Talkin' Horses - Live Discussions

Greg Avioli Breeders’ Cup Ltd

Thursday July 26, 2007 at 12 p.m. (ET)

A native of St. Louis, Greg Avioli, 42, is president and chief executive officer of Breeders’ Cup Limited. Under Avioli’s direction, Breeders’ Cup Ltd. has undergone some of the most significant and innovative changes in its 24 year history.

Avioli managed the Breeders’ Cup through its most financially successful Breeders’ Cup World Championships in 2006 at Churchill Downs with a record total handle of more than $140 million.

Prior to being named president and CEO, Avioli served as deputy commissioner and COO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association from 2001-2006. He was the NTRA’s general counsel and VP business affairs from 1998-2000.

After graduating from the University of North Carolina School of Law in 1989, Avioli joined the law firm Long, Aldridge and Norman in Atlanta. In 1994, he joined the sports marketing firm International Sports and Entertainment Strategies, where as senior vice president of international and business affairs he developed domestic and global sports properties with the PGA TOUR, United States Tennis Association, International Olympic Committee and the Atlanta Olympic Games Organizing Committee, among many ventures.

He developed the Breeders’ Cup Challenge, a series of 25 qualifying races for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships and expanded the Breeders’ Cup into a two-day format, which will debut this October at Monmouth Park in New Jersey.

Avioli’s appearance on Talkin’ Horses at noon, Thursday, July 26, coincides with the launch of the Challenge.

Wallingford, PA:
This year the Breeders' Cup has expanded to two days by adding three races on Friday. In what direction do you see the Friday Card expanding -- a Turf Sprint at 5 furlongs or a turf race at 1 ' miles?

Avioli:
I personally can see a lot of merit in adding a Turf Sprint.  It has the potential to attract lots of top international sprinters to the Breeders’ Cup which in turn would likely lead to increased international wagering.

Sinatra, NY:
The Breeders' Cup Challenge is a great idea. Take me through the process of creating the Challenge? I'm intrigued on how these things get done? Thanks!

Avioli:
We spent the better part of 2006 working with ESPN to develop a way to connect the best racing in the late summer/early fall to the Breeders’ Cup with the goal of giving sports fans a better way to follow the best horses in the weeks leading into the Championships.  We looked around to see what other sports were doing to connect their Championships and “regular seasons”, including the recently launched US Open Series, NASCAR’s new point series and the PGA TOUR’s FedEx Cup.  We tried to take elements from all of these that would work within the racing industry. Then we set about working with the top tracks running at that time of year to see if they were interested in participating, whether they would be able to move a sufficient number of Grade 1’s and 2’s to one day for the Challenge format, whether the tracks schedules could match with our television windows on ABC and ESPN, etc.  What is amazing in retrospect was how fast everything came together given the number of hurdles we had to jump through to make it work.

Sydney, Aus:
What does the future hold for the international Qualifying races for the Breeders’ Cup?

Avioli:
The Breeders’ Cup Board is currently considering various options to expand the Challenge races to include as many as 10 international races with the Win and You’re In automatic qualifying designation.  We have received strong interest from more than a dozen countries who would like to participate.  There are a number of issues to work through in launching a program of that magnitude (e.g., events in 10 different countries) but I remain hopeful we can get something started no later than 2009.

Paris, KY:
As a huge fan of racing and a recently employed bloodstock agent under 30, I would like to know what sort of plan do you all have for attracting young fans to the track.

Avioli:
From the Breeders’ Cup perspective I would refer you back to the Breeders’ Cup Challenge launch discussed above.  This will include the first ever Breeders’ Cup national radio promotion with ESPN Radio—which has a large audience in the coveted 18 and older male demographic.  The other broader initiative is to continue to build the Breeders’ Cup as an entertainment event – not just a sports event.  The expanded two-day format is step one.  Steps two and beyond will include more entertainment related activities in and around Breeders’ Cup week.  I’d also look for a number of closer tie-ins with the music and entertainment industries in our 25th year in California.

Memphis, TN:
Please promise me you will keep the Breeder's Cup inside North America. I had heard that it might travel to Japan at earliest and I feel like that's the worst idea since electing it to be run at Santa Anita in '08.

Avioli:
There are no plans to go off-shore with the event in the immediate future.  The Board will begin discussing 2009 and 2010 locations at our next meeting and I fully expect both events will be held in the United States.

Dallas, TX:
Breeders' Cup announces names of people elected to board, but does not tell how many votes each received. How do we know it is honest?

Avioli:
All of the votes are received and tabulated by third party auditors.

Newport, RI:
Why does NTRA support the Interstate Horse Racing Act of 1978 when it's done so much damage to racing's fan base, helping to convert racing from a mainstream American sport to a one with cult following?

Avioli:
I would suggest you direct that question to Alex Waldrop, Commissioner and CEO of the NTRA.

Sunnyvale, CA:
The current "mess" with ADW is only hurting the customer. ADW clearly is an integral part of the future of the industry and there simply needs to be resolution. Whether it is Xpressbet, TVG or Youbet, they all contribute to the industry and should all be encouraged to do as much as possible to bring out handle. What can be done here to resolve this ASAP?

Avioli:
It is probably not the answer anyone wants to hear at this point but given that each of the companies you mentioned above (and two of the three leading racetrack operators) are public companies, this essentially has become a business issue that will need to be resolved by the business entities involved through negotiations and/or acquisitions.  From the Breeders’ Cup perspective we are one of the last truly ecumenical entities in the US industry as one of our main requirements with all our host tracks is that we do business with ALL of the accountant wagering companies that are willing to agree to the terms of the Breeders’ Cup simulcast contract and satisfy the requirements of the host racing commission.

Alameda, CA:
Are there going to be any significant promos for the BC this year on the network that will carry it? Are you buying ads in any media?

Avioli:
We view the Breeders’ Cup Challenge as a 10-week long promotion for the Breeders’ Cup on ABC and ESPN.  We also will be buying advertising promoting the Breeders’ Cup Challenge and the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in national print media (e.g., USA TODAY,  NY Post, Sports Illustrated, and Sporting News) and in sports oriented web sites Internet media (si.com, cbssportsline.com, yahoosports, etc.).  ESPN should begin their own promotions for the Breeders’ Cup Championships 7 to 10 days out from the event.

Atlanta, GA:
You are obviously a big sports fan. Who are some of your horse racing heroes? How do you compare jockeys with other athletes? Were there any among them that you particularly enjoyed meeting? Thanks for your time.

Avioli:
My two favorite horses from my decade working in horse racing are Silver Charm (I was a big fan of Bob Lewis who I worked with closely.  The sport misses him.) and Tiznow (“Tiznow Wins One for America”).  We have lots of potential stars among the trainer ranks and I particularly like the way Nick Zito works with the media.  Jockeys are among the strongest and most skilled athletes in the world.  One of my goals with the Breeders’ Cup television coverage is to better educate sports fans on their tremendous abilities.

Louisville, KY:
Greg, As a horse player and sports fan, I find the Breeders’ Cup an absolutely captivating event - in the same class as the World Series, Final Four, or Super Bowl. BUT, I have long questioned the venues at which it is sometimes held. I'm a little biased because I live in Louisville, but objective handle and attendance figures overwhelmingly suggest that Churchill Downs is the ideal location from a fan's perspective and from a financial point of view. CD is simply better equipped than every track in the nation to handle the kinds of crowds the Breeders’ Cup can draw. Moreover, it seems that Churchill would readily accept to the task of holding the BC each year if given that opportunity. Why insist on holding the BC anywhere but Churchill? If the idea is marketability and exposure for fans in different regions of the country, why not just rotate between Churchill, Belmont, and Santa Anita? In truth, those seem to be the only tracks with the facilities, reputation, and class to hold an event of this magnitude. Lone Star, Monmouth, etc aren't exactly horse racing hotbeds. Thanks for the response.

Avioli:
As an old lawyer my initial reaction would be to ask you to repeat the question.  But I get the gist of it.  There are a number of complex factors that go into deciding where to run the Breeders’ Cup each year.  Points can be made—as you just did—for holding the event consistently at one venue such as Churchill Downs.  Other arguments can be made that holding the event only at one track could lead to “burn out” within a particular market and that the event like All-Star games or Super Bowls benefits from a new level of excitement by going to different markets each year (On that point I can tell you the host committee in New Jersey is doing as much or more to promote this year’s event as any host site in the past decade).  A third school of thought is that the Breeders’ Cup would be better off with a permanent home of its own like the US Open has at Flushing Meadows.   All of these have pros and cons including differing revenues and expenses, tracks’ interest/willingness to host the site, importance of being in major media markets, etc.

Lexington, KY:
I think it is a travesty that the Graded Stakes Committee failed to classify the new Breeders' Cup races Grade 1. Certainly with the purses the races will attract championship quality horses. Aren't the breeders of the horses that finish in the money in those races entitled to get Grade 1 black type for their mares just like any other Breeders' Cup race?

Avioli:
The Graded Stakes committee of the TOBA has a set of criteria for awarding Graded Status that includes a requirement for any race to have been held for two years prior to being eligible for graded stakes status.  We asked for an exception to this rule for our new races (exceptions were previously granted for the existing 8 Championships races).  Unfortunately the Committee denied our request.  We plan to reapply for an exception next year assuming the fields turn out as we expect.

Boston, MA:
Will we see the Breeders' Cup go to colored saddlecloths? You can't see your horse on TV, and everybody else has gone colored in the last 10 years including the Triple Crown.

Avioli:
This is a tough issue balancing tradition (what makes Breeders’ Cup different from other days at the races) and customer convenience.  I think much of this issue will be solved with broader adoption by tracks of the Trakkus system or comparable computer/gps systems that allow real time tracking of horses on the track with colored “chiclets” on computers, television or infield jumbotrons.

Winston-Salem, NC:
With the sudden stardom of Rags to Riches, and having the F&M Sprint on Friday has there been any thought of having a Ladies' Day akin to Ascot on Big Friday?

Avioli:
We have given it some thought and it may be in the mix for future Breeders’ Cups as we seek to expand the entertainment aspects of the event.

Wall, NJ:
If the Breeders' Cup is the championship & Win and You're In is like the playoffs is the NTRA moving towards standings based on all the Graded Stakes?

Avioli:
I would refer that question to the NTRA.

Matawan, NJ:
How much time and effort has the NTRA spent in trying to broker a deal between Tracknet & TVG?

Avioli:
I would refer that question to the NTRA.

WA:
Do you feel that "splitting up" the Breeders' Cup into two days will lessen viewers' interest in attending on both days or watching the broadcast both days?

Avioli:
I think it will have the opposite effect. We know for ticket requests the demand to attend in person for both days is very high.  We will know more about the television/Internet viewing following this year’s event.

Toms River, NJ:
I have watched every single Breeders' Cup race in history and am so excited that it is finally coming home to NJ. I have two questions. My first question is why are you selling seating by lottery? The second one is why did you add more races, as well as a second day?

Avioli:
Thanks for your longstanding interest. We do a lottery because that just seems like the fair way to allocate such a high-demand ticket when we go to tracks like Monmouth where the capacity is limited. We want everyone to have a great experience, and if we put 60,000 people in a venue that can handle 45,000 comfortably, we would potentially jeopardize the customer experience.

We added the second day and more races for a few reasons, including wanting to accommodate fans who may not be able to get seats on Saturday. Other reasons were filling some gaps with races that had not been offered in the past but seemed to fit for our nominators, being able to expand our purse commitment, and for marketing benefits, too, that we expect will result.

Albuquerque, NM:
How does a race become a BC Challenge race? Who should I contact if I have a suggestion for a race next year?

Avioli:
Our racing department takes the lead along with our television and marketing teams. Obviously, only the highest caliber of races are considered, including those that historically have produced Breeders’ Cup runners. And the participating tracks are a big part of the process. As this is year one, we expect that there will be adjustments to the program and the schedule in future years. Suggestions welcomed: email me directly at gavioli@breederscup.com.

La Jolla, CA:
Will Del Mar get a chance to host the Breeders' Cup in the near future? Their opening day crowd of 42,000--without temporary seating--shows they can draw the numbers. I remember once reading that the turf course is too narrow. True?

Avioli:
We are entertaining bids for future host sites and Del Mar is among the group of tracks that has expressed some interest. Del Mar is in a great area of the country with a strong fan base and, as you can see from opening day, the management does an excellent job of marketing the sport.

Pittsburgh, PA:
Given the 12-plus hour difference in time zones, do you really believe handle from Asian countries on the BC will be significant?

Avioli:
The time difference is a challenge but, between TV and the Internet, we want to take the event to as broad an audience as possible and many in that audience may want to wager.

Rancho Santa Fe, CA:
Congratulations for coming up with a tougher security plan and drug testing for this year's races at Monmouth Park. Why can't BC go an additional step and join the rest of the racing world and prohibit all race-day medication?

Avioli:
The Breeders’ Cup has been and will continue to be a leader in this area. We are always evaluating our standards for security and testing, and we will continue to do so.

Lexington, KY:
Can we expect to see Asian co-mingling pools for the Breeders' Cup in the near future?

Avioli:
Not this year but, as part of our marketing partnership with the Kong Kong Jockey Club, we hope to common-pool as soon as 2008. We’re working on it.

Lexington, KY:
Thanks for stopping by to chat. I am wondering if the qualifying races for the Breeders' Cup are in any way necessary to insure that we see the very best racing on Championship Day? Is there anything the "Win and You're In" provides that the previous format denied race fans?

Avioli:
The hardcore racing fan, like those reading this chat, generally understand the nuances to our season and how, say, the winner of the Whitney was very likely to be a contender for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But if there are 40,000 people at Saratoga this Saturday, under the old system I would guess that about 80% would have no idea of the link between the Whitney and the Classic. With the Challenge, that link is direct and meaningful in a way that is easy for casual fans to understand and appreciate. It gives us the chance to start telling the stories of the Breeders’ Cup contenders sooner, and it gives Saratoga the chance to link directly with our event and garner marketing benefits and television exposure by doing so.

With the Challenge combined with the points system and the panel for field selection, we are confident that the best horses will compete on October 26 and 27.

Alexandria, VA:
When is the Breeders' Cup coming to Colonial Downs?

Avioli:
When is Colonial Downs going to bid to host?

Del Mar, CA:
Will you be taking a second look at Santa Anita now that they have changed their track surface?

Avioli:
We are excited about holding the first Breeders’ Cup World Championships on a synthetic surface and very happy that Oak Tree is hosting our 25th edition.

San Diego, CA:
Love the new Web site, but not enough purple. Did you have any say in the design? Can you tell us who designed it?

Avioli:
Our web team and our advertising firm, Conover Tuttle Pace, teamed on the design. We are getting a lot of positive feedback on the new site. I still think we’ve got plenty of purple to go around.

O'Fallon, IL:
Did you ever frequent Fairmount Park as a kid?

Avioli:
Yes, with friends and family and before I was of legal wagering age. I still managed to have a great time.

Reno, NV:
Can you explain the relationship between the Breeders' Cup and the NTRA?

Avioli:
Breeders’ Cup is a founding member and big supporter of the NTRA, especially in the areas where the NTRA can carry the flag for the industry like the legislative arena and in taking a leadership position and building consensus on broad issues that effect the good of the game. After a joint operating agreement for a few years, we are now once again separate companies, and we have always had separate boards of directors.

Indianapolis, IN:
How about an early pick for the Breeders' Cup Classic?

Avioli:
It is early. Probably, too early. Talk to me after the Whitney (or the Pacific Classic or the Goodwood or the Jockey Club Gold Cup).

Wheeling, WV:
The general public seems to lose interest in horse racing after the Triple Crown. Is the Breeders' Cup Challenge enough to bridge the gap between the Triple Crown and the Breeders' Cup?

Avioli:
I’m not sure if it is enough, but it should help. The last few years have proven that, given good storylines, our industry has the ability to promote them and capture public attention. The Challenge is designed to help do that.

Cleveland, OH:
I recently heard a guest on Sirius radio's "At the Races" show suggest a way to keep champion horses from retiring so early in their careers. His idea was to make a new rule that no horse would be Breeders' Cup or Triple Crown eligible unless its sire was a certain age, like five or six years old. Obviously, this would be a very popular rule with fans and racetracks, but would be met with resistance from owners. Your thoughts?

Avioli:
I think I read a similar suggestion on the horseracing pages of ESPN.com. If I understand the point – keep horses in training and racing longer – we empathize, but I think the underlying issues may be more complicated and require a more rigorous analysis than this forum permits.

Florence, KY:
How did you determine the specifications for the new Breeders' Cup races? Did you survey owners, breeders, trainers, etc?

Avioli:
The Breeders’ Cup Board and our racing department looked for unmet demand among the population of world-class horses and also at race categories that would not dilute the existing Breeders’ Cup races. In that process, they talked to lots of breeders, horsemen, and nominators.

New Orleans, LA:
I have a lot of friends who know nothing about horse racing. Can you give me an easy way to explain the Breeders' Cup to them - including why it's called the Breeders' Cup?

Avioli:
It is the defining event in international horseracing, attracting the very best horses from around the world. It is comprised of 11 championship races for different categories of horses – males, females, older, younger, horses who run on different surfaces and at different distances. It is called the Breeders’ Cup because it was founded by a group of breeders from central Kentucky who developed and funded the original concept 25 years ago. How’s that off the top of my head?

Clearwater, FL:
Each year, the Breeders' Cup announces a wager menu that includes Daily Doubles. But each year, your simulcast signal fails to show the probable will-pays (odds) prior to the first race of the doubles. Will that improve this year? Don't you realize that, because of noise conditions in most simulcast facilities, those "talking heads" commentators are useless? Wouldn't the time be better spent showing more on-screen info that handicappers can use?

Avioli:
Thanks for the suggestion. I think you will enjoy this year’s wagering menu and our graphic presentation. Like everyone, we try to balance the needs of the serious handicapper with those who want to see more of the horses or hear more about how they look, what just happened, etc.

LAST UPDATED: 1:08 P.M. (ET)

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