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.