NTRA Strategic Plan Reflects Priority Shift

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association's strategic plan for the next five years clearly reflects a shift in priorities for the organization, though many of the core focus areas remain intact from its first business plan issued in 1997.

No longer is creation of a national brand for Thoroughbred racing at the top of the list of key strategies. Advertising campaigns that once defined the NTRA have given way to fan development and education with an emphasis on television. Corporate sales and legislative advocacy, included in the original business plan, are cornerstones of the 2006-10 strategic plan.

Development of the strategic plan, released June 15, began in early 2004 after the NTRA began looking at the successes and failures of its first seven years. The NTRA board of directors, in a letter included in the strategic plan, asked where the industry would be without the NTRA in the areas of federal legislation, account wagering, uniform medication rules, sponsorship, and media presence.

"Having looked at these and similar questions for the past year, the NTRA board unanimously believes that the Thoroughbred industry as a whole is significantly better off as a result of the NTRA," the letter says. "The strategic plan that follows for the next phase of the NTRA is intended to build on the successes of the past years with greater emphasis and focus on the specific areas where the NTRA can be most beneficial to its membership in the future."

The NTRA, therefore, will operate more as a trade association sensitive to members' needs rather than an organization that at one time sought financial independence by competing with some of its members. Plans to eliminate membership dues are gone, as is the hope of generating tens of millions of dollars in revenue from interactive wagering.

"I would say much of what we've been doing for six or seven years is working," Keith Chamblin, NTRA senior vice president of marketing and industry development, said June 15 when asked for his assessment of the strategic plan. "We've been able to sit back and analyze what has worked well and what hasn't worked well. The new plan going forward reflects that analysis."

"Its goals are aggressive in a number of areas yet also clearly achievable."

Growth of big-event racing days, in particular the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, is a focal point of the new plan. The NTRA would like to see championship-day purses rise from $14 million now to $20 million; revenue for purses would come from a restructuring of stallion nomination fees and a projected 9% increase in annual wagering.

The NTRA said Breeders' Cup day handle should grow to $200 million by 2010. Last year, all-sources handle was $120.8 million.

The handle hike is pegged to a 40% increase (two hours) in the Breeders' Cup day program. ESPN, which will cover the event beginning in 2006, will have a seven-hour television program instead of a five-hour program. NTRA officials said an increase in the length of time between Breeders' Cup events could fuel incremental handle growth.

The Breeders' Cup board of directors already approved a restructuring of stallion nomination fees. The strategic plan calls for nominations revenue to increase from $16.8 million now to $22 million by 2010.

Breeders' Cup president and NTRA commissioner D.G. Van Clief Jr. acknowledged the fee restructuring "has met with a certain amount of unhappiness," but he also said there has been "healthy discussion" on the topic between stallion managers and Breeders' Cup.

"There is very little sentiment on our board not to support a fee change that will supplement purses," Van Clief said. "I don't see it as a problem at this point."

Breeders' Cup and NTRA also hope to increase overall revenue from the World Thoroughbred Championships. Though 100% of off-track wagering revenue goes to Breeders' Cup, the host track and Breeders' Cup share all on-track revenue from all sources. Van Clief said Breeders' Cup gets the lion's share of the revenue.

"What we're doing is placing a renewed emphasis on host tracks that can provide us with $3 million in on-track net revenue," Van Clief said.

In the area of legislative advocacy, for which the NTRA is receiving increasing positive feedback from members, the organization hopes to grow its Horse PAC to $1 million per election cycle by 2008. The amount was $465,000 for the 2003-04 election cycle.

The NTRA also has a goal to expand account wagering to major states such as Illinois, Florida, and Texas; to strengthen the Interstate Horseracing Act to protect account wagering and simulcasting; and to open an Office of Wagering Security, which would involve creation of legal, operational, and financial frameworks.