Fred Pope is president of The Pope Advertising Agency in Lexington, Ky., which specializes in the Thoroughbred industry. He has written a white paper which examines problems caused by lack of central authority and why the International racing world is waiting on North America.
Why did you write this?
I find for many people, it is a mystery why our sport in North America cannot do normal things like other racing countries and sports. This piece should go a long way to explaining why and then suggest that North American racing can have a new structure which complies with the rules of the other racing countries. I haven't found anyone else working on this, so it seemed a good time to examine the opportunity and present it.
What hurdles are there to get the revenue model changed in various countries?
The IFHA has been very careful to protect each country's sovereign right to control the wagers made from their country. So, first the members of the IFHA would need to believe total revenue would go up. Then it would be a matter of trying to figure out where all this new money will land.
At the core of the issue is the question, "Will this be good for racing and breeding in our country?" That's where the owners and breeders come in. If they can convince their authorities the answer is 'yes,' then the next steps should follow. Of course, North American owners and breeders have to answer 'yes' first.
In the future, how vital will television be to this, or any other series of Thoroughbred racing?
Full vision and audio is what everyone wants and expects. Some sports are actually better on television. When TV was grainy, few people watched baseball because you couldn't see anything. Today, the up-close view of the pitcher's grip on the ball, the batter's expression, the curve path of the pitch are all better than the best seat at the ballpark. Soccer is moving to 3-D television. Technology is going to deliver great intimacy and excitement to Thoroughbred racing soon. But it is going to be expensive to produce. We have to make sure the host event gets enough revenue to not only put on the show, but to produce it. That's another reason the off-track revenue model has to change away from favoring the bet-takers and over to the people putting on the racing show.
Besides Oak Tree, what tracks might be willing to become "multi-jurisdictional"? Would a track that is in bankruptcy, or in financial straits, make it more difficult?
In theory, you just need one studio track to put on the show and send it around the world. But, to become relevant with the public again, Thoroughbred racing needs to put on its best live show where the most people live. That's what every successful sport does, they put on the show near the major markets. The advantage we have in racing is that if we hook a new fan or customer in Chicago, that person can follow the horses and wager on them at other tracks the rest of the year. So, we need track owners to view this new racing structure like they would having the PGA Tour come to their town. A good show and experience with the highest level of the sport will have residual benefits the rest of the year.
As long as a facility can deliver its contracted obligations it shouldn't matter if they are having financial trouble, it would just make you more aware to check on everything. Since most tracks are struggling, the change in the off-track revenue model will benefit those who want to continue live racing.
You call for 30 days of "International racing" in the U.S.. Would these be best throughout the year, or focused on racing between the Triple Crown races and the Breeders' Cup?
I would think the international schedule would be important at the beginning. There is certainly a seasonal element to international racing. For example, our Southern states and countries would be good for winter racing, Dubai would be a great addition for March, then a mix of all countries in the summer and fall. As long as we avoid problems with existing domestic events, it should be easy to coordinate what is best for the horses and the schedule.
You mention Japan's racing structure of selecting the top races to be run as Japan Racing Association-branded races and suggest that for the United States. What hurdles does the industry face in "segmenting the clean races" from the "other races"?
The tracks in North America could already try to segment now, but getting all owners and trainers to participate might be difficult. With a new association, where like-minded owners and their trainers decide to make their horses IFHA-compliant, nobody is going to force them to take anything.
Each racing commission will need to decide if they want these new races in their jurisdiction. If owners and breeders in their state are supporting the new association, I would think it would go a long way to getting approval. Since the new association would not pull any money from the local purse account, but rather contribute to it, that should be a plus for approval.
In a perfect world, how long would it realistically take to put your plan into practice?
Let's say a majority of the other countries think this is generally a good idea for North America to take this action. If by August, The Jockey Club looked at it and thought it had promise, or did not move to stop it, then by the time of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in October, serious talks could be going on and the level of interest for owners gauged. The new racing program in North America could be started sometime in 2011 and should be started in advance of international participation. Then it would be a matter of deciding when the international wagering platform is ready. Not long.
To read Fred Pope's whitepaper, "International Racing is Waiting on North America", click here.