I remember seven or eight years ago I received a purse check from Kawartha Downs. Our horse - I can't remember which one - came second or third in a race and netted (after paying commissions) around $1442. At that time I was on a chat board frequented by many in the sport and asked a question:
"What if my purse check was $1,400 instead, and the other $42 went into something to build the sport of horse racing? I would not miss it that much, would you?"
It wasn't a very popular topic. It seems people really wanted that $42. Unfortunately, Kawartha Downs, in 2013, has announced they are closed down. No more racing, no more purse checks.
I'm not naive enough to think my and others $42 would have saved Kawartha Downs, nor would it have saved horse racing. But I think it might have made some difference.
Last week a long-cancelled TV show called "Veronica Mars" gained some publicity because the fans began giving it money, to produce a feature film. Via a funding start up mechanism called "Kickstarter" fans chipped in $1M in the first four hours and the two million dollar target was hit in one day. This feature film will likely be created. Bravo for them.
Mine and your $42 from the purse check would've been Kickstarter crowd sourced funding, without Kickstarter.
Sticking with the video production theme, our $42 might've created a set of documentaries on great horses and people. We see those the odd time on HRTV or TVG, but there are not enough of them, simply because they are not economically viable. There are hundreds of channels, screaming for content, like an ESPN, Fox Sports, or Biography who might have been interested to produce them along with us (if we fund the effort) and show them to a wider audience.
Our $42 might've crowdsourced a horse racing wiki. Not long ago I typed in "Cam Fella" and the great pacer didn't even have a wikipedia page. How sad is that? Where is horse racings history for people who may be searching for it on the web? It's scattered, disparate, capricious. It's assembled like there is no one minding the horse racing history store.
Our $42 might've supported a series on Game TV or a station similar to promote the art of handicapping, and encourage those to learn, get interested and maybe visit their local track.
Our $42, together, might've done something pretty interesting.
I am sure you're saying some of this has been tried before, with the NTRA or Jockey Club or USTA or Standardbred Canada. In fact, Standardbred Canada with the "Racing Development and Sustainability Plan" (which was rejected by the industry) went to far as to put pen to paper on it. However, these groups were funded with varying missions, with varying stakeholders, with a ton of politics. They were concerned with buying TV time for races, safety alliances, lasix use or not use, lobbying, slots and a million industry-specific other things. They were inside baseball, to a large extent.
Spin offs, like America's Best Racing, or other initiatives have begun, that are more in line with customer, history and end user based metrics, but it's not nearly enough.
The NFL takes cash out of revenues for safety and rule changes and government lobbying and everything else; not dissimilar to the way racing does. But a large portion of their budget is for NFL Films, or NFL.com, or the NFL Network. Some might ask why would they spend so much money on those "tangential" things, considering they're on television every weekend, and get billions to show their games; considering they have ESPN.com and hundreds of other sites providing free commentary and box scores and fantasy results; considering they are already in the fabric of American culture?
I think they continue to spend money on those things because they believe they're in, and have stayed in the fabric of American culture precisely because of that spending. It's not like it is altruistic, either. By feeding the funnel with new fans, along with keeping their existing fan based engaged and satisfied, it allows them to cash in on those $4 billion dollar TV deals down the road.
The next time you watch the NFL RedZone, tune into Gamecenter at NFL.com or watch a documentary on the NFL Network about Tom Landry, remember that these things were created by people, for people, with specific end-users in mind. They weren't about political biases, field safety, helmet safety or how many games the Packers will have at Lambeau next year. They aren't even about hard revenue per user, return on ad spend targets, or selling advertising. They were about you - the home viewer - and about continuing the great sport of football as a part of American life.
$42 out of a purse check seems like a lot of money to a lot of people. But if a few thousand fans can raise a couple of million dollars on a website for a cancelled TV show, I believe racing should be able to blow that away, to fill a void that many who have came before them have neglected. It's something that's long overdue.