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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Time for a Marketing Divorce

With all the disagreements of late, the question needs to be asked is if the USTA, as currently structured is able to promote harness racing?  Clearly, the answer is a resounding 'No'.  It seems directors are split in their opinions.  It appears there is a group of directors who still think it is 1960 in they think racetracks should be responsible for everything including promoting the sport while horsemen are responsible for putting on the show.  A second group would, from the outside, appear others take the attitude of keeping on racing until the slot money taps out and then turn off the lights.  These two groups seem to outnumber  those who feel marketing is a joint effort between horsemen and tracks and desire to get racing on television and other venues.

Don't get me wrong, these directors are trying their best on other matters such as attempting to level the playing field by fighting the non-stop battle against medication cheats, representing the industry when it comes to issues faced in common with other racing breeds and issues where they stand opposed, and increasing wagering through efforts such as the Strategic Wagering program.  It is just where it comes to the issue of getting the sport face time, the divide seems irreparable.

So with barriers which seem to be insurmountable, what can be done to properly market the sport?  It is time for a divorce.  Let the USTA do what they do best, act as a breed registry; promote ownership of standardbreds as a racing, competitive, and pleasure breed; represent its members in legislative matters; promulgate rules and act as a clearinghouse when it comes to record keeping.  Where do things change?  Spin off Harness Racing Communications or establish a new marketing arm for the sport to be responsible for promoting harness racing in local and national markets for member tracks, horsemen groups, and breeders.

Now when I say member tracks and horsemen groups, I am not talking about all members of the USTA for it is clear not all groups would desire to participate in this marketing effort.  Those tracks operated by gaming companies which have no interest in harness racing's long-term success won't become members of this group.  Horsemen groups stuck in the belief the pre-racino model of tracks marketing and horsemen put on the show won't want to participate.  However, there are those groups who still wish to promote the sport; it is for those this new organization will exist and operate.

This new marketing company will produce programming and seek to place their material in traditional and new media outlets be it cable television or online.  In addition to programming, they will establish promotions (contests) and marketing campaigns.  In addition, they may develop joint simulcasting agreements where their signals may be marketed jointly as an alliance.  The only restriction is programming and resultant advertising will exclude non-member tracks or organizations.  Funding from member tracks and horsemen groups would be based on a metric such as handle while funding from breeders would be based on gross sales of their stock at auctions.

By splitting off marketing, those who believe in marketing will be able to participate and those who wish to run out the clock or live in the 1960's will be able to do so.  We will then see who remains standing 10 years from now.

Bob Marks opines on television coverage and coupled entries on  Reading a column by Marks is always a joy.  Make sure you check it out.

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