I thought, with the turning of the calendar, I would jot down some thoughts for harness racing in 2008. I'm optimistic. I have entitled it "rock bottom."
Huh? An optimistic piece entitled rock bottom?
Flip on an entertainment show and we might see a star du jour speaking of his trials with whatever it may be, and he will say "I had to hit rock bottom before I could change." I think 2008 in harness racing is the year we will hit rock bottom, change will occur, and the sport will place the wheels in motion to grow again.
I see a post on harnessdriver.com detailing that the Boxing Day handle for Woodbine hit an all time low. I see on the entry page for standardbredcanada.ca that handle for Canadian racing is down over $100M in 2007. I see tracks cutting some dates. I see tracks cutting stakes. All bad news and it does not seem to be getting any better.
When we hit rock bottom in 2008 a few things will occur. Policies will finally be put in place that will encourage growth. These policies will not be piece-meal, nor pay lip service, like we seem to see all too often. They will be real, tough and they will change the sport as we know it.
Customers will be appreciated. They will be able to bet harness racing from anywhere in the World at an affordable price. New 5% takeout bets will be the norm, promoted with vigor and thoroughbred players will cross over to our sport for the value. Pools will be bigger. Excitement will reign.
New bets will be introduced. Legislation will be lobbied for to get these new bets into convenience stores, just like lotteries. The bets, and racing will be promoted on the Internet, on TV and in print. Someone will hit a $5M win in 2008 with these new bets, and the word-of-mouth will be deafening. Gambling chat boards on the Internet will talk about harness racing. They won't be talking about a boring sport whose days are numbered. They will be talking about a new harness bet that has the gambling world buzzing. And they will want to be a part of it.
New money from new owners will be attracted by promoting clean racing, and these new owners will be introduced to a sport that is not filled with infighting, or 2 year appeals from suspect trainers that make them scratch their heads and want to buy a stock instead - they will be attracted to the joy and exhilaration of owning a harness horse. These new owners will bring in a new culture of racing - racing for the sport of it - and it will be the main focus for this new breed of owner. It will catch fire.
Horseman's groups and tracks will negotiate new deals. When sitting down across each other at a table, they will both not concern themselves with protecting their dwindling slices and fighting. They will concentrate on one thing and one thing only: growing the sport by increasing handles.
A new breed of racetrack executive will be hired. He or she will focus on handles first and foremost. Live handles to be exact. Distribution channels will be turned on their head. The internet will be embraced. Costs will be cut, the game will change from a low volume high margin one with few bettors, to a high volume low margin one with many bettors. Any savings will be passed on to customers to achieve more growth through reinvestment, not put into profits and purses. The sport will change from one who looks for protection as a monopoly, to one who competes, fights, scratches and claws for every betting dollar out there. We will grow into a perfectly competitive business and start growing on our own two feet.
In the end, we will grow. And grow, and grow.
So yes, we will hit rock bottom in 2008. And when we do, we should all do one thing and one thing only: Smile. Smile because we know our sport can grow again.