Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Breeders Crown 2010

The odd time I take a bit of time to write a post. Last night I took a break and typed what I thought the Breeders Crown could look like. What we might do in a slot world. I hope you enjoy reading it, and I welcome any comments, good or bad.

It’s a nice warm day and the red-clay track at Lexington is gleaming. The fans are plentiful and they are buzzing. In the next Breeders Crown race we have an amazing assortment of athletes for the Open Trot. Three superstars are from Europe, a Hambletonian Champion and four $2 million dollar winners are from North America. The others are some of the hardest hitting trotters this sport has to offer. The purse came in at a staggering $2 million.

The car starts and simulcast players have a birds-eye view from the cockpit – a cable network is televising the event and TVG has installed several cameras as well as microphones around the track. The tote board goes through final changes. The late money is huge as this event is simulcast around the world. Money from all over is in the pools and bettors are receiving value by betting the lowest takeouts in racing history. Thoroughbred players have been honing their harness racing skills and are active – after all we have promoted the event to them all year with our marketing budget.

Tom Durkin bellows: "They are off and trotting………."


Let’s face it, the Breeders Crown for harness racing has not become the showcase we have envisioned. Early on, with ESPN coverage and races from Pompano, it looked like it may be a success. As fans we got pumped for these races and our wagering reflected it. It did all come down to the Breeders Crown. Nowadays, it seems barely a blip on the radar. I don’t blame anyone. Blame is not what this piece is about. It is about a plan where we wave our magic wand, settle horseman and track disputes with a wave, put a captain in charge of the ship with a quick flick, grab a marketing budget with another wave, and try to turn this sport on its head.

So let's roll.

First we need a venue. This venue has to be liked by both horseman and fans and it has to sell harness racing on television. It should be a mile track to ensure racings greatest day is decided by skill, not luck. The Delaware County Fair is special because we only see it once a year. Let’s find a track like that. Also, the track must be slot-fuelled, so we can wave our wand and up purses for our big event. It must be owned by people who want to grow this event and this event only.

This spring, Kentucky is looking at slots at racetracks. It is a huge vote, in a racing friendly state. If it passes, and it should, they have a good hook. Currently the venue hosts some good events of Grand Circuit action, with a limited meet. With slots accumulating all year and helping purses, there is little doubt with a small planned meet, the Red Mile can host monster purses and great racing – if it is done right and we keep all the special interests from sticking their fingers in the pie.

Let’s wave a wand (we are being proactive here and projecting!) and say that slots at Lexington can bring in $40M a year for purses (this is probably low). Also, we might ask breeders to kick a few more bucks in on each foal born. Hey, I’ve seen $400K broodmare prices lately. They seem to be doing well, while the sport dwindles.

This slot revenue can be used in a number of ways. Increase racedates in a sport with many. Increase sires stakes purses to help breeders (been done all over with no real lasting effects on growing the end product via handle), or building piles of new infrastructure or new tracks (also been done before several times).

We throw one huge “X” on those ideas. We break the horrible cycle of try-fail-repeat.

The Red Mile is our venue. Fuelled by both handle and slot money, we create the best short racing meet in harness racing history, ending with the greatest Breeders Crown we have ever seen.

Overview

We plan to run a 21 day meet with plenty of racing action. Tracks love this because their slot revenue is not going to a long meet with high expenses. On the meets last Saturday evening, we end with the Breeders Crown. Purses are seeded from the slot money (remember the track saved mega-bucks by not running a long meet, so it’s payback time) and this creates record purses for the Crown. Even the elims go for big bucks, and since there are smaller stakes surrounding the Crown, horse owners are attracted to the meet and can make back all their expenses and more – even if they are shipping from Australia or Europe and miss the Crown final. We in effect create buzz, attract the best horses, and set the table to make this a true event that everyone in the World will watch, want to compete at, and bet on. The signal is distributed everywhere, and we offer the lowest takeouts racing has ever seen. Everyone wins. The horse owners, the fans, the bettors and the tracks all win. Most of all….. The sport wins.

Marketing

From day one bridges are built. The Red Mile Breeders Cup team roars into action. Budgets are drawn up, the State house is called. Cross promotion with the tourism board is initiated. State governments love cash from the slots going into tourism. It’s a win-win and a good way to get politicians on our side. We have a business plan to make it work, rather than what we always seem to do - open the doors and hope people show up.

The marketing budget is spent on several areas. One, making sure horse owners all over the world aware of the purse structure of events for the meet, perhaps hitching fees that may be paid out to ensure everyone can make a few bucks. Two, we start advertising the meet and event world wide. Thoroughbred players are told about it in their magazines. The tourism board pushes things from their end. All tracks know that this will be big, so there is a strategy for every track and simulcast centre to advertise. Web marketing ensues to tap new markets. Information on the event, past races, the whole she-bang is on one website and this website is advertised to players and fans. Handicapping tools for the event are created. Information is power. Also, tracks are persuaded to not card their big events near this event, just like the thoroughbreds do. We need everyone on the same marketing page.

As for on-track promotions, we let the juices flow and allow the power of our marketing group figure out how to get fans in the seats. Marketing is trial and error and we experiment and see what works. Rome was not built in a day and neither were 21st century businesses like Ebay.

Distribution of the Signal and Television

The signal for the meet is given to everyone who wants it. HPI, any track, any OTB, any ADW. Australia and Europe are brought aboard. The Kentucky Derby this year had distribution problems and handle was down. We don’t let this happen because of petty squabbles in a fractured industry. Maybe even betting giant Betfair is approached to run a market, and those punters get free handicapping tools, and free video. This would be a first. Regardless, the product is there for everyone and it is the most distributed and promoted race day that harness racing has ever seen.

Second, we pay people to televise it. We have slot money, so we can. Local cable networks, ESPN2, The Score in Canada, TVG, whomever. We get this thing on TV.

The Bettor

In the past 15 years with slot money we have seen a few things that are truisms. One, the horsemen fight for a slice. Two, the tracks fight with them. Three, the bettor gets the shaft.

Well not with the biggest day in harness racing. On this day, and for this meet, bettors are rewarded. The meet has the lowest takeouts racing has ever seen. This sparks buzz. Ask any thoroughbred player if they would play a harness program filled with superstars, in semi-big pools as it is today. More often than not the answer is no. Now tell them that they can play monster pools, with great horses, televised, with handicapping tools, and get the lowest rakes in the history of wagering, or get good rebates at their ADW’s. The answer I am sure will be different.

Our rakes are 15% across the board, except for pick 4’s (which we name something cool for promotion), which we charge at 5%. This might create a pick 4 pool of $150K. Players salivate over that size pool with a tiny rake. They would have to be nuts not to play it. Since we are selling to everyone, this gives the ADW’s a slice that they can rebate to help us promote to big players. We charge 5% for the signal. We don’t squabble. We are building a brand and building a sport.

The customer finally gets a slice.

If Meadowlands Pace night can achieve $7M handles, there is no reason that over time this event can not hope to double that.

The Events

With $40 million or more in slot revenue (almost solely used for this event, it’s mandated that way in the slot deal) we sure as heck can up purses. Each event is $1.25M minimum. Consolations are $200K. Eliminations are $200K.

We create a Breeders Crown Showdown. The purse is $2.5M. It’s an Open event for pacers.

We create a new event, the marathon for pacers. According to the editor of Harnessslink who emailed me back with some information on downunder races, he says that “a mile and a half race is perfect for our horses.” With hitching fees, an event of this proportion and a monster purse we could see a fabulous display of world horse racing talent in the World event. Plus we streamline rules on cross-continent shipping. We have the ear of government remember? Will there not be a television of a racing fan in Australia and New Zealand turned on for this event? Will North American fans be pulling for long distance champ Boulder Creek in carrying our flag?

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, European trotters are very good. They sometimes come to events in North America, but quarantine rules and one race and out events are costly and risky. Now with a huge purse and other races to try if they fail, they can make money and make the trip. We might get the Elitlopp field, plus a Glidemaster et al. How cool is that?

So there you have it. The greatest meet and the greatest day this sport has ever seen as an annual event. The money is there, the fans are there. It could be huge, and what many of us want the Breeders Crown to be. It might just put us on the map.

On the blog I have explained why I think like I do, which is different than most. Can all this be done? Can any of it? I doubt it. Without passion, a strong central organization and a will; it is a tough, tough sell. The red tape and politics would be huge. Heck it is a lot easier to just put on a few races and cash slot money. It’s less work.

In Colonialist times sailors would sail from Europe to the New World in search of the metaphorical shining house on the hill. When they reached the Caribbean waters, some would get stuck in the doldrums named the Horse Latitudes. There they would toss their horses overboard to lighten their load, to allow them to use what little wind they had to get to shore.

Harness racing is stuck in the same rut. We can make a choice like those sailors did. We can throw our horses overboard and give up, hoping to get back to port with a few slot dollars in our pockets. Or we can instead implement new ideas and a new way of doing things that allows us to race into port, proud that we are not giving up this great sport without a fight.

If we choose to fight for this sport, you never know - we might find ourselves reaching that shining house on the hill. If not, well at least we tried.



The photo above, is courtesy the Red Mile. It is a beautiful place, and if you are a harness fan who has not been there, put it on your list. For more information on the Red Mile, visit theredmile.com.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Another reason why you should be at the wagering Syposium!!

Pull the Pocket said...

A few offline comments that I have heard about this:

The Futurities: Those are big races for sure. Something has to be done with scheduling and otherwise.

Other scheduling: Several races would be close to the BC, and since most races are elim and final, it might be tough to schedule. I think the BC could use buys into finals. If you win a triple crown race, or perhaps the Canadian Trotting Classic (or Metro.... any race close to the BC) you win and you are in.

Field Size: To me there is nothing wrong with 12 horse finals for that kind of money and hitching fees. I assume the 11 and 12 would have to be trailers. I hear grumbling about some owners and trainers talking about trailing posts in big races. I think this is another myth. Chart the 11 post in races and you will see that it is better than the far outside. The 9 post is much better than 7 or 8 on a 5/8's track. I think people are hoodwinked into believing this. They race 20 horse fields in France. For $2.5M and hitching fees, 12 horse fields should not matter.

I am pretty convinced the stumbling block to this big day and meet will be the special interests. If slot money is raised in Lexington, there will be the proverbial "we have to keep this money at home" talk. That's old time harness racing talk that has failed. An yearly event like this can pay the breeding industry back in droves with some work.

Companies know they have to put money into their sport to grow. I dont think harness racing is there yet with this free enterprise truism.

Pull the Pocket said...

I went to the track tonight. I got some good comments.

1. Agreed the Crown has to change, and the business is at a crossroads, so it has to change now.

2. Agreed that having it at a track like the Red Mile is a good idea.

3. Agreed that with slots and a short meet, mucho bucks can be put into it as a marketing coup.

4. Agreed that it can grow the sport.

5. Agreed that some thoroughbred players would play big pools with decent rakes for such an event.

Last but not least, it was stated that the "powers who run racing will never let this happen".

Fingers in the pie economics, an inability or unwillingness to change and a static industry are the proposed culprits.

But hey, we knew that!

We'll keep trying.

PTP

William Child said...

Thanks for your blog, I enjoy it very much.

I love your ideas about the Breeders' Crown, particularly the part concerning reduced rake.

In Australia during November, the Victorian and NSW TABs reduced the rake on quaddies to 0%. Yes, that's zero per cent. Quaddies are what you in North America call a pick four. This was heavily promoted and made widely known.

The pools for the quaddie on the main Saturday Thoroughbred meeting were regularly over $1 million on both totes. The TABs in both states are part of the same corporation but the pools are separate. Roughly speaking, betting on quaddies doubled.

I think this bears out your suggestion that punters will respond to reduced rakes if the racing is top quality and the betting options are promoted well.

To grow betting on Racing,we need reduced rake all the time. Pari mutuel betting is a great gambling product which is being priced out of the market and out of business all over the world.

I hope to read more of your thoughts and see this type of thinking implemented by racing administrators.

William Child

Pull the Pocket said...

Thanks so much for the informative post William.

Do you have any links to information about the experiment with the quad down there? I have searched and searched and found no news links.

I would love to read up on that bet.

Thanks again for a super comment. I hope you come back and set us straight on some things that we may want to try in North America, that you may have tried down there.

Best,

PTP

William Child said...

Hi PTP,

Your link to the advertisement for the Fat Quaddies promotion is also a link to the Victorian Race TAB web site.

If you click on the results link on the left hand side of the page, you will see a screen which allows you to view archived results and pools.

On October 27th at Moonee Valley, the Quaddie pool was over $3million. Admittedly this is Cox Plate day which is one of the biggest days of the year for the thoroughbreds.

If you haven't checked it out already, I'm sure you will find the site interesting.

All the best

William Child

Pull the Pocket said...

Thank you sir.

I have always been a fan of seeing what others do. We have a central organization in Sweden who runs their big sweep bet. We have bookies and betfair in the UK, now I get to learn about down there.

Much thanks!

Rubbet Kvar said...

Hello,

Just found your blog...great stuff! The Breeders Crown event you describe is just the thing that the sport needs. A worldwide event where the best horses from around the world go toe-to-toe with eachother and compete for the "Crown". As a Swede I always hope that we get to see he best trotters from around the world in the Elitlopp but for this to happen we would need to at least double the current purse. The winner will get about 400k this year.

As it is now the best French horses are matched to race on home soil during their winter meeting while the best Scandinavian horses will be concentrating on their own circuit during spring/summer. So the Breeders Crown event would need a really big purse to get the attention from the connections of the European horses. There's been some feeble attempts to get a worldwide trotting circuit going but most tracks compete for the same horses and there's not much cooperation between them. We need to work together to get this sport where it needs and belongs to be!

We would also need to create common betting pools for all countries involved. There are a lot of differences between bettors in Europe. I'm sure there are at least as many differences between North American and European bettors. Scandinavians like to bet on multiple race bets (as V5, V64 and V75) while the French tend to bet their money on single race bets. I'd like to see some sort of a special bet to the race that would appeal bettors from all over the world and that would create the biggest pool of all-time. Maybe some sort of superfecta bet? Although I'm not sure if this is popular bet in North America?

We need to get our fantastic sport out of the comfort zone and start truly competing world-wide. In a perfect world the Breeders Crown event could even be raced one year in North America and the next year in Europe?

Best regards,
Janne

Jessica said...

Actually just found this post you made last year and am wondering what your thoughts are in light of the announcement the BC will be held at Pocono in 2010. Slots fueled state, all 12 races on one card, same day as the Breeders Cup...