday through September 16, then switches to a five-day week, Wednesday through Sunday until the meet ends on October 28.

Klaravich Stables led all Saratoga owners with 21 wins. Trainer Chad Brown, topped his previous high by winning the H. Allen Jerkens leading trainer title with 46 victories, a total equal to that of his nearest three competitors. Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. earned his second Angel Cordero, Jr. riding title with 52 wins.

Saratoga Springs gets an average of 44 inches of rain per year. This year approximately 25 percent of that yearly total fell during the six-week race meeting, doubtlessly having an adverse effect on business.

As a result, this amount of precipitation washed 50 races off the turf and were rescheduled to the main track races, which most often were wet to varying degrees.

Of course, going turf to dirt is not necessarily as bad thing, especially when the shift is pre-ordained. Just ask the connections of Travers-winning Catholic Boy and Woodward winner, Yoshida.

The final attendance and handle figures were even more impressive considering NYRA’s battle with nature.

However, the 2018 meeting at the Spa probably will be best remembered for a race that run at the wrong distance, betting on small fields, and some controversial decisions by the stewards.

Written by Mark Berner

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