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Friday, March 18, 2016

Budgets and Agendas

If there is one thing harness racing has is inter-fighting.  To be fair, I am sure this phenomenon is not unique to the standardbred sport, you have it in all forms of racing and even in business, you have fighting between employees.  People are competitive and like fighting for their turf.

In a Letter to the Editor of Harness Racing Weekend Preview, USTA Director Joe Faraldo, takes the USTA to task for their spending and transparency in particular, a budget line item for $15,000 for out-of-competition testing at the Meadowlands, subsidies to tracks for broadcasting their races which exceeded the $37,000 per track limit, and the social media initiatives lack of metrics.

It is important to understand in addition to being a USTA director, Joe Faraldo is President of the SOANY, so he under his SOA hat, he is an advocate for horsemen and owners.  No doubt Joe's complaint regarding the out-of-competition testing is because this budget item is being used exclusively by the Meadowlands, basically because no other track can bother; the funds for this testing is available for any track wishing to avail itself of it.  While Faraldo may have issues with the testing regimen being used by the Meadowlands and his opinion regarding the lack of due process, there were no restrictions in how this testing was to be done which quite honestly clouds his stronger argument on fiscal responsibility.  With regards to this issue, perhaps there should be a cap as to how much each track may get for testing which may then influence how a track goes about setting up their testing program.  From the gambler/fan perspective, it disturbs me more that other tracks seemingly can't bother with setting up their own out-of-competition testing.

With regards to the overages on television broadcasting supplement overrides, this is a no-no.  The program was set up with a per track maximum amount.  With only two tracks applying for funds, the temptation to offer more in financial support to the two tracks being it wouldn't blow the overall budget item is understandable, but if the rules called for a limit, the limit should be adhered to.  If only two tracks avail themselves of the subsidy, so be it; the budget for the next year could be reduced thus freeing up funds.

Faraldo also raises a good point as to whether or not this broadcasting supplement is a good use of the association's money, especially if his estimate of how many people viewed the broadcasts is accurate.  It is one thing if an organization is flush with funds, but when one isn't rolling in the dough, the responsible thing would be to make an evaluation if this is the best way to spend the USTA's resources, after all isn't this what you do at home with your budget?  Quite honestly, if the results are so poor, I would question why a track would wish to outlay their own funds with such poor results.  If his estimate of 40,000 people watching these televised races is indeed correct, it may make better sense to have the USTA show these races on its own home page or on the Harness Fan Zone website rather than the USTA and tracks outlay money to be televised..

Which brings us to the social media initiative.  I wasn't there, so I can't comment on the politicking which may have or may not have occurred but why bring up the lack of metrics; it's water under the bridge.  Yes, there should have been metrics before, but that is in the past.  The decision has already been made to have metrics for the initiative this year so an evaluation as to whether this is money well spent may be made at the next annual meeting.

What bothers me about this issue is the assertion being made as to the social media program is only benefiting tracks.  While Faraldo may feel his slot supplements are secure, as we have seen elsewhere in parimutuels, especially where decoupling or reducing supplements is part of the conversation, it always comes down to attendance, handle, and profitability.  Remember when the argument was made better purses will draw better horses which will draw more bettors and wagering?   The better horses part is true but alas, the track aprons aren't exactly overflowing with people and the track with good handles is one without the better horses or slot subsidies.  So it is in the horsemen and breeders' interest to see interest in the sport grow, especially if it can get more people coming to the track or at least wagering on the races.

No doubt the USTA has a responsibility to spend money wisely.  No doubt they feel they are doing so but as in any organization, there is a need for oversight.  If not already being done, the budget should be reviewed periodically by the directors, or at a minimum a group of directors from the various segments which make up the USTA (breeders, horsemen, owners, and tracks.  However, people need to understand, everyone is in this together. What benefits one group benefits the other.

Yes, everyone has their own agenda.  You can argue whether or not funds being spent are giving you the biggest bang for the buck possible, but to look at an item benefiting tracks, or any other segment exclusively is misguided.  You need breeders to give you horses, you need horsemen to race the horses, you need tracks to have the races which allows gamblers to wager on the product.  Without one, you can't have the other.


Anonymous said...

I usually see Mr. Faraldo as a status quo man at best and an obstructionist at worst. This time, Faraldo seems to have some valid complaints. Mike Tanner from the USTA should address them point by point. Admit what's true, explain what's inaccurate and make changes as necessary.

Anonymous said...

The USTA has answered Joe Faraldo. Letter on