Reporting on the Round Table

I’m getting to be quite a fan of these little racing industry gatherings that happen from time to time, and pretty regularly in Saratoga. So far this meet I’ve attended a Racing Commissioners International meeting on medication and the Albany Law School Racing & Gaming Institute (both taking place on Tuesdays, the only dark day here – so much for a day by the pool), and yesterday, it was the annual Jockey Club Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing (yes, that’s the official name).

According to the Jockey Club’s website, “many critical initiatives…have been conceived and/or announced” at the Round Table, and yesterday was no different: agenda items included an update on the Equine Injury Database; a presentation from the Thoroughbred Safety Committee; and a report on various technology projects from the Jockey Club and Equibase.  Taking center stage was the McKinsey report on Driving Sustainable Growth for Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding (yes, that’s the official name).

International consulting group McKinsey and Company prepared a report on the current state of racing, identifying five causes for the sport’s decline and offering nine initiatives designed to foster growth. Dan Singer and Michael Lamb of the company’s media and entertainment practice presented.

I covered the event for the Saratogian; more detailed coverage is available in the Daily Racing Form, the Blood-Horse, Thoroughbred Times, and the Jockey Club’s press release. Full archived video and selected PowerPoints slides from all presentations are available on the Jockey Club website, so I’m picking and choosing here parts of the day that I found interesting.

Dr. Tim Parkin, senior fellow in clinical research at the University of Glasgow and a consultant for the Equine Injury Database, presented an update on the findings from the database. He emphasized the multi-variable nature of equine injury, stressing that a horse’s sex, distance raced, weight carried, and type and condition of racing surfaces all play a role in a horse’s risk of injury.

Focusing only on catastrophic lower limb fracture in order to identify horse and race profiles that represent the highest risk of injury, Parkin has so far identified the following factors as significant in injury risk:

  • A horse with numerous starts between one and six months before the current race
  • A horse that has not started in last 15 or 30 days
  • A horse that made its first start in last nine months

Parkin additionally identified colts or ridglings as having a greater risk of injury, along with those horses that started racing later in life.

Taken altogether, Parkin said, a horse with all of these risk factors was at a 250 times greater risk for catastrophic injury than horses with none of them, noting that there are few horses with all of these factors.

The point of the research, Parkin said, was to identify the horses at greatest risk so that trainers can adapt their methods and intervention accordingly. The research is ongoing and will in the future take into account data collected internationally as well.

The McKinsey presentation was engaging and interesting; it may have been the first time that I’d heard people outside of racing talking about the sport, identifying its problems and proposing solutions. Some of the stats were interesting: over the last 10 years, viewership of the NBA finals is down 24%, indicating that racing isn’t the only sport having a hard time keeping its fans.  In the last ten years, wagering on Grade 1 and Grade 2 races (which make up a small percentage of total racing in the country) is up 23%.

Fans cited camaraderie and the ability to win money as things they like about racing, but only 46% of racing fans would recommend the sport to other people (so much for camaraderie?).

The McKinsey report identified five factors contributing to racing’s decline:

  • Competition from other types of gambling
  • Brand perception (only 22% of people polled had a positive view of racing)
  • Dilution of the product (horses making fewer starts, smaller fields, overlapping post times)
  • The fan experience (high takeout, lousy food, wagering is too complex)
  • Fragmented distribution (TV/internet coverage)

To combat these factors, McKinsey recommends nine initiatives:

  • Increased television coverage
  • A free-to-play website
  • Fewer, better races and better scheduling to increase field size and showcase the best product
  • Creation of a social game
  • Innovative wagering platforms
  • Track-integrated ADW
  • Racing integrity reforms
  • Encouragement of ownership through greater transparency
  • Dissemination of best practices from tracks around the country

The Jockey Club has pledged its financial, technological, and human resources to implementing these initiatives.

It was awfully nice of the Jockey Club to fund what must have been a pretty expensive study, but I can’t help thinking that a lot of these ideas have been available for free in various types of media for quite some time.

And while I found the presentation interesting, I was left with two questions:

  • What is the link between these initiatives and greater handle?  What are the next steps? For instance, McKinsey said that the average social game player is a 47-year-old woman (“a little different from your typical racing fan,” was the accompanying comment, which I found irritating for reasons I can’t quite identify), and so the social game is designed to get more women in the game. How will that happen? How will the game get the women to the windows?
  • What form will the Jockey Club’s funding take, and how will it affect the relationship between tracks and the Jockey Club? What role will the Jockey Club play in “track-integrated ADWs” and “innovative wagering platforms,” for instance?

And because there’s at least one reader out there who will be disappointed if I don’t mention it: yep, two hours of presentations, all by men, all white.

This is the fourth industry meeting I’ve attended since early June. No people of color spoke at any of them (and few attended)  and the only women speakers were on a panel about Thoroughbred retirement. In case you’re keeping score at home…

Update: Thanks to the reader who reminded me that NYRA CFO Ellen McClain spoke at the Racing and Gaming Institute.

11 thoughts on “Reporting on the Round Table

  1. Couple points stick out – I like the idea of a TV show featuring horse racing, if nothing else, that would get me to watch more TV! If by “social games” they mean those things on Facebook, well, then I am a typical race fan and not a typical 47 year old woman (no need to point out I am over 47 LOL) because I don’t play them. If it’s something like RTTR then I am all for it. Lousy track food is a minus to me, while I enjoy my traditional hot dog at the track, it would be good if there were more and better alternatives at all track. Colonial has a lovely assortment of fried foods but that’s about it. And finally I recommend horse racing to everyone I know! Nothing better than a sunny afternoon at the track! Camaraderie at its finest is cheering for and betting on your favorite horses with friends and family 🙂

  2. I tend to share many of your views about the McKinsey Report, Teresa. It was well done for what it was, but my experience with McKinsey is that they do tend to state the obvious. Certainly, they have the data to back up their assertions, but we know there are many factors that affect involvement in the sport. I’ll be curious to read the full report, which I hope will be posted with the pertinent data, and not just the bullet points of the executive summary shared at the Round Table conference.

    I also would ask where, in its pages, does this report make any specific recommendations with respect to breeding? My impression is that one is expected to extrapolate from its recommendations with respect to racing any implications for the breeding industry. I’m not sure “sustainable growth” (buzz words that have been kicking around in the economic development arena for at least a decade now) isn’t an oxymoron in thoroughbred breeding at the moment. Clearly, McKinsey’s recommendation of fewer races daily and fewer racing dates implies that we need fewer, better quality horses, at best, certainly not more horses. The number of foals born annually already is declining for reasons of simple economics, so I’ll be interested to learn how they suggest sustainable growth in the breeding industry is achieved.

    As was noted at the end of the presentation, the Jockey Club intends to continue its relationship with McKinsey, although in exactly what area wasn’t revealed, so I expect there might be more data and recommendations to come in the future. I’ll be interested to see what else emerges from this partnership.

  3. Teresa is there a way to get a copy of the full report? Hopefully there will be greater detail because as you pointed out there was hardly anything earthshaking announced here. I was hoping for an actual plan not just generalizations.

  4. I don’t know if the full report is available for publication. The whole presentation is available on line, and a transcript will be soon, but I didn’t hear anything about getting a full copy of the report, though I think that some media members got one.

    You might contact the Jockey Club to see whether it will be made available.

    Leslie, I don’t remember hearing anything specifically related to breeding.

  5. Your recent tweet about the expected foal crop for 2012 being down to 1971 levels is hopefully a start to reduced and better breeding. I know a good horse can come from anywhere but it seems like overall numbers and quality would benefit with a gelding/retraining program for colts coming off their racing careers…

  6. Teresa, Thank You for your, as always, great coverage; especially since you were forced to give up quality pool time :).

    Any mention there about what I feel will be the increasing polarization that will be, and is, taking place in the sport. With next year’s foal crop projected to be the lowest in 40 years, and with the prohibition of lasix in graded stakes forecast to begin next year by the American Graded Stakes Committee, my impression is the entire sport and industry is in an upheaval and in dis-array. It will be affecting owners, trainers, breeders, racetracks, states. The implimentation of the banning of lasix, is likely to affect racing by reducing field sizes, too. I think this whole thing is a mess, and likely to stay a mess. Couple all this, with the fact that the Breeders Cup chose Santa Anita as their 2012 site, to run on a dirt that’s currently being re-done because of poor drainage, and because of too many horses breaking down. How is this possible? Since the Breeders Cup event needs almost a year and a half to prepare, how can one in good conscience authorize and sanction a spectacle, of allegedly the best thoroughbreds in the country/world, on a racing surface that’s never been tested? How can this be done? There should be some type of investigation into the authority, the Breeders Cup Committee. This seems very much like, and akin, to the Aqueduct Entertainment Group fiasco, that we had here not too long ago. My comrades and I are so put off and dismayed over this, that we’re seriously thinking of skipping Breeders Cup events entirely.

  7. While all businesses and industries (or even local and national governments) have issues that can be summarized from a committee or consultant study, I always find it bothersome that such a broad brush is used to describe the issues. In particular, I note the way they describe two of the several contributing factors to horse injury; 1) horses running too much and 2) horses running too little.

    In my opinion, less studies and greater work by local management trumps any benefit derived from dollars spent on experts who excel in writing research reports.

    To me, NY racing has never been better. Perhaps the experts who want to learn and write about how to improve the business can pay the people of New York who make the sport so special. This hard work, money spent and attention to detail is why NY Racing thrives while other areas of the state, country or sport are failing. Just my two cents.

    • Robert, just to clarify, the Equine Injury Database isn’t part of the McKinsey study. It’s a separate industry initiative that draws on the expertise of various researchers and scientists, with data provided by the racetracks themselves. What Parkin reported on Sunday is a small part of what they’re doing. If you’re interested in reading more about the EID, you can check out these posts about it. It’s a great example, in my opinion, of a collaboration between those in the industry and independent researchers to produce the sort of information too often lacking in racing.

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