Friday, June 26, 2009

Interview with: Alex Waldrop President, CEO NTRA

In December 2006, the membership of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association appointed Alex Waldrop as president and CEO. A past president of Churchill Downs and a former partner in the Kentucky-based law firm of Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs, Waldrop brought a wealth of industry experience to the NTRA, a coalition of horseracing interests and associations that includes owners, breeders, trainers and racetracks.

OOF: I was encouraged by the creation and mission of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance which genuinely takes the steps to show that you are working to change the conditions and the ultimately the public perception of Thoroughbred racing, as such what are your feelings as to what the Alliance has accomplished so far?

ALEX: I am extremely proud of what the Alliance has accomplished thus far. The industry has rallied behind the Alliance and its mission to implement meaningful, uniform safety and integrity reforms. To date, five racetracks have been accredited by our Alliance inspection teams, five more tracks are in various stages of review and some 45 tracks have expressed interest in being reviewed over the next two years. Most gratifying of all has been the level of commitment from all industry stakeholders – tracks, horsemen, breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys, regulators, veterinarians and even fans - to make the objectives of the Alliance a reality. While much work remains before we have full implementation on a national level, the results to date are very promising.

OOF: I have been touting heavily for the past year that if Thoroughbred racing doesn’t create a strong governing body then congress will. The current undertakings and government intervention within the auto companies, banks, insurance companies (the list goes on) I believe up holds my theory insofar that the government has demonstrated if they have the power to do so they will intervene and take control, and with the Interstate Horseracing Act they have the power. I have also been heavily touting that the NTRA should be the organization (reference my article “Big Brother is Coming”) to take the reigns of control, that said how is the NTRA addressing the possibility of government intervention and the wresting of absolute control?

ALEX: Due to the industry’s reliance on pari-mutuel wagering as our principal source of revenue, it is highly doubtful that the individual racing states will ever willingly cede control of horse racing within their own states. It’s also highly doubtful that the racing industry would be regulated expertly or efficiently by the federal government. I also don’t think that most elected officials in Washington believe that the federal government should be involved in governing our sport. Our sport operates best when regulated by those who have strong local connections to and expertise in, and an appreciation for, the complex agribusiness that is the racing industry. All of these factors point to state regulation.

OOF: I have extensively studied the NASCAR marketing model in order to determine how the sport changed its public perception from one of populated by rednecks (not my term) to the heavily corporate endorsed number two sport in America and then thereby how said model could translate to Thoroughbred racing. I have found the major underlying factor of the change in public perception can be traced to the creation of a strong governing body. Once this was accomplished said body set about as a unified organization to woo corporations, networks and would be advertisers to become a part of the NASCAR team. The result has become a complete transformation into as previously stated the number two sport in America. I believe if the NTRA were to become the governing body and followed a similar marketing model the sport of Thoroughbred racing could be brought to what it once was. What are your thoughts as to how this may translate to the future of Thoroughbred racing?

ALEX: I’m not sure that racing will ever see a single governing body a la NASCAR for reasons stated above. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be governed in a strong, uniform way. The work of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance is already moving the needle in that direction, in part by working cooperatively with the states. If we can achieve this goal, I believe that marketing benefits will follow.

OOF: One last question, what do you believe will be the impact of the Triple Crown races from a marketing standpoint whereby a Colt that sold for $9,500 ran away with the Derby, followed by a Filly winning the Preakness?

ALEX: The biggest marketing impact comes from the terrific story lines we saw this year, which translate into increased, broader public interest. The long shot nature of Mine That Bird’s victory put our sport immediately on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and then Rachel Alexandra’s Preakness win took things to an even higher level by bringing in a great many more casual fans including, of course, many females. Suddenly the sport was making the rounds from The Tonight Show to Letterman, which was terrific for us. Our challenge as an industry going forward is to convert as many of these casual fans into committed, year-round fans as possible.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Williams says Senate may end session Friday without considering slots

So read the headline, but it should have read Senate President David Williams is an idiot. By making statements like “the slots bill, you know, you can stick a fork in it, it’s done” or “we need to get out of town before some people in the House get in trouble,” when asked to explain that one he said, “you know what I mean by that” (uh… no I don’t) he has proven himself to be the biggest dolt since Homer Simpson (by the way look at his picture remove the hair and glasses and you know what they look remarkably similar humm…).

This is nothing more then politics at its worse the guy is obviously more worried about keeping his rear-end in office then taking care of his state. Apparently he looks at the horse industry as the proverbial “red headed step child” that he can kick around how ever he wants and still get away with it. But here’s what the short-sighted idiot still doesn’t seem to realize the millions of dollars that the Thoroughbred industry pumps into the Kentucky economy today doesn’t mean it will be there tomorrow.

All he would have to do to see an example of that fact is to look north to Ohio. At one point it was a place where people in neighboring states flocked to in order to find jobs. But a funny thing happened along the way the politicians became fat and sassy, when other states began offering businesses tax breaks to move their companies Ohio politicians balked at matching the offers and guess what…they moved. Dayton a once thriving city is a veritable ghost town with probably a third of the city boarded up, and the largest building in the city in foreclosure.

So go ahead state Senator Williams and play political games and watch the fallout you cause, but hey you won’t be in office very much longer anyway.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I'll never own a major sports franchise, but I can own part of a horse and maybe, just maybe..

I’ve heard that in various forms a lot lately as I talk to people about Thoroughbred racing. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not talking about the average every day person you may meet on the street. No, I’m talking about a sports fan, someone who loves sports, someone who understands the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” and loves them both (ok…the victory part’s a lot more fun but you know what I mean).

It never ceases to amaze me how when I speak with people their facial expressions predictably and invariably change. As I begin talking about my love of Thoroughbred racing it’s the snarled nose and “oh, you like horse racing” response. But as I tell them about the thrill of racing, when I paint the picture of the excitement it generates, the intense highs, and yes lows their facial expression turns to interest and even a little excitement. When I talk with them about horses like John Henry, Funny Cide and now Mine That Bird noticeable excitement grows; but it’s when they learn how partnerships / syndicates are affordable and within their budget, the light bulb goes off (I can literally almost see the thing light up above their head) and their facial expression becomes one of passion it’s then when the inevitable response is blurted out “I'll never own a major sports franchise, but I can own part of a horse and maybe, just maybe”..

These individuals, these sports fans are what I believe is an untapped avenue of new blood, new owners and most importantly new money into the sport. At a time when the horse industry is suffering at historical levels can we afford to ignore this new market. Or, is it time to “think outside the box” to take that leap and go after this market. I’m out there every day working for Thoroughbred racing as the song says “sowing the seeds of love” because I believe the long term benefits are tremendous. I believe in Thoroughbred racing, I see it for what it is, what it was and I envision what it can be, it just takes difference makers and people who care about getting it there, I’m working on it every day, are you?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Thinking Outside the Box

Brains are pattern recognition systems which allow us to recognize objects and situations very quickly. However, pattern recognition can work against us and make us fixed in our thinking - making it difficult to be creative. The good news is that we can use lateral thinking techniques to break out of old ways of thinking and boost creativity…i.e. “Thinking Outside the Box.”

The customary model of attracting new buyers is through means such as “word of mouth”, being written about in thoroughbred publication, or even advertising in said publications. This has worked well and if continued will be an adequate method of attracting new business. But there’s and old saying “if you do the same thing, expect the same results”, if you’re happy with adequate results then - stop reading. However if you would like to learn how to, by using demographics and technology, discover the potential for dramatically increasing buyers – read on!

By using demographics to pin point the type of individual who may be attracted to becoming Thoroughbred owners and then technology to attract them I have found an untapped market which could be akin to a literal gold mine. But before you read any further you may want to reread the first paragraph because in order to fully grasp the following concepts you’re going to have use “lateral thinking.”

According to (1) around 16 million Americans play fantasy sports across major online fantasy sports sites. From a financial stand point, “64% of fantasy football consumers make over $75,000 and 10% of fantasy football consumers make over $150,000 per year - demonstrating financial wherewithal to become syndicate partners. From an intellectual demographic stand point 73% of fantasy football consumers hold a college degree or better – demonstrating the intellect to understand the intricacies of horse racing and betting. From an age standpoint, 76% of fantasy football consumers are between 18 and 49 years old – demonstrating by their relative young age their income has the potential to show large increases. According to a study by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, "the people who play fantasy are more into sports, more hard-core than the average fan” – demonstrating they would be more likely to be interested in Thoroughbred racing. These people fit the demographics to potentially become owners the trick is how to we turn them from fantasy owners into real ones.

Three words, “Behavior Targeting Marketing” which as the title suggests literally targets individuals based upon their behavior. In this case as the 16 million previously mentioned individuals search for fantasy information an ad pops up directing them to click on it. The ad campaign is only limited to the imagination to those who write it – but lets say it’s something like “turn fantasy into reality.” Current market trends show a three percent rate of return on this type of specialized advertising. Using these figures a full blown ad campaign designed to reach all 16 million individuals would generate a hit rate of 480,000. If then there by 1% of these individuals decide to become owners that would mean 4,800 (ok I know that math was easy) new Thoroughbred owners (what would that do for your bottom line), the potential result would be an unlimited and uncapped end number. The determining factor would undeniably be the marketing campaign and if the individuals by same were enticed to become owners.

This type of campaign would be expensive and in hard economic times you’re probably asking yourself can I afford to do this, the reality however is you should be telling yourself I can’t afford not to do this. Here are two examples of how marketing and more specifically a quality marketing campaign will generate sales.

One: General Mills vs. Post – during the years leading up to the “great “depression these companies were neck and neck in sales, both advertised heavily and were always looking for new ways to attract new customers. However when the depression began Post pulled back on their marketing reasoning money was tight and to survive they would need as much of it as possible. Inversely General Mills plowed ahead with their marketing campaigns and put as much money as they could into them, the result are obvious to this day!

Two: The infamous Pet-Rock, in 1975 millions of people, during tough economic times, spent money to buy a “rock.” Why, because of marketing, their commercials targeted a specific audience and were broadcast at times to maximize same such as the Saturday Night Live viewers. The campaign itself then caught people’s attention; it excited them and drove them to buy the product. The end result being that within six months the inventor, Gary Dahl, became a millionaire.

The moral of the story is this keep doing the same thing and receiving adequate results (and take the risk of becoming a Post, or worse), or “Think Outside the Box” and take the chance to reap the rewards.

If anyone would like help in any capacity to devise this type of campaign I would be glad to consult with you in any manner, simply email me at