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Expose yourself.

The View

Standardbred horse racing, at its most exciting, is easily one of the most spectacular sporting events on Earth. Whether it’s as an owner, a trainer, a driver, a caretaker, a bettor, or a fan, this is true. I know it. You know it. More people need to know it. That last part is the key.

We all know the story: in the 1950’s, and ‘60s, and ‘70s and ‘80s, when there was little competition for the gambling dollar, our sport thrived around North America in regard to attendance and participation - in the years since, our numbers have dropped. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we have a bad product, but it does mean that we have to work harder to compete for each dollar. So when people suggest that we need a drastic overhaul of what we do, I don’t necessarily agree - how about we embrace who we are, be proud of it, and continue to fine-tune it, but more than anything else, let’s get it out there to the masses... somehow.

Where we sit now, it reminds me somewhat of the NHL in the early 21st century. Following the lockout of 2004, things for the league looked bleak in the U.S. Fans had been lost and the national TV contract was up. Media and so-called “experts” complained that the game needed MAJOR change - there wasn’t enough scoring. It was suggested that they enlarge the ice surface to European size; that they change the long time standard of 5 skaters vs. 5, to 4 vs. 4; that they make the nets significantly bigger; that they make the goaltending equipment drastically smaller. The game as we knew it was done.

The NHL brass didn’t panic however. Did they continue to make small tweaks to their game to help improve it? Absolutely. For example, they asked referees to simply enforce rules that weren’t being enforced, and as a result there was less clutching and grabbing, which opened up the ice and allowed more scoring. But the biggest thing the NHL did at this time, was that they did what they had to, to make sure they maintained their exposure - they swallowed their pride and took a TV contract with NBC that paid them zero dollars. Yes, it paid them nothing.

The league knew that for certain reasons they had fallen out of favour with fans, but they also knew that if they weren’t “out there” they would really be in trouble. So they believed in themselves, and stayed true to themselves, and gave their product away, basically for free. They showed people that they had a great product, and years later, in 2011, they signed a 10 year, $2 billion contract with NBC.

Do I think harness racing is perfect in its current state? Not necessarily. But I don’t think we need a major overhaul either. I don’t think that removing whips, racing at much longer distances, or shortening the length of race cards are part of some magical answer that will take us back to crowds of 20,000+, but I sure don’t begrudge anyone who cares enough about our sport to try new things either.

The main key to me though, is exposure. We HAVE to have it. If people don’t even know we’re here, how can we expect them to embrace us? It’s 2020 for crying out loud. There are streaming services everywhere like DAZN, Netflix, ESPN+, Amazon Prime, Crave, and so on. Everyone over the age of 10 seems to own a smartphone. This is the age of digital communication unlike our planet has ever seen - surely we can get our product out to the masses somehow, even if we have to pay someone a lot of money to do so.

Or, we can just continue to expose our product to our current aging demographic and...

Dan Fisher
[email protected]

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