Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Social Media Primes the Pump

A year or so ago Dave Carroll had some baggage issues on United Airlines. It seems his guitar (he was on his way to a gig) was broken by baggage handlers. He wrote a song about it and it became a national sensation on youtube, showing that companies or organizations can no longer hide, or be unwilling to be transparent.

We have written many times here that horse racing in many ways should be more transparent as well.  Our game has always been one that is guided by the mantra of 'it's my business and no one else's'. The claiming game, where it is better to hide a problem than publicize it - almost to the point that you are looked at as "sharp" if you can put one over on someone - might be the best example. If you are selling your home you can't hide a leaky roof from a home inspector and get rewarded, nor should you feel good about doing such a thing, but in horse racing it's considered part of the game. How do we attract honest owners with money if we live by such rules?

For bettors this is a serious issue too, and what's good for bettors in terms of integrity, is good for the game. Take a reversal of form. If a horse loses by 40 at 6-5, nothing is ever said from those in charge. It could happen at Mountaineer or Mohawk, it does not matter. A few weeks later the horse is back in at 5-1 and wins in a Sunday stroll. Little do we know that the horse had an ankle issue, or scoped a '5' on the post-race scoping because no one tells us. This breeds screams of "fix" and "crooks" in the grandstand.  How is that good for racing?

For many years horse racing could easily scrub these issues away, but not anymore.

Issues like Paulick alludes to today regarding Uncle Mo are becoming more and more prevalent. The twitter-verse, Facebook world and blogosphere have not let the Mo questions rest and have pushed this story. We have a potential favorite for the Derby throw a clunker and people want to know why, and Paulick's follow-up is a direct response to those social media questions. His article would not have been even written a half-decade ago, let alone written in a matter of hours.

Yesterday another item popped up; the Santa Anita handle numbers. The track was vague on relaying them, and the DRF and Bloodhorse reported the numbers as-is, right from the tracks mouth. If you read those articles you get the impression everything is hunky-dorey at Santa Anita and they had a minor handle loss due to field size. On Twitter and various blogs, and in the comments section on some of the stories immediately after this story was published, there was an outcry from some: Is this spin, they asked, because if it walks like spin, and sounds like spin, it probably is spin.

Today, less than 36 hours later (not weeks, or in their next issue), the Bloodhorse responded with a full piece, digging in the numbers and reporting the truth without spin. The fact is, they had an awful meet, with gross handle down over 20%, and per day handle was not a heck of a lot better. It is pretty clear this article was written due to the comments filtering the web in the social space.

Most would look at this as cumbersome, or another task to add to the pile for them to address. But they should not look at it like that, they should look at it like an opportunity. We have many ways to keep our customers and stakeholders informed nowadays - embrace it. If we look at what happened with NASCAR two short months ago where the fan-verse was upset on social media about driving tactics for the Daytona 500 and NASCAR responded quickly to them changing a rule, we see just how powerful this tactic can be. NASCAR fans felt embraced and wanted and part of the sport they love. Happy fans spend money, annoyed fans don't.

Like above we are seeing some movement now in racing. Jody Jamieson last week drove St. Elmo Hero to a valiant loss, going for 26 in a row. It was on twitter that the horse had a shoeing issue. Jody reported it, the press picked up on it, and we all feel better informed about this popular horse.

This is the future and we need to see more of it from our alphabets and our participants.

This years Kentucky Derby might be a good time to start, en masse. Participants and press: Let us know how each horse is doing, what if anything their connections are working on, and how the race looks for them. Make it open. Make it honest. If not, word will get out via social media and we might expect someone to write a song about you and get a gazillion hits on youtube in a not-so flattering light. That doesn't do you, your horse, or the sport of horse racing any good at all.

2 comments:

Scott Ferguson said...

great post. UK racing is getting right into Twitter, with many jockeys and trainers involved, as well as fans and writers. We even have the first Twitter ownership syndicate up and running - #twitterhorse !

Nothing pisses 'customers' off more than arrogance from those who decide it's their business and nobody else's...

Anonymous said...

"Nothing pisses 'customers' off more than arrogance from those who decide it's their business and nobody else's... "

... and yet that describes horse racing to a nail tip.