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Showing posts from November, 2015

WEG's Jim Lawson Interview Shows Where the Customer Stands

In Dave Briggs' piece on TRC today, Seven reasons Woodbine might have a bright future were examined, through an interview with WEG's head honcho Jim Lawson.

Almost three years ago now Woodbine and racing in Ontario was given an ultimatum: Bring in more customers, or else. From the Chair who was running Horse Racing Ontario at the time:

"Everyone, collectively, has to think about how you attract bettors and customers to the track and regain interest in the industry. I said this yesterday: two years ago if we had one of these (industry consultation sessions) I don't think we would have heard 'customer' or 'horseplayer' mentioned. It would have just been about how much money there was and how we were going to divide it up."

So, at least some of these seven reasons were likely customer related, right?

Here is the only snippet in Dave's piece where the customer was mentioned.

"Higher commissions imposed by the Breeders’ Cup forced Woodbi…

Derby Wars, Exchanges & the Fight For Lost Customers

Today we saw some news from New Jersey, where it appears (finally, unless something happens) exchange wagering will be offered to residents of that state, sometime in 2016.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Derby Wars (and others) were looked at in an excellent piece by T.D. Thornton in the TDN.

There's a lot of chatter about both betting systems; cannibalization, cheating, not giving anything back. Pick one, or a few of many. It is what it is.

The first rule, since we can remember (I think it started in North America with beaver pelt sales), is that when you lose a customer, you find out why. Did they not like your product, your hours, your store, your staff? From those answers you can likely improve your sales.

When it comes to horse racing, not nearly enough has been done in this vein, but from what people speak about, and using a little logic, we can make an educated guess. Lost customers were tired of losing, the product was not a good enough gambling product, pricing was too hig…

It's More Than Just Being an Immature Market

Some of you might have been following the lack of effort drive in last week's TVG prep at the Meadowlands. The New Jersey judges responded by giving driver Brian Sears a 15 day holiday.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, if you look at the entries for Saturday night at the Big M - 7 days later - there's Brian Sears driving Bee a Magician in the TVG Final.

I'm not sure why he is driving. Maybe President Obama knows.

Conversely, let's look at Aussie racing. I could give you a litany of "lack of effort" fines and suspensions, customer and bettor protection decisions, etc. But it's much easier than that.

Here's a stewards report from a few days ago. Just an average day at the races.
All trainers with multiple engagements in any one particular race were questioned in regard to their tactics.  Stewards questioned trainer R Veivers in regards to the performance of EMPTY ENVELOPE. He said that he had adjusted the gelding’s training regime in recent times and felt …

Getting Things Done the Right Way Is Difficult

Satire works when there is a grain of truth to it.

Today I read something satirical that made me laugh. A petition to the Attorney General of New York to stop bingo in the state.

This petition has the formula down.

Introduce something that people are doing down the block, show how said activity is a "gateway" to something more sinister (without evidence, of course), add a little horror like "theft and murder", and voila, you now have a full-blown crisis.

This is a New York Times editorial waiting to happen. Get Drape on the case.

This represents so much more, though. And in horse racing it's taken to the nth degree because horse racing has little leadership, or structure to get to brass tacks. It's a New York hyperbolic DFS debate on satirical steroids.

Lasix articles abound and they are filled with so many of the same tactics, it's astonishing. Field size is down, because of lasix use. Starts are down, because of lasix use. Breakdowns are up, becaus…

Horse Racing Business Fundamentals

Whenever something goes wrong two things invariably happen:

i) The masses want someone to blame for it, even when force majeure is the culprit

ii) Some antithesis of growth policy gains steam

Horse racing, because handle is losing more and more volume most years this century (when inflation is factored in, almost all years), has had their fair share of some major anti-growth policies.

Horse racing handles are down, so it must be Derby Wars!

Horse racing handle is down, so we should stop accepting bets from computer wagering!

Horse racing handle is down, so we need to eliminate rebates!

Horse racing handle is down, so we need to increase margins!

Fundamentally none of those things make any sense whatsoever.

The NFL, NBA, NHL, Nascar, PGA Golf and MMA all love the Derby Wars type platform. Studies have been released showing how they engage customers to watch the sport more and more.

Computer assisted wagering - conditional wagering, looking at overlays etc and batch betting and dutchi…

Skill v. Luck is Difficult to Illustrate, Because Professional Gambling Is Boring

The peeps were chatting about "skill vs luck" in pari-mutuel games today, in this case daily fantasy sports.

This, as we've seen, with statements from the press and others during this debacle (in my view, that's exactly what this is), is often misunderstood.

Winning long term at a game that involves skill versus luck is not sexy. It's not something you can "show" on a short youtube video. It's not something you can show on a TV commercial.

It's a grind, and it's really boring.

Picking a player that will likely do well, with some confidence, is not difficult. Todd Gurley should have a good game against the Vikings. Tom Brady should be able to score some fantasy points against Washington. Anyone should score some points against the Saints.

In horse racing, we can all pick winners. In fact, the odds board picks the top two places about 6 or 7 of ten times.

Look at any graph at odds levels with low variance choices and expectation. It's a pr…


Perhaps you've seen a commercial recently with "Brad".

Out of the thousands of players who play and have fun with DFS partake in unregulated gambling that everyone with law degrees seem so upset about, Brad, with "$349" in winning teams was chosen as a poster boy.

Awful Announcing found Brad and asked him a few questions. It turns out Brad is really a regular guy who plays some tournaments with friends for fun, and just happens to have won a couple of dollars.
That’s one of the main reasons my winnings were $349. To be completely honest, last season was my first season in fantasy period. I had a lot of fun and kind of got bit by the fantasy bug. Then I started playing DFS with FanDuel primarily. So probably just a little bit over a year ago. I don’t play $25 buy ins to win a million bucks. Mainly just these fun games between me and my buddies just to make the season more interesting.  Or I’ll play some buddies in a 1 on 1 heads up $1 game, because if I l…

In Harness, Culture Changes Are Hard

As most of you who follow the blog know, we've spoken about lack of efforts by harness drivers with odds-on horses since its inception. For Thoroughbred friends, this is an issue because harness horses do not have running styles; try or no try is in the hands of the driver.

It's a real issue for a few reasons:

i) A billion or so dollars is bet each year on the sport, and bettors need to know they are given a fair shake.

ii) The judges have been reticent to do anything to participants when it occurs

iii) It makes the sport look insider based, and insiders feel they can do whatever they want, with impunity.

Yesterday's drive on Bee a Magician at the Meadowlands finally resulted in some action. Driver Brian Sears was given a 15 day penalty. This is not 15 days of course, he is not a regular. What it is, is a suspension for next week's stakes card.

Already, insiders have begun griping about it. That's what happens when a culture change begins - denial, anger..... "…

Reactions Sure Are Different When Things are Popular

Harness racing was popular at one time, not really that long ago.

That popularity helped push forth some interesting vibes from time to time, like the night when the crowd went crazy and rioted at old Roosevelt Raceway when a race was made official that should not have been. There have been many "riots" in some form in racing over the years. Attention-seeking politicians, every day folks, newspapers, all paid attention.

Now, it's just ho hum.

Last night there was an elimination race for the TVG Trot at the Big M. As most know, elimination races can yield some wacky results because the drivers don't drive - even though they are supposed to - for the betting public but for the trainer. Not all drivers, but some.

This one was arguably one for the ages, with heavy favorite Bee a Magician heading to the back of the bus in soft fractions.

There was no riot, nothing more than griping on social media, a ten or twelve page thread on a chat board. This is old hat now, and the …

An Historical Look at Racing Protests

Since the 60's - probably the 860's - protests have been frequent and ubiquitous; well in the free world anyway.

Some are very socially important and some, well, kind of aren't.

This morning's one might fit into the latter category. Yes, hundreds of 25-44 year olds with incomes over $75,000 per year, had a DAILY FANTASY SPORTS PROTEST in New York.

I doubt much will happen with this protest, because they're fighting the man, plus the newspapers, and Drape, and anti-gambling casinos (I think that's one of those oxymorons), and a church that doesn't like gambling unless it is being done at a bingo in their basement, and some rich people.

Regardless, it's nice to see young people today doing their thing.

It got me to thinking about some of the greatest horse racing protests in this sports' long and detailed history. You probably remember some of these, but let's recap.

The ZENYATTA MUST GO ON DIRT Protest - This, in the height of the polytrack era, w…

Politics Shows the Importance of Testing Under One Roof

As most of you who follow the machinations of gambling and governments know, the New York AG has asked daily fantasy sports companies to cease operations in that state. This is another instance of a state or jurisdiction in a growing list of them - California, Florida, Nevada, Pennsylvania etc - to weigh in on the legality of these games.

New York (although most seem to think this is a big overreach) is an example of too many cooks in the kitchen, acting in a capricious way. The Feds passed a law stating these games are perfectly legal, companies invested capital in creating a form of them to be offered to the market, and the market - in massive numbers - has spoken. Now, the states are trying to find every which way to interpret that law, for whatever motivation (there are literally dozens, in my view) strikes them. It's a mess, with consumers (an estimated 60 million people enjoy fantasy as a hobby) caught in the middle.

Charles Hayward wrote an article today on his site, that I…

Horse Racing's Dangerous Margin Game

The margin for a product or service is a funny thing. It's a fine line between profit and loss, growth and stagnation, or success and failure. It's the building block, the foundation, for any real business, and it's something that's fought through each day.

In horse racing it tends to be none of those things, though. It tends to be a number that those in charge use not as a sextant or rudder guided by markets that tells you which way you're headed, but something they want to steer. 

Last weekend, Woodbine increased the takeout on Breeders' Cup wagers in Canada; some pools as high as a whopping 27%, which in real terms is 42% higher than what all other ADW's charged their customers. This was a function of the dangerous margin game.

Deals written between tracks and horsemen groups can take many flavors, but in Canada, for some time now, they've been written differently. Instead of giving 50/50 on simulcast wagering revenue, 4% for tris and 2% for exacta …

Friday's Juxtaposition

Here we go......

Enjoy your weekend everyone.

As Baseball Shows, Some Numbers are Just Numbers

There was a look today, from the Fox Sr. VP of sports programming, at the television numbers for the recently concluded World Series:
"As a longtime television partner to Major League Baseball, we at FOX Sports also engage in a decades-long debate about baseball numbers and their meaning, but in our case the numbers are Nielsen television ratings.  Here again, context is key, and differing points of view can paint sharply different pictures of the health of the game, as we see every October when World Series ratings are dissected by industry observers. 

The defining trend of media in our lifetime is fragmentation – the process by which the enormous audiences once generated by a small number of entertainment options have splintered over the years and have been redistributed across hundreds of TV networks and many thousands of digital destinations...... media content has become ever more individualized and on-demand." Yes, people are not watching the World Series i…

The American Pharoah "Experience" Starts About Now

There was an article this morning at Charles Hayward's site penned by a writer experiencing a strong American racing event for the first time, and what that "means for the health of horse racing".

I expect many around the world would be amazed at what's 'left' of this sport here in North America. But it is not surprising to us. We know 15 million or so watch a Derby, we know 10's of millions watched Zenyatta on 60 Minutes (and many tuned in for her Classic). We know sports' stories in a mad-TV sports and twitter world still exist, and in many cases thrive.

We also know that much of it has little to do with the immediate health of a sport.

This business - for years - has been filled with the knee-jerk. Things need to be fixed yesterday. Field experiments for takeout are a dirty thing, despite being done in some form by virtually every other business: Laurel lowered takeout for a week and lost money, don't you now. Tracks should be ripped up, then …

Mattress Mack Gets Taken to the Woodshed

There's quite the brouhaha going on, as you all know, I suppose. And right now, ol Mattress Mack is taking the worst of it.

This is the same Mattress Mack, who was described by ESPN in 2004 like this:

As the failures, injuries and losses mounted, McIngvale went through four trainers -- two-time Derby winner Nick Zito; Steve Moyer, a former Zito assistant; Leonard Duncan, a former night watchman at the racetrack, and Laura Wohlers, McIngvale's sister-in-law and a former employee at Gallery Furniture. From Houston, McIngvale would call Wohlers in Lexington, Ky., and tell her which horses should work, and how far. Mattress Mac looked like a buffoon, and racing insiders were amused.

"I think if I had it to do over, what I would do differently, I probably wouldn't buy so many horses so fast," McIngvale said. "I think I overbought horses, and I bought a lot of bad ones. And I was tampering with the trainers, saying I want to do this, I want to do that. …

Breeders' Cup Again Proves Its Worth

Years ago the "end of year" championship was a novel concept that most got behind for a few reasons.

i) Most sports' have a season with a championship of some sort. Championship races for big money were logical.

ii) Thoroughbred racing season - in the public eye - consists of three races, the Triple Crown, and little else. People like to wax poetic about televised Saturday races from Belmont or elsewhere, but they were built for another time and don't work today. The BC provided a fall outlet for the sport to promote itself to the masses.

iii) To try and bring the worlds' owners together to find out who has the best horse, and promote racing globally. As I'm watching the Lions play the Chiefs in London, this in many ways was a forward-thinking concept.

In today's world, with bloodstock sales and foal crops lagging and with politicians as the new audience for the sport, there are other reasons why this series is important.

I think, again, it delivered.