Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Red State Blue State

There was a classic set of sensationalistic Drudge Report  headlines yesterday regarding the changing lunch menu at US schools. A set of kids from Kansas took it upon themselves to create a youtube video highlighting the 650 calorie mandated max intake for lunches, saying they're still hungry.

After the chuckle, it is apparent that a school in rural Kansas is much different than one in an inner city. Those kids have a couple of parents at home, and good food is fed, because when you work on a farm before going to school, you better get good food or you can't do your work. This policy probably doesn't fit them too well.

It got me thinking about when I was a kid. I moved from a smaller, blue collar rural town to a big city to go to University. People in the city were complaining about guns, or other big city problems. I didn't see any of those problems where I came from. My town had five guns per household, and in the city's 100+ year history there were no gun crimes on the books, robbery, murder or otherwise.

After living in the Big Smoke for awhile (and noticing a dude run out of a hotel toting a 45 caliber in my first year there, scaring me big time) I could see where the big city folks were coming from. I respected that opinion, while still holding respect for all my old friends at home that any restrictive national gun policy probably would be useless there.

In racing we have our very own red state, blue state phenomenon. Blanket policies, like putting all the cash into purses, might look good and smart for some people, while others who aren't cut of the same cloth, consider them insane. This causes a real issue inside the sport and its one that will likely never be solved.

This was, in my opinion, exemplified with the racing Town Hall Meeting a couple of weeks ago hosted as a Night School chat. Racings insiders, who were most of the invited presenters, had to play to the groups that control the sport, like breeders and horsemen, while somehow including the masses, who were watching, that were detailed in a poll run during the meeting that showed over 98% were "bettors".

One of the presenters invited was Jeff Platt of HANA. I'm biased because I know Jeff, but in my opinion, a more thoughtful person you will not find. He is soft spoken and truly wants to help the game by increasing betting on the sport of horse racing. He wrote a post about his experience that I thought was quite poignant.

His thesis was simple. The red staters (insiders) were talking about things the blue staters (bettors) did not want to talk about. They were answering questions about what have you, while the questions (and the polls during the meeting reflected it) were about takeout, drugs and a bad tote system. He surmised that it is tough to fix racing if we don't meet these issues head on in a forum like that.

In the comments section of Jeff's piece you can see that a racing insider (Steve Byk, the host of his own radio show) apparently took issue with Jeff's remarks, as is his right of course. But the blue staters were not impressed.

Like in any other business, racings customers do not care about internal purse struggles, lawsuits, tracks fighting tracks, ADW's fighting horsemen groups, the price of a broodmare, or any other internal issue.

As David Willmot noted in an old speech published earlier this week, talking about gamblers:

"Frankly, they don’t care if a horse is by Mr. Prospector or Santa Claus. "

Some might say that's short sighted, or that the "blue staters don't understand us and are a problem force that needs to be educated".

But just like in any business, it's not a customer's job to understand you, it is your job to understand them.

A customer doesn't care if the price of the car you produce went up by $5,000 because of a strike at your steel supplier, they just buy another car. If you raise your rake to 25% to pay for new purses or backstretch groom dental coverage or a new OTB on the turnpike with flashy TV's, it should be no surprise to anyone that they don't care either.

They just see a business that disrespects them and some take their business elsewhere, just like you'd do. It's how the world works.

Even more-so, some customers don't care about anything, quite frankly, as this Aussie paper spoke about.

"By the end he put it to one of the punters that his betting on a soulless internet exchange - which was not putting money back into racing - would eventually see the death of the thoroughbred business. "You'll be betting on frogs," The punter replied: "Then I'll find the fastest frog." Nothing illustrates racing's problem better. Some studies show as much as 95 per cent of thoroughbred betting is done by pure punters, five per cent by traditional horse lovers. And punters will bet where they get the best service and the best return on the dollar."

Some might be shocked by that, but purchasing power from consumers is not altruistic. People buy $200 pairs of sneakers everyday made in a sweat shop.  People bet horse racing who couldn't care less about the sport, too.

In the current Presidential election - and a lot of them in years past too -  the issues have taken a back seat. The winner will be the man who patches together a coalition of blue or red states enough to win. It's an election driven by focus groups and voter warfare. It's fine for them, it's how it's done.

But in business and in racing you can not pit the blue staters against the red staters and expect to win anything. The reason is simple: The blue staters are your customers who bet into your pools.

Right now the racing media, its policies, its vision and its focus are controlled by red staters, and all about red staters. It should not be a surprise to anyone that many of the blue staters have found another gambling game to patronize.


Anonymous said...

Good column,but I think you have your colors mixed up.The blue states control the racing media as well as the general media.

Unknown said...

The people who can change things arent among the names at that town hall meeting.

Anonymous said...


if I may:

"The people who can change things arent among the names at that town hall meeting."

Should be.....

"The people who can change things do not exist."

Jerod D said...

Charles - I totally agree with you, but my issue is the disconnect between what they were covering and the actual issues that matter and impact the horseplayer and the industry as a whole. Instead of focusing on takeout/rebates, medication reform, and other pertinent issues, it was quite frankly a back patting session about how great their "new fan" initiatives are and how the sport needs to promote stars.

Anonymous said...

I went to the Steve Byk show to check the archives(9-12-12)I wanted to quote the exact words on his attack of Jeff Platt and wouldn't you know,the words have been deleted!

This seems very unusual..


Unknown said...

Jerod admittedly I didnt watch but I'm not sure that it was designed to be much more than that. Don't forget that every participant in the industry has issues that matter to them in varying degrees. Sure issues concerning the betting side are extremely important and taking a global view will ultimately affect everyone but as a trainer I'm not sure what I can do other than try to be an advocate for the needed changes? We can talk about them until we are blue in the face but this industry has people in positions of power who are so myopic in their personal beliefs they are willing to trash the sport in the mainstream press a al the NYT continuing "expose" despite the fact that this is robably the absolute worst way that the sport can present itself. This doesnt mean that we have issues that need fixing, however to the contrary nothing ever gets fixed in the press and the devils of course is in the details. In my mind we need to have a summit of sorts with stakeholders representing the different factions including the betting public meeting in PRIVATE so that the discussion can be frank and things can get done. Far too often the meetings that we have in this business to get things done are fluff (JC roundtable) and nothing substantitive comes from them. We invite the reporters in and basically play up whatever tangent that we want to go in. Nothing gets accomplished because only one view is presented. The biggest mistakes made in this business are the assumption that those in power have any clue of what really ails the game OR that they would have any desire to fix those issues if they were to acknowledge these issues even existed.

Pull the Pocket said...


You make a fair point. However, what you are advocating for has happened, is happening and will happen. People are meeting, in back rooms and in conferences. On the phone and in person. Big guys, little guys, everyone.

Nothing ever changes.

Jeff's point was succinctly made, in my opinion, and he's right. He has been working - tirelessly as a volunteer - trying to get people together to handle the big issues that customers care about. Racing tinkers, and tinkering does not, never has, and never will solve problems.

As for you as a horsemen, you can't really do much either can you?

Look at California. Everyone agrees - track execs, players, analysts and phd's like Caroline Betts, Thalheimer and Will Cummings - that the price of a bet is too high. Surveys show it is, Night School polls show it is. Everyone that studies gambling know it is.

So lower the price of a bet right?

No, in 2010 the owners group in California RAISED IT.

What you are seeing is not that racing does not have enough closed door meetings. What we're seeing is a complete lack of leadership to do what's right for the sport.

Platt is frustrated, and he should be. If he was happy in a sport that lost 50% of its handles in real terms since the year 2000, he should find a new calling.


Unknown said...

I think that you are making the same mistake that so many make. You believe that those in power in this business actually give a damn about the business. The truth is so many think it is broken, not because of the reasons that we would but because they are so myopic that they think that the lasix matters, that smaller tracks, harness and quarterhorse racing needs to be eliminated, that smaller owners (non multi millionaires) and trainers are not in the best interests of the sport and that they are looking to return the sport to some version of the 60's nirvanna that never actually existed.

They WANT the sport to fail in a sense that it eliminates all the chaff and once they have things back to a reasonable number they can rebuild the thing in the way they see fit. They think that they can have a series of Keeneland, Saratoga and Del Mar meets. They think that Once they get rid of all the small frys in the business and return it to the complete authority of the JC and friends that people will flock back to the track and bet with both fists on the "quality, drug free" racing that they will be providing. That of course this has zero chance of happening because the days they harken back to didnt really exist except in their minds isnt going to stop them from carrying out this grand plan.

We have tracks like parx that are so dysfunctional mostly because management doesnt even want to race and the few horsemen in power there are exerting their control to squeeze every drop of money out of the place with the future not even considered. We have CDI which is actively trying to get ut of racing in FL and trying to squeeze out the competition in IL. We have the JC spending far too much energy and money on lasix which is a self created issue. We have major tracks like hollywood and Aqu which are pretty much doomed. On the horsemans side we have a dearth of new owners and of those who stay many arent keeping up with the expenses. Just about every track has empty stalls when just 10 years ago hardly any did. There are seemingly so many issues that go unresolved.

Jerod D said...

Charles - Thanks for posting your frank and thoughtful insight. All too often, those of us that are pationate about the sport come at it from our own distinct lense(owner, trainer, horseplayer, etc.) without thinking enough about the other parties involved. To this end, I think we all agree that track management, with rare exception, has been completely atrocius.

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