Tom Aronson, one of the architects of the TVG racing network business plan in the late 1990s, is now vice president of Churchill Downs Inc., which recently ended negotiations with TVG on the extension of content contracts.
Aronson, who took the CDI post a few weeks ago, said March 12 the irony hasn’t been lost on industry observers. But he said his new position is a product of changing times.
“Some people think it's ironic being hired by Churchill,” said Aronson, who for the past three years has served as chief operating officer of a Boulder, Colo.-based optimization management company. “I did all the product acquisitions (for TVG) and negotiated with the Churchills of the world. I see no disconnect here.”
Aronson said his focus at CDI will be on development and innovation in the areas of product, marketing, and platform. He said he wasn’t hired to head TrackNet Media Group, a partnership between CDI and Magna Entertainment Corp. announced March 5. TrackNet will buy and sell simulcast signals and attempt to expand wagering opportunities for horse racing.
“In my view, TrackNet was an important efficiency issue,” Aronson told The Blood-Horse. “Most of that work preceded me at Churchill. I’m really at Churchill to create stuff. CDI is now investing in change, and I think this is a good fit. They’ll be bringing in more people, but I’m sort of the middle ground.”
Aronson, who has owned shares in racehorses from time to time and is plugged in to wagering and other pari-mutuel issues for all breeds, called his job in Colorado a “business-building exercise.” He said he’s “like-minded” with Bob Evans, who took over as president and chief executive officer of CDI last summer.
“I’m back (in racing) with a little more under my belt in knowing how the rest of the world operates,” Aronson said. “Bob Evans is the agent for change. He’s a catalyst for moving Churchill forward.”
Aronson believes TVG was a pioneer that ultimately laid the groundwork for change in the pari-mutuel industry.
“TVG came into being with no racing on television,” he said. “I can look at that network and be very proud of what it has become. But now we’re 10 years down the road, and things have changed again. The financial structure I first created for TVG…that was a tough call back then.”
Aronson said the pari-mutuel industry can learn from the TVG experience.
“This industry has always been hesitant to invest in itself,” Aronson said. “At TVG, we successfully went out and found $100 million in investment from non-racing entities. We helped demonstrate it was worth putting money into.”
Aronson, who was in attendance at the joint meeting of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations and Harness Tracks of America in Hallandale Beach, Fla., is in the process of moving to Louisville, Ky., where CDI headquarters is located.