Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Inside Baseball & Inside Leadership

In Lexington during a race last month, Ron Pierce whipped Costa Rica with two "swats" one-handed which is a no-no. For that he received a 10 day suspension. It is the second such fine for Mr. Pierce with a new whipping rule. As most remember, he was fined $12,800 under the Swedish rules (which are about the same as Kentucky's) while driving Mr. Muscleman over there. The Trot insider column had several quotes from Mr. Pierce and a couple of readers wondered why I did not speak of it here.

Sandy writes: "Actually PTP, myself and a few others who frequent your site were surprised that you let those Pierce comments go by without any mention or opinion ? You know the ability to drive a horse does not come complete with an MBA, apparently it doesn't even include any tact in some cases. And unfortunately most in the industry would rather line up behind one of their own, like Pierce, with no regard for common sense. It's really sad."

An anonymous commenter states: "Do not let Ron Pierce voice his opinion publicly ever again. The piece in Standardbred Canada, and the majority of comments that followed were disgusting. Pierce uses terms like "Mommies and their daughters", and "a good lickin", talk about alienating, or eliminating, new fans. Does he live on a different planet?"

Some highlights of Ron's comments from the piece:

"I was aware of the rule in Kentucky. I knew that I was supposed to keep both hands in the handholds and to keep the whip over the horse's back and don't go under the shaft. I saw a filly flying up on the outside. I put the lines over in one hand and I gave her two little swats. The filly on the outside ended going by us anyway. I didn't even realize that I had done it (put both lines in one hand)."

Mea culpa. So far so good.

"I've been driving horses for 33 going on 34 years now and it is our job to know how to make horses go fast. Now, all of a sudden, they take that away from us"

This is the "I know how to do it one way, you took it away from me an I do not like that" defense we see from the industry; and in fact most of us in our own jobs don't like change, so I think we could all understand this. In other sports it is like the forwards who crowded the net in hockey to get a goal not liking the crease rule, or defensive lineman who were taught to jam their hands underneath your opponents voicebox to gain an edge not liking that.

"I think it's safe to say that 70 per cent of the leading drivers are against the rule more than I am."

This is the "look it is not only me" argument. See point above.

I feel along with all the other top drivers -- except for maybe one or two…maybe just one -- that it puts us in a dangerous situation out there.

The one he is referring to is probably leading money winning driver (Standardbred or thoroughbred) John Campbell. They have some documented history.

"Once they find out that they are not going to get 'licked' if they don't go, than they are not going to go."

I agree with the commenters that it is bizarre that someone in this sport would publicly say such a thing when we are trying to sell it, or to answer critics who complain about horse abuse.

So those were the comments in a nutshell. He also went on to talk about his version of marketing, fans, and gambling.

I did not comment before; that is correct. I figured that the article was self-explanatory, and Ron is known for some strange comments either in print, or to the camera over the years. It is what we see from the business almost all the time - a relentless clinging to the status-quo and the "not in my backyard" phenomenon - so I filed it in the common sense department and deemed it a whole lotta nothing.

Over the years in this business it is readily apparent that the people who are involved in putting on the show have a forum, have some control and they use it. The trade press picks up their opinions and runs with it (they have advertisers after all), and then more insiders comment on stories in the Internet age, almost without fail in support of the insider. It is just the way it is.

Whip rule aside, (who knows if it will be good or bad for the sport.... new policies in a sport with very little measuring or forward-thinking are always a crapshoot), it shows just how bad we need leadership.

Take the NFL for example. Larry Johnson made a "anti-gay" slur via Twitter and was immediately suspended and investigated. If a coach or a lineman speaks up against a new rule they do not like, or an official's call, he is fined, and fined hard and he does not do it again. When the crease rule happened in hockey and the players did not like it, they could not complain to the media. The PGA Tour? Even if Tiger Woods says something out of turn the PGA immediately acts.


Because rules are set behind closed doors with input from all factions (just like this whip rule was done) and then it is policy. You do your griping to the league, to the owners or to the players association if you have one and that is the end of it. It is the way real leagues are run because in successful leagues the sport is bigger than the individual.

In harness racing we are not a real league, nor a real sport. We are a hodge-podge of acronymical associations, and until that is somehow fixed, expect to see more and more of this, with the whip rule and everything else. I don't blame Ron Pierce for that, I blame racings dearth of leadership and like many I do not see this changing anytime soon.

In the end, John Campbell in the other item linked above with the incident last year might have summed up a general feeling: "As is usually the case, in my opinion, there is a bigger picture here that Pierce fails to realize or comprehend."


That Blog Guy said...

I had commented on Mr. Pierce's comments myself and truly wonder if these people who protest the new whipping rules understand what is really at stake.

Is whipping cruel or not does not matter. The general public sees whipping and perceives it as being cruel. As they say, perception is reality. We can talk till we are blue in the face about how it really doesn't hurt but John Q. Public has a different view these days about animal welfare and when they see what they see, they 'know' it is cruelty; we are not going to convince them otherwise. While Mr. Pierce doesn't care about "Mommy and daughter", he should realize Mommy (and daughter ten years from now) can contact her legislator and ask why government is spending slot revenue on a "cruel" sport when we can pay for teachers with that money; she can vote to outlaw harness racing given the opportunity (like the greyhounds) and if we don't get our house in order and address the perception of cruelty, we will be dealing with these situations. It is happening as we speak with the greyhound industry which likely will be gone within five years and once the dogs are taken care of, who are they going to be going after next? Harness Racing Australia gets it; on their video explaning their new whipping rules, they specifically mention what is going on in the United States with the greyhound industry and they recognize the threat. Why are we in such denial?

Many people, including Mr. Pierce, think we don't need to market to the general public. After all, if they are not going to be betting, why should we care what they think? When big companies market products they market not only to their potential customers but the general population as well. They realize it is important to have consumers and non-consumers alike to have a positive view of their brand/product. After all, the last thing these companies want is people bad mouthing their product as it can influence sales of their product.

For sure takeout is a big problem in attracting new and maintaing existing customers. But to tell you the truth, if we don't deal with modern sensibilities regarding horse treatment, we don't need to worry about takeout; there won't be any harness racing left to bet on; this is the number one problem we have. This is not to say we can't be dealing with the takeout and other issues at the same time. Like most industries we don't have the luxury of dealing with one issue at a time.

If horsemen don't care what happens to harness racing once they retire, then keep on doing what they are doing. If horsemen care about the future of the sport, I suggest they get their head out of the sand and realize for the sake of the sport things need to change and "get with the program".

Anonymous said...

Pierce and others do not make sense to me. Are they marketers, do they know marketing? Do they understand what is happening in state houses everywhere?

Why in harness racing it is always me, me, me is the downfall of the sport.

Some bettors are complaining, most are not. That is not great to see, but without slots harness racing is dead: Anyone who does not see that is in denial. And without measures that Pierce describes like some sort of cowboy there will be no slots and no paychecks for Mr. Pierce. The participants better start realizing that.


David Loney said...

The poster above echoed it best. For the love of god please keep Ron away from a microphone.

Anonymous said...

Amen. Drivers should have to pass media training. Randy Waples, John Campbell, Jody Jamieson, Sears, Luc Ouellette; maybe a couple of others would pass. The rest need some serious training.

Brett Coffey said...

Just wondering what the betting turnover has been like since the whipping rule changes? Any notable differences?

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