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Showing posts from May, 2014

Big Events: Triple Crown vs the Stanley Cup

Big event driven marketing and viewership is on the rise, generally.  Big money is spent for big events, and the networks push them like never before. The Golf Majors, World Cup, Olympics, it doesn't seem to matter the sport.

The Belmont Stakes as a search term, not surprisingly, does well when there is a Triple Crown try. It does not seem to matter the horse, the weather, the surrounding stories, the trainer or jockey, or what or what not is on the undercard. We're going to watch the Super Bowl if it's two lesser known teams, and the outside world will go nuts no matter who is in the World Cup. It's the way it is.

Here is a google trends snip for the Belmont, and notice the peaks for Triple Crown tries.

That's fine, but let's compare it to the searches for another big event in June, the Stanley Cup.
The Stanley Cup, like a lot of big events, has been growing in popularity as a search term; last year it walloped the Belmont Stakes as a popular search term. A…

The Disconnect Between the Rank and File and the Alphabets

I, like many of you, have been following the Jug telecast brouhaha the past month. And I, like you do, find it fascinating. For those who might not be overly familiar with the story, the USTA was approached by Jeff Gural’s team about televising the Little Brown Jug this year. Jeff and his team were after some funding to bridge the gap. After a 13-1 vote at the USTA, it was decided the issue would be tabled until next year.

That decision did not sit well with the rank and file.

And they got to work. Jack Darling, with a simple blog at Standardbred Canada asked you, me and the fencepost, if some money might not be raised to fund – internally – this venture. Within a week there were thousands of dollars pledged.

Just this Monday Jack updated folks on his blog again regarding this outpouring of support. Murray Brown and Myron Bell, Yannick and Tim, White Birch Farm, Sugar Valley Farm, John Campbell, Linda Toscano and Bob McIntosh. All of those racing participants gave $500 or more to…

Getting Them to Bet

I saw an email from a colleague this past weekend. She was at Arlington and was pretty impressed with the crowd. She was a little surprised, as some people have clearly withheld their wagering from Arlington as part of a CDI "boycott". She figured, certainly on this day, that it wasn't working very well.

When the final numbers were tallied, Arlington Park's handle year over year was down about 25%.

I saw a tweet on Sunday from Crunk.  "Easily 20k at MTH today. Lines for the food trucks, bathrooms & pony rides insane. Only place you won't find lines is at the mutual windows."

I see big crowds at places like Santa Anita and elsewhere, with few betting dollars.

I see Churchill Downs spending piles of money on a big board, and advertising and whatnot. Then I look at their handle numbers this meet for every day racing.

Racing spends a lot of money getting people in the door, and a lot of that money seems to be working. But these folks are not betting.

A Fun Post From the 1940's

On the Derby Trail forum there was a neat post about long ago in horse racing land. 

In 1947 Mayor (of New York) William O'Dwyer jacked the takeout from 10% to 15%, then it went
to 20%, just because I guess. Less than a decade later, after seeing a "surprising handle drop", New York's tracks "were struggling to survive."

In another snip from the newspaper, Jersey tried increasing the takeout 2% to raise a projected five million dollars. Handle per week fell from over $10 million to around $7 million. It never materialized.

Here we are almost seventy years later. Churchill Downs increased the takeout to "raise more money for purses". Two years ago California raised rakes to "raise more money".

California's revenues fell by about $50 million.

Churchill's handle this meet is down over $20 million, and will likely be in the red in terms of revenues from takeout within two weeks.

Horse racing is not complicated. Instead of repeating …

Harness Racing Goes a Little ABR Live

Recently the USTA announced a partnership to try and bring harness racing a bit more to the masses. For thoroughbred fans, think America's Best Racing, but with sulkies. A part of the plan included a website that is wordpress based and quite welcoming, with various highlighted social media avenues.

You can take a look at it here. 

I won't wax on too much what I think of it, but for some thoughts there is an article in Harness Racing Update this morning regarding it. You can read that on page 6 (pdf).

Accompanying the website is a nicely shot video about harness racing, which if you are already a fan is sure to please.

If you are a fan of harness racing and on social media you can be a Harness Racing Ambassador and help spread the word. There's a link on the website instructing you on how to get that done.


Fresh of a smarting loss where an overtime winner went off a Montreal player's chin to down the Rangers of New York City, Left at the Gate should've be…

The Wacky Next Two Weeks & the Benjamins

As y'all know, a colt, many of whom would not mistake for the prototypical grand looking blue-blooded type, is roaring towards a Triple Crown. The only thing standing in his way is, oh about nine horses, history and just about everything else that can go wrong. But what a Triple Crown try brings, as Matt Gardner wrote today, is silly season in horse racing.

Silly season, I believe, is not something to gripe about. It's something to revel in.

This cool little horse will be profiled at some point over the next two weeks i) eating ii) sleeping iii) playing with a ball iv) having a mint v) taking off a New York Times reporter's hat with his teeth (possibly Joe Drape's) and myriad other things.

Celebrities in New York - say for example that woman that plays the Good Wife - will be asked to handicap the Belmont. She, among most, will like California Chrome; this despite her probably knowing Wicked Strong is in the race too. Penelope Miller from America's Best Racing wil…

"First Start Back" As a Four Year Old, A Good One For Queen B

Whether thoroughbred or standardbred in North America, the first start back as a four year old for the sophomore superstars is always an interesting time. After a tough three year old season chasing dreams and money, a horse can winter well, soothe the aches and pains of being an athlete, or come back pretty soft, very rarely recovering.

People might tell you that only one start is not enough to judge, but I think, most times, that's wrong. You can tell a lot from a first start back.

Last evening Horse of the Year on both sides of the border was making her four year old debut. She was handily beaten in one morning session by Market Share, in a ridiculously fast mile. In her second morning try she won in 155.2 with a nice last quarter. Trainer Richard Norman is not the type to have a horse ready to go big off a qualifier; especially a horse like Bee a Magician. In fact, he and many others expected her to get beat.

But how would she look doing it? Judge for yourself.

This wasn't…

The Churchill Downs Inc. Properties: Spot the Trend

I won't rehash the bad press of late regarding Churchill Downs Inc - I only have a short time to post this and it would take too long anyway - but for the business of racing, we now see a trend.

Earlier this year handle at the Fair Grounds was reported down 12%. The previous year's handle to that was about $2.9 million, which when compared to this year is off about 20%.

As we all know, handle at the flagship track is also getting walloped. For non-branded Derby and Oaks days, you're looking at about a 23% drop in handle.

Today, it was reported that Arlington handle is also on the ropes, too. For Preakness weekend last year to this year, handle is off 33.15%. Mother's Day weekend to Mother's Day weekend, handle is off 27.6%.

Meanwhile, other tracks are holding their own, like Belmont, who despite massive lower field size issues (worse than Churchill's or Arlington's) has handles only down about 2%. Pimlico's handle is slightly up.

These Churchill numbe…

Big Days Continue to Roll

Field size is brutal, Churchill Downs handle continues to get killed, horse racing is horse racing. But on big days, it's all different.

Yesterday's Preakness card yielded over $83 million in handle, up 2.20%. Attendance was up as well. And they weren't the only ones.

Woodbine harness, with a carryover and mandatory payout of their High Five, saw over $3.3 million bet, which is more than a North America Cup card.

At the Meadowlands, the Cutler had over $500,000 bet on the race, with international flavor and a large field. It was also earlier in the card which, in my view, is a better spot for it.

The problem with the above is there can be only so many big days, which is why the industry has to be smart about it. As you know, I think one of the silliest decisions made this year was the development of a Belmont Stakes super card (you can read my view here on that). Why card all those purses on the same day that i) there is already a stakes race that everyone knows, bets and …

Price & Product; Some Hikes Are Different Than Others

Yesterday we had a look at Jennifer Owen's presentation to the Asian Gaming Summit. We mostly focused on field size as a correlated factor to betting handle, as below:

Today we'll take a quick look at price. 
In her presentation she spoke about what we speak of here: Raising a price in a business which has falling revenues and increased competition does not make much sense. She used this past year in Australia as an example:

Australia had a law (they have a central office) whereby blended takeout could not go over 16%. If less than 84% was returned to customers, a track or tote would have to give back the excess through low takeout or no takeout bets. Their "Fat Quaddie" bet - a zero percent rake pick 4 - would generate millions in handles.

Lately, with the bet mix much different there is no such law. Exotic bets are made in "pari-mutuel" and they have a higher rake, while fixed odds and win betting has a much lower takeout (about 8%).  As well, racing afte…

North America's Racing Disarray

There were some interesting points made in Jennifer Owen's presentation to the Asian racing summit yesterday. Her power point was posted, and I'll share a couple of snippets here.

Here's handle. It has fallen in the USA more than anywhere else in the world.

We've often heard that racing must contract in the US to grow. I agree with that, despite how Buckley's medicine tasting that may be. Reality is reality. The parade of 5 horse fields at major racetracks is not a function of too little purse money, it's completely structural. Here's Jennifer's world field size graph.

France, Australia and Hong Kong have focused on field size as a rule. Japan has new issues regarding competition they are dealing with, however they seem to card bettable affairs. Hong Kong went through a small lull and concentrated on bettable races. The UK has carded more and more poor betting races, but no country has a worse betting product than here in North America.

As horse owners…

The Derby Funnel Illustrates Racing's Number One Customer Issue

The above is a simple marketing funnel, courtesy here.

The concept is simple: You dump people in the funnel, and each step of it represents a drag. For a restaurant having a big promotion this might be people who saw your ad; they represent the leads. When they get to your eatery, they look in the window at your menu, see that they don't like anything, and leak out of the funnel - etc, based on whatever business it is.

From the Churchill Downs press release of Derby Week:
Attendance for those five days [Derby Week card's] was up 5 percent to 348,530 from 331,922 in 2013. So,  16,608 more people entered the funnel, as we've seen a lot of late. That's good.

All-sources handle for Opening Night, Saturday, April 26, through Derby Day, Saturday, May 3, 2014, was $253.8 million, down 2 percent from 2013's $258.5 million Those 16,608 increase in attendees, like others before them with record attendance, don't seem to bet very much money.

How does such a big…

Derby Day a Strange One For Me

Derby Day is done. A horse who I thought looked too small and too untractable to win a race like the Derby, won the Derby. Egg, face, all that stuff.

Like many of you, I am not sure if we're looking at a really good horse, or we're looking at a 2:03 and change 10f horse who beat up on what possibly might've been the most nondescript Derby field we've ever seen. Regardless, I was cheering for him. It's a good story and he's obviously a trier, who has some go. I will be pulling for him in the Preakness, and if pedigree guru Sid Fernando tells me he can win the Belmont, there too.

Derby Day is normally my second biggest handle day of the year and this year my handle was zero. I just could not get up for it, and as you know I support lower rakes and only play into lower rakes when I can. I still did have some fun, and learned a thing or two.

The Derby, no matter what is done to it, in the short term, will always draw money. It's just the way it is and unless t…

Top Nine Things to Do On Oaks Day

To all the folks who aren't good enough horseplayers at Churchill Downs over the last five or so seasons to beat a 12% or so increase in rakes, this is not a good time. To all the folks who think racing is a mess with high prices and want to take a stand, this is not a good time either. What to do? Choose to bet and lose more money, or choose not to bet and not watch the Oaks?

It's a toughie.

Fortunately for you, Pocket has your back.

Here are nine things to do on Oaks Day that does not involve helping out a Churchill Executive's stock option exercisiment.... or exercisation, or exorcism. Whatever. These ten things also might help you keep your sanity; along with a few more dollars in the wallet.

Here we go!

1. Work (fr. "travalle"): This dog showed up yesterday and was going to for sure - not almost sure, but sure - get hit by a car. A young gal stopped her car, got out and saved the little man, who later I found out was blind. I took him in and spent most of t…

If I Were Pablo Del Monte's Owners.....

From Novak:
Jst off phone with Wesley Ward: no decision tonight on running Pablo Del Monte in #KyDerby or not
— Claire Novak (@ClaireNovak) May 1, 2014 Well, this is interesting.

 A 19 horse field instead of a 20 horse field can cost a couple of million in handle. 2 million in handle at 20% boat is $400,000. If the Derby has turned into a corporate nickel and dime fest, where an owner can't get an extra seat or two, why not let these owners have a little fun.

"We the owners of Pablo Del Monte will enter the Derby, if you pay us $395,000"

Churchill might say "that's bananas Del Monte!", but I bet they'd come back with a counteroffer. It's how they roll.

Trainers Are Even Supporting Customers Now W/ Churchill Downs Boycott

It'd take me all afternoon to link everything (the Uncle Sigh Bloodhorse column would be more than enough), but this article "Trainer Supports Churchill Downs Betting Boycott" took the cake (language alert).
Asked why a boycott of the classic Kentucky track with the famous twin spires is a great idea, the 60-year-old Stein didn't mince words in giving his opinion about the powers that be that run Churchill Downs. "These greedy fucks are ruining our game," Stein declared. I glanced and saw the handle is down this meet, which is what's been hoped for by many. But after reading more and more stories and more and more columns it truly makes me wonder: What could anyone possibly be thinking in supporting this place?

Have a good Thursday everyone.