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Churchill Downs Taking Hits From Everywhere

When did I first notice it, was it the NOLA.com series on Churchill Downs and the Fair Grounds? The Paulick Report story titled "Holding Churchill Downs Accountable for Fair Grounds Decline"? The Takeout Hike? CDI executive comments? Their compensation? The tweets, the blogs, the opinion?

On a stand alone basis, none of those. But cumulatively, wow.

Just last week I was speaking to a friend in marketing about brands. We discussed the fact that Churchill was "racing" and it was their brand: The biggest, the best, a signature. But after they hiked takeout - allowing them to be considered a "smaller" Kentucky racetrack - they were pretty much telling everyone that they weren't "racing"; they weren't Keeneland, or Churchill Downs, they were Ellis Park.

Even in their annual report, gaming revenues trumped horse racing revenues for the first time.
This branded company name - of a signature track - has had even more issues. Their brand is taking it on the chin, with hits from virtually every nook and cranny in this sport.
From Horse Race Insider (emphasis mine, because this comment lit a fire on social media tonight):  "In spite of having more than 600 slot machines at the track, the turf course has been unusable more often than not the past two seasons due to poor drainage. The infield video screen broke and wasn’t repaired.  The responses of Austin Miller, CDI’s senior vice president of gaming operations, are revealing of the company attitude. Miller said if the turf course isn’t suitable for racing, horses and horsemen should adapt. “They all train on dirt. They should be able to run on dirt.”
From an 18 year old bettor: I am not a big money gambler. In 2014 I have bet $624 in total.[But] it's important to let any track that wants to raise prices on us know that we will not meekly accept a takeout increase that will do nothing but hurt horse racing in the long run. Bye bye, CDI. Thank you for hurting the sport we love.
From a seasoned bettor and Kentucky resident Mike Maloney: It's a shortsighted money grab by CDI and shows a total lack of understanding of the elasticity of betting handle by the horsemen groups who were sold this idea as a long term solution. You would think by now the horsemen groups would do more due diligence before buying Churchill's pick-up line.
From NOLA.com:  Cliff Strider, the director of gaming at the Louisiana Department of Justice, nailed it when he said Churchill Downs officials have missed the point with their bottom-line approach. The neglect they've shown at the Fair Grounds erodes customer confidence and discourages business. Like the broken windows theory on crime, the broken TV monitors, empty teller windows and unkempt landscaping sends the wrong message to customers.
From a Las Vegas former sportsbook manager:Churchill Downs Incorporated announced they were increasing their pari-mutuel takeout from 16% to 17.5% on win, place and show bets, and from 19% to 22% on exotics.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
From social media...........
And hey, back to Horse Race Insider for a little extra; "asking for Magna":
 Frank Stronach has made several offers without success to buy Calder. All of racing would be better off if the billionaire Stronach took it a step further and bought all of the CDI racetracks. No matter what else might be said about him, Stronach cares about racing. This hasn’t been able to be said about Churchill Downs Inc. since the current regime took over, a reality that even the first Saturday in May can’t camouflage.
Oh, we have not even mentioned the grassroots players boycott, with a website and money, and customers who are lending their time for free to make sure everyone knows they raised the juice. 

I could go on linking and embedding (trust me, the above only scratches the surface, especially on social media), but I hope you get the point.

I think Churchill's brand - the brand we all know and grew up with - is on its way to being changed. Reading the opinion out there, from horsemen, bettors, fans, customers, legislators and whomever else I can find, it seems that CDI no longer appears to represent racing, but what's wrong with racing.

And my friends, that's very sad.


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