Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Pro Sports' Positioning is Never Unimportant & Racing is Learning that Lesson Now

Last night an NHL hockey game was being played, but a world-class diving competition broke out, when Stars' defencemen Esa Lindell dove not once, but three times in one span of play.

The memes on twitter were pretty hilarious, and hockey fans were none-too-impressed. One columnist wrote that Lindell should be suspended for his actions because this is worse for the sport than, say, a high stick, or boarding call.

That's not going to happen - especially since the Hockey Gods probably got him in the end when he fell rather easily on the game winning goal - but the writer doesn't make a bad point.

Jack Trout is a father of advertising, and his book Positioning is a long-time classic. In it, he describes how important it is to position your company or product in a consumers' mind. NHL hockey, like it or not, is positioned as a tough game in the consumers' mind, and it is their niche. It's always been that sport, and probably always will be. It's their position.

When a player turns into Flopsy McStagger, it eats away at that positioning. And that's no bueno from a marketing perspective. Make no mistake, the league 100% hated this event.

Racing, I feel, has this issue in droves. It's no secret that for years and years the safety of the horses was put on the backburner. No, it wasn't a plan, or wanted, and it was not condoned by the rank and file in the sport who truly love working with these majestic, wonderful animals, but it was reality. This sport was positioned as one which cared about purses, slots, government help, TV time, or a hundred other things.

This is why, when a PETA started making headlines, and racing (on social media especially) screamed "We love our horses, look!" it hasn't worked to move the needle one solitary inch. The sport is dealing from a position of weakness, because they never made horse welfare their position of strength.

In the coming years that will change. More and more we'll hear about safety and horse retirement and dozens of other pro-horse narratives because the public demands that in the modern world. Racing needs to position itself with that in mind and they don't need a Mckinsey to tell them what to do.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Fun With Masters Betting Probs, From the Olden Bear to Tiger

Last week Rob Pizzola did his yearly NHL playoff periscope, and one of the series he first looked at was Tampa-Columbus. He liked the dog; not because they were more likely to win, but because the odds were, he thought, too juicy on the dog.

After getting a few messages about how dumb he was to "like the dog" against the mighty Lightning, he simply said, 'if you don't understand I'm betting Columbus not because I think they're more likely to win, but because if I bet them 1,000 times I think I'd make money, you're on the wrong periscope.'

The dog is doing quite well, and could possibly be up 3-0 tonight. Even if they were losing 3-0, however, it was probably a good bet. Tampa was just way too big a favorite.

Liking someone, versus liking to bet someone, or some team, is always a bit of a mind-bender for the non-betting public.

Today, Tiger Woods won the Masters. The major media and casual fans are focusing on his win from a narrative perspective and that's understandable, but to bettors, this win isn't super-surprising.

Before the tournament started, Tiger had about a 3%, or 4% chance to win - it's a short field, he has course knowledge, and he's been playing well. Golfers each and every week win tournaments who start the week with a 3% chance; this is simply another of those. If you took under 25-1 on Woods, you probably made a bad bet, but congrats. It's nice to cash.

What was surprising to me, however - and I could not really get my head around it - was the Saturday night price on Tiger. His approximate +300 price felt just plain off.

But, when we think of it, we've seen this for a long time haven't we? For the last 40 Majors Tiger Woods' price has been off, and betting against him has been a cottage industry. He's always overbet (and he'll be even more overbet for next month's PGA at Bethpage).

Looking back, you know who else was overbet?

Jack Nicklaus, in what's considered the greatest Masters of all time in 1986 (I still vividly remember it; yep, I watched the Masters when I was in high school), came into the tournament with some calling him the "Olden Bear". He wasn't overly serious about golf any longer, and his first couple of rounds of 74 and 71 didn't make too many think. After shooting 69 on moving day, though, he was sitting in a tie for 9th, four shots off the lead. But it was with a stacked leaderboard that included Tom Kite, Greg Norman and Seve.

Before he started his round on Sunday, Jack's odds were, what, +800? +1000?

No, I've read he was offered out at +300. That number was worse than Tiger's - he was only a couple off, tied with Tony Finau who has never won anything of merit. It truly was a bizarre number.

We all know what happened. Jack shot 65, with a six under back nine to take home his 6th Jacket. The +333 folks were pure golden (Bear).

Over the years I've noticed a lot of bets like this in golf; bets that don't really make a lot of sense.

I remember one of my betting friends playing the Els Open way back when on Betfair. Ernie had a little two and a half foot curler to win, and there was tens of thousands offered out at 1.01. He took a pile of it and lost - Ernie made it - but that was a good bet. There's no way Ernie makes that 98 or 99% of the time.

Golf is a hell of a fun sport to bet, but it's a bet just like any bet - there's a probability of something happening, and a resulting price. When it comes to the stars of the sport - in 1986 or 2019 - I think there's still some meat on the bone.

Golf TV for Bettors has Aways to Go

For the non-betting public, we saw the probability angle bastardized in its own special way today.

Brooks Koepka was the only guy who could catch Tiger, and CBS stuck with a camera on Tiger putting on his lip balm on the 17 tee while Brooks was taking his approach. BK drilled it to around ten feet and probably had about a 10%-12% chance to be only one back (if Brooks could putt average, which as you all saw, wasn't the case this weekend). With 18 playing tough, the tournament was far from over. You'd never have known it watching the teevee. They were convinced the winner was settled. If golf TV wants to talk to the golf betting public, they have a ways to go. Maybe they need to hire a geeky analytics person.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Racing & Tech Investment, "There's No Money In It"

I'm, as I am most years, taking a little time off work to watch the Masters.

This tournament creates a lot of buzz in the golf world, and one of the more unique things about their brand is that they don't really look at short term revenue. Some examples of that include their non-maximized TV deals, and the Masters food prices that people talk so much about.

One thing they do that doesn't get enough attention, in my view, is their investment into tech. That's on display more than ever this year. They have created a virtual on-demand viewer experience.

On Masters.org I wanted to watch favorite Rory McIlroy, so I clicked his name. Up popped up his "TV channel" -

That's pretty neat, but even neater, if you mouse click the shot itself, up pops up video of the shot itself.

Now, they clearly don't have to do this. The 'proper' way would be to sell digital rights to Fox or CBS and let them do it, but they've taken it upon themselves to invest in the best golf experience they can muster. And this investment is made for four days a year. 

This new on-demand by player feature is but a small part of the overall digital brand, of course. As we know, we can watch almost everything, including live play before the television coverage, absolutely free.

Horse racing, on the other hand, doesn't think at all like this when it comes to data or tech in terms of solely building a brand. We see it with data, or tech investment, or freemium modeling; there's always a reason not to do something, rather than do something. And this sport races races almost 24/7, 365 days a year.

The Masters has grown like a weed in the sport of golf, and has become more and more noticed all around the world. Their investments today are made to ensure it never stops growing. So far it's been working.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Horse Racing's Common Sense Gene

We've seen a great deal of hand-wringing of late from people on the social media machine. Some of the critiques are fair, some surely unfair, but after Senator Dianne Feinstein's letter to the CHRB, imploring Santa Anita to not reopen this week, it's reached a fever pitch.

Leaving the reactions and solutions aside, I think much of the consternation, and real worry, stems from the fact that this business has never really known what it is. Is it a sport? Are horses livestock? Is it a gambling game? If horse racing had a leader, we could ask him or her for an opinion, but fat chance.

What I think has troubled me most about "horse racing" (and really, I don't even know what that term means), is that even with simple proclamations like horse safety or high takeout, there's never any direction.

Everyone wants horse safety right? Fake tracks were safer, at the very least, and we all know that; it's why they were brought in. What do we hear often about them when they are brought up, however? That they cause other injuries.

I can't remember where I read it, but in World War I they developed helmets for the first time. After they were introduced, something funny happened -- Medics were reporting a massive spike in head injuries. This occurred, of course, because soldiers received life-saving treatments because they did not die.

In some quarters in this sport, I fear this would be considered a bad thing, and they'd want the helmets banned.

We've read study after study, economist after economist, gambling expert after gambling expert say that horse racing's takeout is not optimal at these high rates. This is seemingly an immutable truth.

If so, why in the hell did the entire horse racing brain trust in California stand up and applaud at a CHRB meeting when it was raised in 2010? Why do other tracks follow them?

I am fairly agnostic about whips, but I do know one thing -- if they are banned, the sport will survive just fine. We'd put horses in a gate, and at the end of the race there will be a winner and several losers. If the price of a bet is right, people will bet, and that betting volume will not remotely correlated to how many welts the horse has on his behind.

In the infamous words of a gambler to Woodbine chief Dave Wilmott's question, "What if horse racing went away, you'd be betting on frogs, what would you do then?"

"Find the fastest frog."

There are factions who seem to deem a removal of a whip the death of the sport. but think about it; in 2019 with all the massive horse welfare and safety issues, an argument being made is that the industry needs to hit an animal more.

Those of us who love the sport can't do much. We're just pawns in the game. But it doesn't make it any less frustrating that whenever we raise our heads from the sales catalog pages, or the third at Gulfstream, we see such little common sense.

If this industry loves their animals, it has to prove it. If it believes takeout is too high, it has to do something about it.

When you do the opposite people are noticing now more than ever. And folks, that's not a good thing.

Monday, April 1, 2019

"Breaking Down" the Horse Racing Public

There's been a lot of chatter - rightfully so - about the Santa Anita issues. There are myriad topics to discuss, and it doesn't look like these conversations are going to end any time soon.

Last night I wondered just what, if anything, we're seeing overall with the headlines.

Using google trends, there's been a stout recent spike on searches for "horse deaths".  This should not be surprising. (note - I'll let these pictures go into the margin, which allows you to read them without clicking the picture).

When we look at the states and breakout searches, again it's not eye-opening. The horse racing epicenter is clearly paying attention.

If we scan the historical searches for Santa Anita Park, we do see at least something interesting; something that's standardized. News searches for "Santa Anita" -

Through Breeders' Cups, Triple Crown winners, stakes racing, and all the rest, the biggest news to come out of Santa Anita Park the last five years are the breakdowns.

But, what's this story in the grand scheme of things in terms of the general public? Maybe not as big as we think. Here's California Chrome versus Santa Anita searches, on the same graph and scale.

Make no mistake, this is a huge story (just search google news last night after the breakdown was reported). And the story has massive political risk to horse racing in California, and elsewhere. But, perhaps, the public is desensitized to issues like this, and those who are interested are more of the rubbernecker variety.

Have a nice Monday everyone.

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