Friday, December 9, 2011

Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

Two industry pieces caught my eye earlier this week - one addressing fan education (i.e. marketing the sport well) and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, another addressing the pissing match between parties in New Jersey's marathon-like transition from state-run to privately-operated horse racing.

Matt Hagerty's piece on about the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing and Gaming highlights the apparently high interest among industry players in online education of horse players, which in my view is a clear step in the right direction in bringing more players into the game.  Kudos to groups like for recognizing this market and taking the lead, and for industry players for flocking to the U of A seminar to share ideas on how best to promote the game.

Negotiations over the privatization of tracks in
NJ Horseplayer's backyard
On the other hand, the dynamics of the New Jersey Governor's office's dysfunction in completing a deal with Jeff Gural and Morris Bailey on privatization of the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park, respectively, leave an entire state's racing industry in limbo and speak to why local track-based initiatives to market the product and maybe draw a new, younger fan base (a criticism of detractors who say the fan base comprises only World War II-era fans) cannot properly get off the ground.

Take the Simulcast Series Challenge at Monmouth Park, for instance -- four excellent live-money handicapping tournaments where players compete for NHC seats over the course of three buy-in tourneys and a 45-person invitational championship in April (for the Top 15 finishers in January, February and March).

Typically by now, handicapping contest players have the dates for those events in hand and can spread the word to other contest players (since, I have learned in the contest niche that marketing is generally word-of-mouth).  However, NJ Horseplayer can only guess that Monmouth's failure to post a 2012 SSC schedule by now is attributable to the ownership dispute and whether the venerable Jersey Shore track will even operate in 2012.  Good times.

The apparent rift is, from what I can tell, over off-track parlor licenses, plus a moribund "Meadowlands at Monmouth" meeting, which this year featured mostly awful races during two weeks in mid-November.  The state legislature and horsemen apparently would have it that the state's racing product cannot survive without a mid-autumn meeting packed with $5k state-bred claimers; this is one sticking point that threatens to scuttle the changeover to Mr. Bailey's ownership group.  The powers that be in Trenton also have decided that New Jersey is throwing away a tremendous value here, and with the off-track licenses (i.e. to set up off-track gaming parlors, similar to McLoone's Woodbridge Grille) that the state promised back in June during negotiations but has since reneged.  (People outside NJ should know that my state -- probably much like yours -- is adept at political graft and running agencies into the ground, not to mention kowtowing to the Atlantic City lobby, which is more or less responsible for ruining our racing program, in my view.)

I digress...

The correlation between these two stories is that at the same time that people within the industry (i.e. at the U of A convention) are making a noble effort to educate current and prospective customers, state politics - namely in New Jersey - continue to interfere with any momentum gained by industry experts.

The lack of a federal oversight body, and inconsistent state-by-state governance of the thoroughbred racing industry, are considerable flaws, but in the meantime the wrangling of the suits at the state level here in NJ who have little to no understanding of the racing industry continues to be a burden to reinvigorating an industry that provides numerous intrinsic - i.e. jobs, tax revenue, maintenance of open space, etc. - benefits, but also must compete with an increasing array of gaming options and promote to a new audience.

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