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Monday, March 22, 2010

USTA Conclave Day 2 - Marketing and a Cautionary Tale

On the second day of the United States Trotting Association (USTA) Annual meetings, marketing and promotions were the primary topics of discussion. While the discussion concentrated on these topics, there were also discussions regarding the need for the USTA to work better with racetracks and the problem of unwanted horses.

The USTA will begin participating in the "Full Circle" program which will provide an avenue for horse rescue. If a breeder wishes to participate, a horse's registration papers will indicate the breeder's name and phone number so when a horse reaches the end of its racing career, the current owner has the ability to contact a breeder to see if they wish to purchase/take the horse back or contribute toward its adoption. The hope is by giving a horse owner the opportunity to contact the breeder about a horse’s end of career future, the breeder will ensure the horse’s post-racing career is secure.

Many readers of this blog and me have been arguing for horsemen to use part of their VLT money to reinvest in the business. Unfortunately, many horsemen groups have been retaining all their VLT revenue for purses. Royal Roland, a USTA director from Iowa provided a cautionary tale for horsemen in slot states which refuse to reinvest in their sport. Roland admitted the Iowa harness horsemen kept virtually all the VLT revenue for their purses rather than invest in marketing and promoting wagering. The end result is harness racing in Iowa is on the ropes; perhaps to the point of extinction. Horsemen have one last chance during a ten day race meet at Prairie Meadows this year to show track management and the Iowa Gaming Commission there is enough interest in the sport to obligate Prairie Meadows to continue hosting standardbreds. Results similar to last year's meet will result in the end of pari-mutuel racing for standardbreds in Iowa. Horsemen in other states would do well to not make the same mistake mades in Iowa.

But the major topic of the day was related to marketing and promotions. USTA Executive Vice President, Mike Tanner, announced plans for a National Day at the Races to occur in August. During the Day at the Races, USTA members will be encouraged to take friends with them to the tracks which will be offering special promotions where attendees will be given access to the paddock as well as ride in the starter's car.

While this is an effort to be applauded, I am disappointed that the USTA did not try to emulate Adrenaline Fest which Standardbred Canada held last year. The Day at the Races campaign will likely attract people from the current racing demographics and do little to expose a new generation to the races. Adrenaline Fest is geared towards the younger generation with activities outside of racing being used to encourage those in the younger demographic group to attend the festival and be exposed to racing. That being said, the fact the USTA is attempting any type of organized campaign to get people to experience harness racing is a refreshing change.

It was somewhat discouraging there was no discussion of high takeout rates.  Takeout rates are what draws the heavy hitters to any gambling sport and it was somewhat discerning that business remains as usual with respect to takeout.  Sooner or later, takeout rates need to be addressed. 

For more on the USTA meetings, including an Eye in Harness Report, you may visit the USTA website or click on these links for a summary of day one and day two.         

How will racetracks look like in the future?  Ray Paulick over at the Paulick Report has a story how the Gulfstream Park model may be the future of racetracks.  The answer may be 'mixed-use'. 

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