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Post Time with Dan Gall

Post Time

The World Trotting Conference was recently held in Stockholm, Sweden. The conference was well attended by standardbred horse associations from around the world and the host country did an excellent job in attracting informative and future-thinking speakers to address our industry issues.

One of the many takeaways from the conference was that no matter what country, we are all facing the same concerns:

The importance of protecting our social license to breed and race these wonderful animals is not to be taken lightly.

The competition for the betting dollar continues to threaten our sport.

The need to create a dynamic and entertaining product is more critical than ever if our sport is to endure and become sustainable.

One of the guest speakers at the conference was a quirky gentleman from Sweden named Alexander Bard, who was one of the co-developers of the music streaming company, Spotify. As he addressed the audience, I found myself asking, what does a software developer and former musician know about our sport and why has he been asked to speak in front of several standardbred horse associations from around the world?

Firstly, he does know something about the sport as he has lived in Sweden most of his life. And I came to realize everyone in Sweden is aware of harness racing, such has been the incredible impact of the V75 program. Also, and more importantly, Mr. Bard is a small-time Swedish breeder who owns race horses.

During the presentation, Mr. Bard walked his audience through how society has shifted from mass media (information driven top down) to the information age (information driven bottom up through social media). This was an important distinction as our challenge as an industry is to create stories of our sport that resonate with the masses and create nodes (“going viral”) that will be driven by the bottom, and rise to the top.

After fully explaining this, in not so politically correct terms, and then chastising our industry for doing such a horrendous job in marketing and capitalizing on the digital era, he then laid a foundation for building our sport up.

A lot of the presentation was centered on three areas that he thinks are the most attractive, appealing and marketable aspects of our game. The three areas are:

Gambling: While racetracks are anxious to drive audience by giving away balloons and selling candy apples to children, the number one advantage we have is that we are government approved to legally gamble on our sport. We are ultimately in the business of wagering, or more specifically gambling. While games of chance have been around for eons, so too has horse racing. So, ultimately our focus should be in creating an appealing product, and games of chance for people to bet on. And the mere fact that the appeal of gambling isn’t going anywhere, we need to build a game that’s appealing to the gambler.

3 Minutes: Our sport takes under three minutes to play. While with other sports you have to sit through three periods, four quarters, nine innings, or 18 holes, our sport takes less than three minutes for the event to happen. This is very much suited for the life that we currently lead and for the younger demographic who’s attention span and interest is probably any longer than three minutes. So capitalize and market the three minute action of our sport.

Horse/Human Relations: It was reiterated that there is magic between horses and humans, and that magic needs to be bottled and sold to the public. Creating those magic moments, and communicating stories of the horse and the human, will assist in promoting and attracting the public to our sport.

Three key distinctions on what separates our sport from the others, and areas of focus for racetracks, marketers and the promoters of harness racing. Building a plan around these three core distinctions could help direct us in the future.

Also noted by Hans Lord Skarplöth, President and CEO of ATG, the organization that created the V75 gaming scheme, all sports need to resurrect and reinvent themselves. He used examples like Formula 1 who have re-branded the sport for the digital age, citing the installation of five live cameras in each car to enhance the on-screen experience. The NBA claims that to attract an audience they need to focus on the event and then the game. And, in cricket, the match has been reduced from five days to three days. These changes were all made to attract a younger audience.

If these changes identified are good for motorsport, the NBA, and cricket why would horse racing be exempt?

And assuming we are not exempt, we do have some low lying fruit that could assist in marketing our sport. Examples given include ensuring our races have a clear defined finish line. When Mr. Skarplöth asked his father what he thought of the Elitlopp, his father replied that he didn’t know when the horse had even crossed the finish line!

Also, can our sport continue to operate with a wait period of 15-20 minutes between races? Hockey has 20 minutes of action and a 15 minute break while horse racing has a three minute race and 15-20 minute break between action. Is this sustainable in the digital age?

We need enterprising entities like a grassroots racetrack or a new young company that will create ways to exploit the gambling advantage, the three minute attraction, and the horse/human relationship to help create a buzz within the internet community and social media platforms.

I would love to discuss this with any organization that would like to explore this further or receive more information regarding these presentations.

Also, as recently posted and covered on standardbredcanada.ca please see the recommendations that were discussed and agreed to at the 2019 World Trotting Conference:

Breeding Committee Report

Proposal:

1. The use of semen from a dead stallion or one that has been gelded is forbidden, and not to exceed the end of the breeding season following his death. No foal may be registered for an insemination performed beyond this time limit.

2. ITA member countries limit the number of series annually per stallion by either a number of service or a percentage of the registrations in the studbook, regardless of method. No foal may be registered from an insemination performed beyond this limit.

3. ITA members adopt country of origin code ISO 3166 suffix to two letters.

4. Member countries prohibit the registration of foals born as a result of frozen embryo transfer or sex sorting techniques.

5. Only the country of origin can change the name of the horse. Once the horse is imported to another country, the name cannot be changed by the new home country.

Equine Health, Welfare, and Integrity Committee:

1. Whip

• Can only be used for correction or light promoting in the last 400 meters.

• Any use of the whip after that cannot be in quick succession and a horse must have a chance to respond prior to using again. Horses should not be whipped if they are tired, out of contention or after the finish line.

• All corrections and prompting must be affected with a rein in each hand, the whip pointed forward and in the confines of the sulky.

• The drivers shall refrain from any brutality, kicking, boxing, and excessive goading, while blows to the sulky and other equipment is not allowed.

• Penalties should be severe and suspensions are the preferred method of penalty.

2. Prohibited Substances – Countries have been asked to consider the following to be prohibited:

• Zoledronic Acid and Bisphosphonates.

• Altrenogest.

3. Prohibitive Practices

• The procedure of firing a horse (pin or bar (thermocautery) should be banned.

4. Gene Doping

• Substance or other agents that directly or indirectly affect or manipulate gene expression should be banned for racing and breeding.

• No foal may be registered from a mare or stallion who has been subjected to gene manipulation.

Marketing & Business Development Committee

1. Establish agreed upon criterion for an international poll ranking the top horses worldwide and design a marketing strategy to promote to industry by January 2020.

2. Work with national racetracks to determine best ideas that create excitement and interest at the racetrack or for the sport in general. Each ITA member will submit and upload to the ITA portal a minimum of one idea in a two-page document, detailing how and why the idea was effective, and the instruction of the promotion, by March 31, and be updated at least every six months.

3. ITA members to connect the various social media platforms of other countries to strengthen communication, interaction and engagement among racing fans by having each country list and follow the social media platforms to their country’s audience.

Racing and Wagering Committee

Reaffirm main conclusions of the 2017 WTC in Canada:

• Exchange of data between ITA members.

• Work with governments promoting the positive impact of horse racing.

• Promote compliance to combat fraud and money laundering.

• To support and strive to ensure a minimum fee is collected from domestic and international bettors.

Recommendations:

• All ITA members will encourage the creation of an international bet on the main trotting races organized in the world, in a common pool.

• Therefore, an establishment of a list of races is a priority, as is the participation of selected betting companies.

• Encourage the adoption of digitization to racing authorities to assist in attracting new customers, specifically a younger audience.

Dan Gall, President & CEO, Standardbred Canada
[email protected]


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