Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Shine Comes Off the Rose After Derby Week

Derby weekend is a refreshing reminder of what is great about this sport: Pageantry, high quality racing, parties, and a festive atmosphere with something for everyone. It also serves as a nice, albeit brief diversion from the everyday reality of the politics, business, and institutional level of inaction that threatens this sport we love.

Unfortunately, the industry won't see most of the 165,000+ people or their money until the next first Saturday in May. The population at large, no matter how much fun they had this past weekend, is highly unlikely to become regular customers. When the huge Derby crowd heads home from Churchill Downs back to their respective local markets, the product gets infinitely harder to consume. Each jurisdiction has different ADW rules and ease of consumption. If you were with a group of people from ten different states that are not regular horseplayers but loved the Derby, each will have a different way of getting down bets on subsequent races of interest. That is, if they are lucky enough to reside in a state where it’s legal for them to do so remotely.

The racing product is too difficult to consume and too complicated for the once or twice a year customer to enjoy on a regular basis to become a full time enthusiast. While Churchill Downs put on a great show over a fantastic weekend, the casual fan will slip though the cracks. When the short-term high of the Triple Crown wears down and the dialogue once again resets to focus on slot machines, medication issues, breakdowns, and disputes, we’ll all yearn for a time when human and equine stars dominated the narrative instead of bickering, ineptitude, and inaction. If the industry keeps paying lip service to what ails and continues to ignore fundamental problems (the least of which deal with marketing the game correctly to attract a wider audience), even the Kentucky Derby is at risk of becoming extinct.

-Board Member JD-


Skip W. said...


what would be some of your marketing ideas?

what i've seen is it isn't marketing, it's the sport is not attractive to most people for a variety of reason (many you listed). It's a sinking ship that won't be turned around in my opinion.

JD said...

Skip W. -

Thanks for the question....On one hand I totally agree with you that the game itself is up against it(demographics, competition, juridictional differences, political infighting, etc.). I'm as cynical as anyone you could ever meet and yet the game itself in a vacuum is incredibly compelling and I do think it can make it. It's a fraction of the cost of taking a family to mlb, nfl, nhl, nba, etc., with an interactive product. You are more than just a passive participant. Nothing is more thrilling than cashing a winning ticket. Being right is a good feeling, especially when it comes with monetary rewards. Couple that with some beautiful atheletes and it is a great game.

As an avid horseplayer, I start fielding questions from friends early in Derby week and started taking Oaks Day off from work in part to be able to help educate them on how to make bets, how to read pp's, and other basics. I do believe that the live product done correctly can compete with other forms of gambling entertainment, but the commitment to educating the player and attracting newcomers to the game has been poor at best. Of course, it's tough to generate new customers with takeout rates that aren't competitive with other forms of gaming. Wouldn't it have been nice to grab some of the online poker playing crowd that was forced out?

From a marketing standpoint, from the barebones level, tracks need to take an approach like Canterbury Park where they offer free classes (free food helps gets people in the door!) to teach people the game. They've cycled through people that have started knowing nothing about the game going in and are now quality handicappers and regular customers. It's seemingly a small item that contributes little to the bottom line, but it has to start somewhere. The status quo will not suffice. Night School is a nice addition as well from Horseplayer Pro to help educate customers.

I've got some other ideas, but my answer is turning into a speech, so I'll cut it off. Thanks again for the comment.