Racing Needs a Goal, With a Dash of Peyton Manning

Leadership and goal-setting are probably overused concepts. We read about it, we get shuffled off to some retreat to take seminars about it in the corporate world and it's one of those buzz-things that everyone studies or promotes. But they get a bad rap, because it is vitally important to any franchise, sport, team or business.

A couple of years ago the Denver Broncos were pretty much a 0.500 team. Then along came an aging quarterback off a severe injury. A year later, that aging quarterback looks like he is about 25, and the team looks close to unbeatable. The quarterback who was a four time MVP along with a Super Bowl MVP continues to rewrite records.

Not far east, the Kansas City Chiefs won two games last year and were in disarray. On the offseason they went and hired a CEO as head coach. A man who works hard and knows how to run an organization. This year, with pretty much the exact same player roster, the Chiefs are 4-0, and look to be headed to a great season.

Peyton Manning works hard and is respected. This rubs off on everyone else. If he spends an hour making sure he throws to a spot where a receiver is supposed to be, that receiver better spend an hour working on being in that position. Often times on offensive teams the defence feels under-appreciated. What a leader does in that case is give them the credit, not himself when things go good, and take blame himself when things go bad. This makes the 12 guys on the other side of the ball work harder too. It's not dissimilar with the head coaching position.

In the NFL, success is kept score by wins and losses. A win is the prize, a loss is a reason to hang your head. It's simple, really. And wins and losses do not come out of thin air. There is always a leader attached, with an eye on that main prize.

This week the Globe and Mail launched an investigative piece into executive compensation at the Woodbine Entertainment Group. Execs, as well as the rank and file, received some pretty nice bonuses over the last several years, apparently. I believe people should be rewarded for good work, so don't think I am going to go all Daily Kos or New York Times on you here with that. I also do not know how this story came about; for all I know it could've been egged on by a casino company, looking to sabotage Woodbine's chances at one. What I will comment on, however, is that horse racing keeps score with its leadership in funny ways.

Woodbine (or "insert name of casino company who runs slots at a track here), will have their success and bonuses guided by slot revenue, not attendance, or handle. The "win" is not a record handle, it's whatever the slot check says at the end of the month for racing's cut. That's where the money comes from.

Horsemen are certainly not exempt. At some tracks, where 95% of purses come from slot machines, the win was tabulated by looking at how many people enter the slot parlor, not the apron to watch and bet on the third. "We got slots, who cares?"

In 2007, the Sadinsky Report spoke about how racing must be improved for the end user (bettor), as a goal. Benchmarks needed to be set, and score needed to be kept on handle and attendance, not how much money a slot machine made.

In 2009, the Racing Development and Sustainability Plan was broached, detailing pretty much the same thing.

Both of those plans are currently gathering dust on a shelf somewhere.

Those actionable reports were not shelved because they had bad ideas, or they were unworkable. They were shelved because the sport keeps score with slot wins, purse levels or how much one spends on a chandelier, and there is no leader to stand up - no Peyton Manning or Andy Reid - to say "whoa, folks, enough is enough, we have to keep score a different way, or we're finished."

Racing in Ontario, and the cuts previously to Pennsylvania and Iowa from slots, were not engineered because slot win was too low, or the paddocks weren't shiny enough, or purse levels were not up to snuff. They were cut because there were not enough people betting and watching racing.

Why our sport does not have a leader setting the goalposts in a different spot, after all the evidence we've seen, is simply beyond my comprehension. Peyton Manning does not get a bonus for the number of hot dogs the Denver Broncos sell, he gets a bonus for how many wins they get and leads 23 other players on the field towards that goal. Racing should be no different.


Anonymous said...

"They (Slots) were cut because there were not enough people betting and watching racing."

This quote (from your blog above) is the stark reality and MAJOR REASON behind Ontario's cancellation of the SARP program BUT Ontario horsemen REFUSE to accept it. The horsemen cannot accept that the public overwhelmingly rejects the harness product as currently presented.

Judging from some of the letter writers on Standardbred Canada, horsemen are in denial and continue to believe slot revenue is their entitlement. They fail to understand that because slot funds firstly belong to ALL taxpayers of Ontario, horsemen have no greater entitlement than any other segment of society.

Furthermore, given society's experience of the Industrial Revolution, it's clear that dying industries DO NOT warrant govt support and must be abandoned. Right now harness racing is a dying industry. Without major fundamental reworking, resuscitation is not recommended.

Anonymous said...

Little bit early to send Denver or Kansas City to the Super Bowl. Denver has beaten teams with combined record of 4-12. KC's opponents have a record of 3-13.



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