While training was the focus on day one, television and marketing took over in the morning session of day two of the Pan American Conference in Washington, D.C. The afternoon and closing May 19 session focused on an overview of the racing product in South America, with a segment on integrity in the global sport of Thoroughbred racing.
In the morning, an owners' panel offered a range of players, from Carlos Heller's Don Alberto Stable, a top-end owner in Chile who is playing the game at the highest level while purchasing stallions such as Empire Maker , to Gatewood Bell, who puts together partnerships and has had success internationally at Royal Ascot with American interests. Jose Nelson discussed the risks of having a good horse in South America and then being propositioned to sell the horses.
"It's great to get offers from all over the world, but you end up losing the essential reason why you got in the business to begin with," Nelson said.
Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports, was able to highlight the growth in the broadcast company's hours of horse racing—now 85 hours (up from 23 in 2011) over 10 months—and a recent surge in viewership. The network reported a 12% rise in its national viewership of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1).
Miller said while selling sponsorships is a challenge, they stress long-term deals to leverage programming, and have had success with luxury and high-end sponsors.
"We really do feel that racing continues to grow, continues to reach new audiences, and continues to draw new fans," Miller said.
NBC Sports is going global with its horse racing coverage this year of the Dubai World Cup program, along with coverage of the Epsom Derby (G1), and a multi-day commitment to Royal Ascot.
A marketing panel, which is focusing on reaching new audiences through new venues of social media and technology, reported seven in 10 Millennials experience "FOMO" or fear of missing out. Jim Lawson of Woodbine Entertainment Group reported that 78% of Millennials plan to spend more money on events than on material goods and reaching that segment through big days, concerts, and red carpet-type events is key to drive growth.
"We can sell those events, but we need to go much further than that," he said. "We have to do more than selling just three events a year. Woodbine has 133 race cards a year."
But he noted getting the budget for marketing is difficult, because efforts need to be split between their current and core customers, as well as creating opportunities for new fans.
Juliet Slot, representing Royal Ascot, noted they have made a larger investment in staff, which has been key to improving the brand experience. They have made upgrades to enclosures—where people want to be and be seen. She said the general theme is "building new experiences" and "expanding attractions to build traffic."
Carlo Rossi, owner of the Valparaiso Jockey Club in Viña del Mar, Chile, clings to the traditional marketing themes of family when promoting the El Derby (G1), which is the country's largest sporting event. Run the first Saturday in February, the race day, which consists of 28 races, draws 150,000 patrons. He noted while they use new methods and have a strong public presence, their message is still working to capture the "family."
Horacio Esposito, director of the Latin American Racing Channel, which co-sponsored the conference with The Jockey Club, reported a 31% decline in the Brazilian foal crop since 2014 because of economic and political reasons. He noted Argentina was "suffering the same fate," mainly due to its political climate that has thrown up barriers to global trade.
On a brighter note, the industry remains strong in Chile, with its top breeders continuing to produce. They have branched out into buying top farms and top horses in the U.S.
Of concern on a global scale, Esposito pointed to handle in South America, which lags far behind the U.S., Canada, Japan, Australia, and other racing countries. As a suggestion for the future, he pointed to cooperation to better develop a racing calendar among the South American countries and the need to do a better job of securing corporate sponsors. South America also lags in its ability to broadcast its signals across borders, something that was only started in the last decade.
Chile remains a good model for betting, has good management, and has invested in technology, while not relying on government subsidies. Later in the panel it was noted that Argentina—the fourth-largest breeder of Thoroughbreds in the world behind the U.S., Australia, and Ireland—receives 80% of its purse money from gaming revenue or subsidies.
In terms of integrity, Rossi, who is also head of the Latin American Organization for the Promotion of Thoroughbreds (OSAF), pointed to efforts to certify a testing lab at San Isidro Racetrack in Argentina. Presently, blood samples taken from graded stakes horses are processed and tested in France. The lag time required to gets results is one of many concerns.
Rossi reminded attendees that in OSAF countries there has been a harmonization of rules, including a zero-tolerance policy in graded stakes, and there is mutual support for continuous learning and training for technicians.
He added that 22 horses from South America are currently ranked on the Longines World Best Racehorse Rankings.
The integrity panel included the comments of Dr. Mayra Frederico, head of the Brazilian Breeders and Owners Association, who noted future goals include having the South American community understand those goals and not resist sending samples for testing, harmonization among South American countries in the use of Lasix (furosemide) and phenylbutazone, continuing to submit samples to certified labs, and authorization of an OSAF lab on the continent.