Harness Racing Needs a Reboot

The past few days in harness racing have been interesting. We've seen just about everything discussed, related to the way racing is presented, scheduled, priced, ruled and much more.

In almost every instance, the strangehold with the status quo always rears its head. Without a centralized structure, without critical thinking guiding it with an eye on reaching long term goals (even normative ones), the comfy cozy blanket of the way things are has an intense hold on just about everyone. It's a hard habit to break.

This past week I have seen some comments that make one shake their head. In reference to kicking, a driver tweeted that when a big race is over he wishes twitter would not talk about the booting that will likely go on. Think about that for a second. He does not want people to talk about it on twitter, but he says nothing about the obvious - if a driver does not break the rule and doesn't kick a horse, no one will talk about it.

It's like saying OJ Simpson wishes people would stop calling him a wife killer on twitter. Well, he probably should've thought about that before killing his wife.

The sad part? That tweet was retweeted 8 times.

Status quo: Don't ask us to change, don't talk about us if things go wrong, but please keep betting and watching so the purse checks keep coming.

When decisions in harness racing are made, they rely mainly on appeasement and acquiescence to fiefdoms. It's how we make them. Unfortunately, that's a recipe for disaster and has been for some time. As business analyst and marketer Seth Godin once said about the status quo and change in a failing enterprise, "If by save you mean, "what will keep things just as they are?" then the answer is nothing will. It's over."

Harness racing needs to realize that for it to succeed, grow, or even hold its own, major changes are needed, and there will be changes that people do not like. One way to get around that in racing is by creating a system where if you want to change something, you must make a business case for the change. If you can't, your idea gets nowhere, and you are part of the problem anyway.

There's an easy business case to be made on say, fixed odds wagering. The pools in harness racing are tiny, and the odds at one minute to post are nothing like they will look two minutes later. If you walked into a store and bought a breast of chicken on sale at $8 and while you were walking up to the cash the price changed to $14 and you had to pay it, you probably would not shop at that store anymore.

There's an easy business case to ensure harness racing judges call the rules as they are written, too. In fact, a case could be made that the lack of rules enforcement could blow up, like what happened to rodeo, circuses, or what happened not long ago with HBO's Luck being cancelled.

For the status quo crew, ask them what business case can be made where kicking a horse or whipping under the shaft in the lower body increases viewership and reach for harness racing and ergo adds to either good will with governments, the public, or the betting handle. They can't, but that doesn't stop them from promulgating it. The status quo is powerful.

Harness racing needs a full reboot - in fact Tom LaMarra last week said they should 'blow it up and start over from scratch'. He is probably right; that would be a better thing.

However, unless decisions are made in a diametrically opposed systematic way than they are made now, in five years we'd be right back where we started. For harness racing to succeed there will be winners and losers. Trying to make everyone happy can never, ever succeed. Whomever, if it ever happens, takes over harness racing and makes decisions for it, will likely be the most hated man or woman in the sport. But that's okay, because the people who dislike you are not against you, they are simply against change. And change - change based on metrics and critical thinking - is exactly what's needed.


Dave Vicary said...

Well said!

The Battler said...

Seems the problems of harness racing aren't restricted to the US - in Australia it is dying a slow death on the back of the same sort of status wuo in that sports administrators are often lost in a two decade time warp.
The Status Quo is a very easy position to take when those in control lack the business acumen to take the sport forward.


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