International Simulcasting Presents Its Challenges

A multi-national panel depicted the possibilities and potential pitfalls of international simulcasting at the International Simulcasting Conference in Bal Harbour, Fla., Sept. 25.

Also on the agenda for the final session of the three-day conference were presentations from individual racetracks describing some of the specific strategies they have developed to market their simulcast signals.

While the panel acknowledged that foreign markets are likely a good source of revenue for American tracks--"We've reached the saturation point and must be able to reach out to the international market," said Tony Fasulo of Euro Off-Track--it also detailed some of the likely obstacles that American tracks would face.

David Llewellyn, president of Wyvern International, a firm that spearheaded initiatives by American tracks to simulcast to Australia and New Zealand, estimated that less than 20% of the $85 billion wagered on racing worldwide comes from North America, but he said there were six categories of difficulties facing American operators who wish to expand internationally.

They include language translation, distribution issues, forming relationships with key players in the foreign marketplace, and regulatory issues. "To simply allow another country to wager into your pools without full knowledge of the tax and withholding issues could put you in a difficult position with federal laws," he said.

Llewellyn also chronicled the possibilities of financial losses while the product was in development--he noted that U.S. tracks that have simulcasted to Australia or New Zealand have either lost money or come out even--and the difficulties caused by differences in time zones.

The latter subject was expounded upon by TRN International's William Hogwood, who warned operators expanding into the global market that "they better be prepared to be open 24 hours a day." Still, Hogwood said pari-mutuel wagering, which accounts for only 5% of wagering in the bookmaker-driven U.K. market, "is ready to explode."

Also on the panel were Glyn Williams, whose attheraces is looking to import European racing to American simulcast facilities, and Karl Schmitt, chief operating officer of the Churchill Downs Simulcasting Network.

"The morning races from Europe provide a good lead in to an afternoon at the races here," Williams said.

During the closing panel, Kevin Decker, simulcast coordinator at The Meadows, a harness track in Pennsylvania, pinpointed the challenges facing tracks in the face of much competition for the simulcast dollar. "We have to find a way to reach out from the (television) screen and grab the attention of the player," he said.

Also addressing the subject were Lone Star Park's Eugene Joyce, Kim Pomposelli of Sam Houston Race Park, and Liz Bracken, who described how the New York Racing Association uses the interactive features of its Web site as a marketing tool.

"It's about information and finding out what the people want," she said, noting that NYRA e-mails daily press releases to over 10,000 people. "It makes the fans feel like someone is out there listening to them."

Chris Scherf, who hosted the conference on behalf of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, said the conference was productive in educating the people involved in the day-to-day operations of simulcasting.

"These people used to sometimes be kept out of the loop," Scherf said. "One day, they would walk into work and everything changed. With everything they learn here, I can't imagine that people don't know more."