Fan base...sponsorship...television rights. Professional Golf Association Tour commissioner Tim Finchem spoke about these and other topics during his keynote address Aug. 15 at the annual Jockey Club Round Table in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. But it was something else he mentioned that made one stop and think not of the problems of today, but those of a distant tomorrow.
Four years ago, the PGA began Golf 20/20, which Finchem said is an "industry-wide annual review with day-to-day, full-time staff support to evaluate where we thought we could be by 2020." Yes, Finchem said, people asked, "How can you look ahead 20 years?" His response: the most important thing was "getting the industry together, pooling resources to do the research we really needed to do to understand what's happening behaviorally..."
Finchem's staff was looking at two areas, fan base from the professional side of the sport, and participation numbers of the millions who play the game. Golf 20/20 had clear objectives for reaching specific goals, one of which is for the fan base of the PGA to outgrow that of the National Football League--which has the largest fan base of any sport in the United States--by 2020.
The biggest obstacle to this goal in the Thoroughbred business is "getting the industry together." There are so many interest groups involved that this is probably not even a realistic vision. Sure, at such events as the Jockey Club Round Table and Arizona Symposium, many of racing's leaders do assemble. But after a few meetings, they return to their own little worlds.
There are big differences between sports, including golf and Thoroughbred racing. The PGA has only one tournament each weekend, though golf fans have other options, such as the LPGA and Senior Tour. In comparison, there are numerous racetracks open at the same time, all competing for horses, fans, and most importantly, handle.
We are fast approaching the year 2005. Let's start a Racing 2025. Here are just a few of the many issues:
* Medication: At a meeting of racing commissioners 20 years ago, there was talk of uniform medication rules. One wonders if we are any closer today than we were then of achieving this. In 2025, will the same topic be discussed, wondering if we are any closer then than we were in 2005? In 2025, we need one, and only one, lab doing all testing for all jurisdictions. We need rules that every horseman must abide by. We need strict, enforceable penalties. And we need trainers who don't say, "If there is not a test for it, it must be legal."
* Wagering: Australia is banding together to fight to keep betting exchanges from its shores. Officials there are correct in the assumption that the exchanges are bad for the sport of racing. Offshore account wagering outlets, which return nothing to the industry, are also a major threat. In 2025, on-track attendance may be down even more because hand-held wagering devices will be owned by every serious player. We need a strategy to stop piracy, a means to shut off signals to offshore bookies, and a way to funnel handle through the racetracks that produce the show.
* Breeding: We seem to be in agreement that we are breeding horses that are less sound. The number of average starts per runner continues to decrease. People are buying into yearling and 2-year-old colts as stallion prospects. The emphasis is on breeding for the commercial market. If this keeps up, by 2025 we won't need to write races for older horses, unless they are claiming races. Can The Jockey Club take the lead in looking at what the trends are and how they are affecting the breed?
Where will this industry be in 2025?