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Anthony MacDonald's Blog


The Need For Education

Published: January 4, 2019 11:06 am ET

Last Comment: January 9, 2019 11:21 pm ET | 13 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

We all try to put away money for our kids’ education, if we can. If you want to be a doctor, lawyer, nurse, teacher, or anything else in life, you need a formal education.

I recently read an article by Dean Hoffman about how horsemen need to promote their own industry. I agree. I often preach about horsemen marketing themselves better. But is that really fair?

We are asking hard working people to put in long hours to try to get by in this industry, and then put in more time and money to market it?

I like Mr. Hoffman’s article and agree with much of it, but the reality is that horsemen for the most part aren’t that good at marketing.

I mean, I could run a marathon, or wrestle a bear. But neither are what you might call "my strong suits". Just because you want to do something, doesn't necessarily mean you can achieve it.

I do think the industry does need to market itself better. But that requires education to implement. Who will educate our horsepeople? Look around, I don't think there are an abundance of teachers.

Honestly speaking, our industry has employed so-called marketing experts for years. Where has that gotten us?

I've said it for four years, and now unequivocally proven that horse racing can attract new people to our industry from all walks of life. This power absolutely lies in the hands of the horsepeople, but they need help to achieve it.

Make no mistake, horsepeople aren't alone. The entire industry need to change the way it sees itself and markets itself.

In each jurisdiction, for the most part you'll find a failing racetrack. Sure, some are propped up, but they are not profitable on their own from wagering revenues. We have watched our clients leave year after year, with no replacements to speak of from the younger generations.

We have lost our understanding of what we actually are, and do not recognize that we are no longer a viable gaming product in the eyes of the general public. Horse racing is interesting, but the entry points into it are complex and often not appealing to the very people we need to attract. This isn't new, we’ve known it for years. Look around the grandstands for our average fans age group.

We can't convince people to become fans of horse racing with the promise of Super Hi Five jackpots, and lower takeouts on the Win Fours. People in the general public don't care about those things.

What we need is a way to get people to the track. Much like a bar, you only need to get them there; they'll figure out what they want to drink once they are.

Affordable ownership is a promising way to attract them. (Let's not argue if it works; I think we’ve done more than enough to prove that it does.)

But one or two fractional stables means nothing for the future of our sport, and that's why educating and helping our horsepeople with it is invaluable to the entire future and viability of this industry.

Our other problem:

Horsepeople try to convince potential clients that there is a formula to find a return on their investment in racing. (ROI)

This is all we have had in the past to attract people, but for the most part this is a fool’s errand.

That also plays a part in why our owners are leaving. They've been lied to; albeit inadvertently in most cases. Like George Costanza said "it's not a lie if you believe it, Jerry." Most trainers mean well and believe they can turn a profit. They're simply wrong.

It's incredibly difficult with the overhead we carry today.

To put it simply: it costs more today to race for less that we did in the past.

The Goal:

What is happening with should not be surprising to anyone. The information gathered to start it was pristine, resounding and emphatic.

But people still ask, why, and how does it work?

It's simple: we offer only what we can absolutely provide. Entertainment, and an unmatched experience in society.

The second part is what we have all missed.

Our industry has forgotten how exciting it is to be a part of this industry and how affordable it is when offered in small percentages.

The one thing everyone in society wants is affordability, and entertainment has slowly become unaffordable. That’s our opening.

People spend much more on tickets to a hockey game for their family for one night, than they will to own a percentage of a horse over most of one year (bills included).

If you’re in it for fun and not for profit, you only need a small percentage.

The entertainment attributed to horse ownership is unmatched by any mainstream sports exposure. Simply put, that’s why and how works.

By changing the way we approach the general public and the message we attract them with, you will see an influx of interest and ownership requests never seen before.

Again, this isn't hypothetical jargon, this is reality. just surpassed 600 active clients before Christmas and now sits at 604. Our average client owns no more that 4% of any horse.

We don't sell investment, we sell entertainment. And we make good on our promise.

The obvious question anyone would ask is:

How does that help gaming dollars, because that’s what really drives our industry.

We found an interesting thing about our clients. Although they professed to not "gamble", guess what they did when they were at the races? When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

By attracting people from the general public with a strong message of affordable horse ownership, we strengthen our stables.

Those people are exposed to racing in the way that original horse racing enthusiasts and in turn gamblers were.

We are bringing the potential of new clients to the doorsteps of our racetracks. These are people that would never attend a race or a casino otherwise.

We need to work together to build-up both sides of the racetracks with the promise of an unmatched entertainment experience and heightened customer service, and we deliver on both.

This industry is on the cusp of new growth, but without education and help from all facets of racing, none of it can be achieved.

I call on all racetracks, horsepeople and every stakeholder in this industry to use the failures of the past to help map the future.

What you just read isn't a paper written by a government panel on how it believes the industry can succeed in the future. What you have just read has been battle-tested and thoroughly proven in real life.

I tried not to mention my company’s name too often in this article, because it’s not any one stable that will pave the way for our industry’s future. It isn't any one person or model. It is all of us working together, understanding that there is a way forward and collectively pursuing it. I simply proved it is possible. It's up to all of us to succeed together.

Through education, we will find an understanding, and a profound realization that by changing the way we promote our industry we change the way it's viewed and experienced by the people we have been looking for forever.

A New Year’s resolution for the entire industry.

Happy New Year,
Anthony MacDonald

The views presented in Trot Blogs are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Standardbred Canada.

January 9, 2019 - 11:21 pmTo attract new people to the

To attract new people to the game, you need to involve them IN the game. Ownership is the best way has it brings new blood, their families and friends to the tracks. But again the issue is the way the conditions are written... there are too many conditioned event and not enough claiming races. At Mohawk, the same 20/25 horses are claimers, week after week, and the rest of the fields are conditioned only. The dummy claimers (claimers/NW) are a joke, and need to be eliminated from all tracks. The industry is killing their own game. The race secretaries must not understand the reality or they have their hands tied. IF THEY DON'T CHANGE THE CONDITIONS Sheet to allow for 70% of the races being claimers, THE GAME IS DEAD!

Put a new rule that a claimed horse can not race outside the province for 6 months to avoid all of our horses being claimed.

Attract the younger crowd by having wagering contests, with a college or university scholarship money to the top three. With a rule they need to be present at the track with a 50% meal allowance, they will bring their friends and see our game. Introduce ladies nights for 50% off drinks and meals... if girls are there the boys will follow.

On weekends open the paddock area, controlled by security, so the people can see the game from the inside and look at the horses and talk with the drivers (drivers can play cards on week days).

Give more vouchers/wagering points/meal coupon to gamblers. Look at different types of bets with low cost and high rewards... no one wants to bet $2 show to get back $3.00... that doesn't excite anyone.

In the summer open the middle of the infield and have picnics for families with music and small games for children.... if you look at old pictures, both sides of the tracks were open to public. I went to Sarratoga and the crowd have so much fun with their friends listening to music having a BBQ....

Why is this not being done, who is running the game? They cant see the game is dying? Close the tracks that don't belong anymore. Use the purse money to increase the purses at B tracks so it makes sense for owners to race their horses. How can an owner carry the trainers fee & vet fee with those purses? The horse needs to win 12 races a year to break even... how many horses win 12 a year?

These sames issues have been a game breaker for years and no changes are being done to address the real issues. I know of at least 5 people that are willing to buy a horse, but where? Everyone is looking for horses.

When there is more then 1 claim have the draw made so people can attend - be transparent... we are no longer in 1940. I asked how the judges choose, and they tell me they turn the claiming form around and they pick one... are you kidding me?

Changes changes changes before we lose the greatest game!

January 7, 2019 - 7:55 pmTo get new people to the

john lowe SAID...

To get new people to the track all the people that get TROT Magazine should leave a few old magazines at your Doctors or Dentists offices. Someone new might read the articles and get interested in harness racing.

January 7, 2019 - 9:01 amChange is needed all around;

Sheldon Rose SAID...

Change is needed all around; from post times, race dates, racing conditions and condition sheets. We are stuck in a time warp and those in charge refuse to change. My thought is to take away dates and money from those that refuse to face reality and give them to tracks and personnel that want to make a change and progress.

January 6, 2019 - 10:32 amI can answer to some extent

Dave Aziz SAID...

I can answer to some extent about the "Post times" issue that is mentioned here. I asked that same question two years ago to a "higher up" in the Mohawk office.

His response was they did not want to interfere with the thoroughbred crowd/fans and off-track signals which they said were larger handles than the S-breds.

They don't even like going before 6:45 because some major Flat cards are not
finished till 6:30pm.

This does not apply as much to WFR / FLB but still seems to be a concern.

January 5, 2019 - 10:32 pmHoward is right. Just look at

Sheldon Rose SAID...

Howard is right. Just look at Georgian on a Sunday night. Horsemen don’t want to race, and the cottage crowd doesn’t want to stop their on their trip back to the city. The Confederation Cup was also raced at night. Race in the afternoon when families can attend on weekends. The idea is to attract new fans. Late post times won’t do it. Also because there is a horse shortage, some of us purchase horses in the U.S. We pay a premium of 30% on the dollar, yet our horses have to compete against Ontario-breds that get a 50% allowance on earnings. Make the condition so it is Ontario bred, or wholly Ontario owned. Let’s attract new owners by leveling the playing field.

January 5, 2019 - 9:57 pmI agree with Howard about

Bob Johnston SAID...

I agree with Howard about afternoon racing. I remember many of days traveling to Orangeville for Sunday afternoon racing; many of days at London Fair Raceway Saturday afternoon and the great buffet they put on, and many of Saturday and Sunday afternoon racing in the winter at Greenwood/Woodbine. They definitely need to change something. From where I live to go to Mohawk it is 2 am before i get home, so that means maybe 2 trips a year to Mohawk for live racing for me.

January 5, 2019 - 1:31 pmI don't think we pay enough

I don't think we pay enough attention to post times. I was at Mohawk on Boxing Day for their 1 p.m. post time and I thought it was great and the crowd was pretty good. Why not have at least one afternoon racing every week at Mohawk, obviously either Saturday or Sunday. There would be more families and certainly more older folks. And I'm sure horsemen would like it better getting there horses cooled out and back home in the evening instead of 2 in the morning.

January 5, 2019 - 11:39 amTo me, there are many issues

To me, there are many issues at stake here. Which is most important? From marketing to quality of racing to condition sheets to increasing ownership to making the bettors with "big bucks" happy????. Social media to me is still not the end-all in marketing. Unless you follow a track on twitter or facebook or whatever, where do you get information on your track of choice? Other than a minimal small print of entries and results, in newspapers (maybe), you get nothing. TV is basically oblivious to our industry as is radio. When it comes to the quality of the race experience itself, all I can relate to is the way I saw the races run in the Netherlands 5-6-to 7 horses in and 5-6-to 7 horses out for most of their metric miles. Exciting to watch. To me fractional ownership is nice but I enjoy sharing my horse with a trainer on a 50-50 basis or 25-75. But the onus there is to find a trainer (stable) who you can count on to put in 12 hrs or so per day or simply put, has something called work ethic. Chances then are good if you have a horse in that environment, that you will make some money. Then if I am happy and more importantly, proud of my horses, I will certainly be bringing friends to the backstretch as well as to the grandstand. And the grandstand means betting, eating, and drinking. These are all money-makers for the track. Condition sheets need to be more flexible especially in the actual condition races. I certainly like the way Mohawk do their sheets. Hardly ever see the same fields in their condition races. More diverse fields from week to week give the bettor something to look forward to instead of same old fields til somebody goes over a a dollar condition limit. The big bettor needs full fields, exotic betting opportunities, and those diversified fields. And yes we as owners or whaever category we are involved in, need to market ourselves in whatever ways we can, such as posting pics on social media, wearing horse related gear (check Standardbred Canada site for some interesting products) and just plain talking the talk in our day to day life. And last, we need to draw the younger fan to the tracks (how about a university day?) We cannot look at the tracks to do everything. We as horse people need to be more proactive ourselves.

January 5, 2019 - 9:19 amHere is a simple reality that

John Carter SAID...

Here is a simple reality that this industry refuses to accept or do anything about. Years ago when the races and bingo were the only game in town, the tracks got away with an excessive takeouts. People such as myself turned a blind eye to it but this generation of gamblers don't and won't. They know that sports betting and poker are much better options. The house hold is such that they have a chance of winning. At the races how do the majority of people overcome a 15 to 30% house rake. They can't and won't even try and who can blame them. If this game is serious about competing for young gamblers it starts with providing a competitive product. Without doing this first everything else is a waste of time. They may attract a small percentage of new gamblers but they will never retain them.

January 4, 2019 - 6:24 pmI'm trying to figure out,

I'm trying to figure out, what the problem is in Ontario? As far as I can see, the horse racing industry is alive and well in Ontario, compared to Quebec. The handle at certain tracks like: Mohawk, Flamboro, Western Fair, just to name a few, are doing well, even, very well.

We are not living in the 60's, 70's and 80's where the horse industry was flourishing both in Ontario and Quebec, no competition whatsoever, until Casino's started to roll into town in the 90's, and that's when the people decided that they had enough with the horse industry, especially in Quebec.

That being said, betting on horse racing for me, is a million times better than going to a Casino. Thank you Ontario for allowing me to wager at your racetracks through HPI. I've always said that "Nobody does it better" than the WEG, HPI, and SC.

January 4, 2019 - 5:59 pmI have been kicking around

Dave Aziz SAID...

I have been kicking around Greenwood / Moh. for 51 years so I have seen a thing or three.
One of the many problems is that newer "fans" are intimidated by trying to read a program; guessing that the "experts" are way ahead and / or I have no chance to win.
That's why Lottos and slots have grown. Any one can play and just blind luck is all I need. Zero effort is given by Management on handicapping classes, "talk to the Stars", prizes, stories / interviews in the programs; suggestion boxes where a fan can ask a question...etc. There USED to be a box at tracks - taken out 25 years ago because they did not like all the negativity; instead of addressing the concerns, the writers were frustrated and stopped coming!! Ed Bradley told me in 1976 that the owner is the most important person. he was WRONG then and still WRONG! It is the attending public who is vital!!
I disagree (strongly) that marketing is not the problem. When was the last adv. on radio /tv suggesting that racing can be fun / great night out?? it's been years!!

January 4, 2019 - 5:32 pmFirst thing you have to do is

Tom Ford SAID...

First thing you have to do is put info in the hands of the people actually at the track or betting online. Charging for programs and downloads is insane. Make your money off the takeout not the print shop.
Second, make the food affordable. Ridiculous prices. I had a small meal with soup and a drink the other night and it was over 20 bucks, insane.
Third, the people running the track must care. I don’t know how many times I’ve been at the races and there are like 8 tracks running but I can only find 6 on tvs walking the whole place. Absolutely insane nobody is making the product available to viewers.
Fourth, the drivers need a shakedown. I read the fines all the time and see a guy driving a 4 claimer in Nova Scotia fined for a slow quarter, yet the big guys go 30 & 31 seconds regularly with no fines. And in fact, in quarters like that at Woodbine/Mohawk, fine the 9 drivers behind the leader for not moving! Great when people go to the track and make a few bets and your horse is gapped out 17 lengths off the leader with a 31 second quarter.
I can go on and on but nobody seems to care anymore.

January 4, 2019 - 11:58 amThe problem is not marketing.

Ken Morden SAID...

The problem is not marketing. The selling of the industry as a "entertainment" is not the problem.
The problem with horse racing in general and particularly harness racing is that the "product" as it stands right now is not saleable. No amount of marketing dollars or packaging as entertainment will make racing a viable industry which can offer investors a return, the public an experience to return to and a stable well paid career for the employees.
The racing industry must ask the question - why has tennis, football, baseball, hockey etc. managed to attract so many fans and pay its employees so well? What have they done that harness racing has not done?
I keep hearing ad nauseum what a great industry/sport this is but apparently we are only navel gazing - no one else is interested. Why not?
No one in the industry wants to upset the current arrangements - why not?
Th starting point is to redefine the product in such a way that it attracts many, many fans of all ages.
Who is going to lead that exercise? So far all the studies, conferences, opinions have come from people in the industry - a little(?) biased don't you think? There has not been any change of 10 horses lining up behind a moving gate and racing for a distance of 1 mile for how many years?
Time for a change?

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