Sunday, September 16, 2012
Part II: Hoping the Disillusioned Do Not Become the Disenfranchised
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 15, 2012--On Tuesday night, “Night School,” an innovative promotional and educational online webcast conducted under the auspices of the National Thoroughbred Racing Associations, held its first “Town Meeting.” Thirteen industry leaders, some of the most prominent in the sport, gathered to take questions from an Internet audience of racing fans.
One of the panelists was Jeff Platt, President of the Horseplayers Association of North America, an ad hoc grass roots movement of horseplayers. “To a person, you will not meet anyone more upbeat and positive about racing.
“You will not meet anyone, anywhere who loves horse racing more than the people on last night’s panel,” wrote Platt this week to horseplayers on the HANA website.
“ALL of the other panelists – every single one of them is a great ambassador of this game. But if you are a horseplayer and you followed last night’s Town Hall chat session…you have to be struck by the following:
“For 90 minutes the panel managed to duck what the vast majority of HANA’s horseplayer members see as racing’s core issues…
“Last year, for calendar year 2011, all sources handle for thoroughbred racing conducted in North America came in at $11.4 billion. That’s a loss of 28.3% in just nine years…even worse if you adjust for inflation. That, by itself, should be enough to send a red flag up the pole.
“In 2009, we did the first HANA Survey. In that survey, 75 percent identified high takeout as the primary reason you bet less than you otherwise would. In that survey, more than 70 percent identified an outdated tote system and odds that change after the bell as the number two reason you bet less than you otherwise would.
“In that survey, more than two thirds of you identified racing’s drug problem as the number three reason you bet less than you otherwise would.. but in survey after survey, HANA’s horseplayer members have consistently confirmed those original findings.
“…I have very little trouble identifying the obvious elephants in the room as follows: 1. High Takeout. 2. Obsolete Tote System/Odds that change after the bell (translates to lack of integrity.) 3. Drugs (translates to lack of integrity).
“… By the end of the night, many of the panelists were patting each other on the back for all the things that racing does right – and without ever once addressing in any relevant way the three obvious elephants sitting in the room.”
Then Platt published the reactions and comments of a few fans who attended the Night School Town Hall:
Said one: “I think they were censoring questions last night at Night School. My friend and I could not get in any questions about the high cost of past performances.
Asked another: How do you respond to [Maryland Jockey Club President Tom] Chuklas's statement that Maryland did lower takeout and it had no impact on business?
Responded the first: “That was a maddening comment regarding the Laurel takeout change. How does someone like Chuklas explain reduced takeout wagers that have proven highly successful?
“What about TVG's promo at HOL this summer where they tripled the amount of money in the late double pool? Or the 14% takeout pick five at DMR? Up more than 40% in 2012 vs the prior year, basically saving them from having a down handle meet. The effort it takes racing suits to pretend 22% blended takeout isn't a huge problem has to be maddening
And finally: “The polls taken by [Night School host Jeremy] Plonk during the Town Hall showed takeout was the #1 issue for those watching. Then you have an exec say (in effect) 'you're nuts'. It was there in black and white, yet they still ignored it. I don't understand racing people.
Surmised Platt: “Until or unless racing decides to take on the obvious elephants in the room – expect racing to continue to decline in popularity among the public at large and expect racing’s key metric: handle - to continue its long term decline as well.
“ I think Night School is a wonderful idea. However, racing cheerleaders can only take you so far.”
At the end of the Business Review interview, Repole added: “We’re the only real sport without a governing body. I’d love to tell somebody all my issues with our sport but I don’t even know who to go to,” Repole said.
“I just know the old guard is running the sport, and the old guard doesn’t want to change. It’s almost like we’re football players still wearing leather helmets.”