Archives for November 2009

THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA RACE TRACK INDUSTRY PROGRAM

The University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program (RTIP) is a component of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Its program director, Douglas Reed, provided answers to a number of questions about the RTIP.

Program director Reed has been a vice president and an official at some of the premier racetracks across America, among others, Arlington Park, Gulfstream Park, Oaklawn Park, and The Meadowlands. He has spoken to prominent racing organizations in the United States and internationally and he is often consulted by the media for insights on issues and events in the racing industry.

HRB: In what year was the Race Track Industry Program at the University of Arizona started?

DR: Founded in 1973 and first started classes in 1974.

HRB: What is its mission?

DR: The mission of the RTIP is to offer students a broad-based, university education with emphasis on the pari-mutuel racing industry. A second component of the mission is to provide support for the pari-mutuel racing industry through a variety of outreach programs.

In support of the education and outreach missions, we are committed to providing:

  • A business focus that emphasizes professionalism and integrity;
  • Experience-based learning through industry internships and interaction with guest lecturers from the industry;
  • Personal mentoring to aid in education and career decisions;
  • A source of highly qualified talent for the industry; and
  • Professional development opportunities and information to the racing industry.

HRB: Is the RTIP focused exclusively on horse racing and dog racing, or do you also consider the bloodstock and auction sectors of the racing industry? (What prompted this question is that two of the best-known American Thoroughbred trainers, Hall-of-Fame inductee Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher, graduated from the RTIP program, as did Joe Osborne, the managing director of Kildangan Stud in Ireland.)

DR: Through our animal path we include those sectors in the broad-based knowledge of the industry students receive. For example, aspects of those sectors are covered in Animal Science 444, “Management of the Racing Animal.” Also students may take Animal Science 273, “Training/Management of the Yearling” in which they prep and take to the sale horses bred by the University of Arizona.

HRB: With so many racinos in business now, have you expanded the scope of your instruction to include operating a gaming facility in conjunction with a racetrack?

DR: Yes. As part of the course Animal Science 442, “Race Track Business and Financial Management” about a month is spent on the “101” of slots operations and the issues surrounding the racino concept.

HRB: To what extent do the faculty members in the RTIP have hands-on experience in what they are teaching?

DR: We believe that this aspect is a strength of the RTIP. Each faculty member has years of experience in the racing industry. I have been a racing official, racing secretary and VP for a company that ran two tracks, Steve Barham was an executive director for a racing commission for 17-plus years, Dr. Ron Allen has bred horses in Arizona and New Mexico for many years, and Wendy Davis has owned, trained, and bred horses for most of her life.

HRB: Do you regularly bring in speakers for your students to learn from and interact with?

DR: Students regularly have access to about 10 guest speakers each semester from all “walks of life” in the industry. Each aspect of the industry is regularly represented through the guest speaker program with industry experts brought right into the classroom. In addition, students have access and the ability to promote themselves each year at the annual Symposium on Racing & Gaming hosted by the RTIP (December 7-10, 2009). Students are involved in the administration of the Symposium, attend the Symposium that week in lieu of RTIP classes, and may invite a mentor each year to lunch during the conference at the annual Mentor Lunch.

HRB: Describe in more detail the Symposium.

DR: Each year in early December (since 1974) the leaders of the industry gather, representing track management, regulators, representatives of associations, horsemen’s groups and vendors. The Symposium attracts attendees representing Thoroughbred, Standardbred, American Quarter Horse, Greyhound, and racino interests from across the United States and internationally. Topics presented encompass cutting-edge issues and trends of importance to the pari-mutuel industry, such as simulcasting, account wagering, marketing, track surfaces, casino gaming, human and health issues, track operations, new technologies and regulation

HRB: Is the average age of your undergraduate students about the same as for typical college and university undergraduates?

DR: The average age is skewed slightly older because, in addition to traditional four-year undergraduates, the program attracts second-career individuals, transfer students from other universities and now offers a graduate program as well.

HRB: How many courses and course hours do RTIP undergraduate students take that are customized for them? Are these courses open to non-RTIP majors?

DR: Approximately 30 credit hours of core classes customized for RTIP students are required. In addition, everyone will take up to 6 units of internship or practicum. The business-path students take additional business courses and the animal-path students take equine science courses with approximately 15 of those units specific to an equine science curriculum.

Non-majors do take some of the RTIP courses but upper-division courses do have prerequisites.

HRB: What are some examples of the internships or co-op experiences in which your students have engaged?

DR: Since each internship is designed specifically with each individual in mind through example it is impossible to illustrate completely the variety. But for example: students have spent the summer in various aspects of management at Del Mar, the New York Racing Association, and numerous racetracks. Also, some students prefer to concentrate their efforts in one department and may spend most of their internship in a specific function like marketing or racing. On the animal side, students have spent time working with trainers like Todd Pletcher and Greg Fox. Also, students have interned at major farms. Other interns have been placed at organizations such as the Jockey Club, California Horse Racing Board, University of California at Davis, the U. S. Trotting Association, and so forth. The RTIP is fortunate to have more demand for interns then interns available, which helps when tailoring a specific internship for a student’s needs.

HRB: What kinds of jobs have RTIP students obtained upon graduation?

DR: Again due to the broad-based knowledge they receive and the variety of jobs obtained upon graduation, it is difficult to demonstrate the variety through example. Jobs recently obtained include: track announcer, marketing & communications director, racing assistant (Darley America), racing administrator, simulcast coordinator, client relations (Walmac Farms), staff writer/reporter, and executive assistant (Isle at Pompano Park), player development manager, trainer, executive director (Thoroughbred Breeders of New Jersey) etc. (For a complete listing, click here.)

HRB: What kinds of graduate programs have some former RTIP students pursued?

DR: A number of RTIP students have gone on to Law School. Perhaps the most notable example of someone working in the industry is Paul Estok, General Counsel for Harness Tracks of America. Other students have gone on for their MBA and one former student has a doctorate in marketing and teaches. We have also had a number of students come to the program as second-career students and they already had an MBA, JD etc. Most notable of those might be Dr. Scott Waterman, who had his veterinarian degree and a small-animal practice. He is now Executive Director of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Racing Medication & Testing Consortium.

HRB: When did the RTIP begin the master’s degree program and typically how long does it take to complete?

DR: The masters program began in August of 2006. It is typically a four-semester program and the recommended time for a student to start is the fall semester.

HRB: Are there scholarships or in-state tuition opportunities for students who are not residents of the Arizona?

DR: Yes. New students can apply for some assistance not only with the University of Arizona but for specific RTIP scholarships via the RTIP website. Also, all RTIP students can apply, on an annual basis, for department and RTIP-specific scholarships.

HRB: Any information or insights about the RTIP that you want to add that are not covered in the previous questions?

DR: Besides the unique and applied nature of the program and the education and opportunity students are given at the RTIP, there is an additional benefit for students. An asset the program now provides is the reputation and product it has produced. After 35 years, the graduates of the program have proved to be a tremendous resource for current students.

The graduate program is only offered for students in the business path and they have worked on projects that include and are titled: The Condition Book & Its Effect on Handle, Performance of Sire Lines on Different Racing Surfaces, and The Current Evolution of Thoroughbred Racing in Northern California. While students, graduates have interned with Penn National Gaming, California Authority of Racing Fairs, and The Jockey Club. The graduate program is relatively new, with the second class graduating in May of 2010. The first three graduates work as: Racing Administrator, Charles Town Races and Slots; Client Relations Manager, Walmac Farms (and currently managing the shuttle stallions in Australia); and Director of Communications and Media Relations, New York Racing Association.

HRB: Thank you.

Contact Information:

The University of Arizona
Race Track Industry Program
845 North Park Avenue Ste. 30
Tucson, AZ 85721

Phone: 520-621-5660

dreed@ag.arizona.edu

Postscript by Bill Shanklin:  I spent two days in 2008 visiting with the faculty and staff of the RTIP. I came away with the impression of a dedicated group of people who do not view their duties as “just a job.”  Students are challenged with a contemporary curriculum appropriate to the fluid world of racing today, delivered by knowledgeable and enthusiastic instructors and reinforced by guest speakers from the industry.  However, like all strong academic programs, the RTIP curriculum does not just reflect what is going on in racing at the moment, but rather tries to be leading edge with research into such tools as social networking and viral marketing. The RTIP physical facilites are comfortable and they are located on the attractive University of Arizona campus, with easy access to cultural and social opportunities.

Copyright © 2009 Horse Racing Business

VETERANS DAY TRIBUTE

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Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine CorpNavy

Today honors the men and women who serve or have served honorably in the U. S. armed forces.Veterans Day 2009 is especially poignant because of the massacre last week of 13 people and the wounding of 38 more at Fort Hood, Texas. Compounding the tragedy was the fact that the perpetrator came from within the ranks, a U. S. Army psychiatrist holding the rank of major, Nidal Malik Hasan. The number killed and wounded in the shooting spree would have been even greater had it not been for the heroic action of civilian police officer Kim Munley, who shot the nefarious and cowardly assassin four times while being wounded herself. Officer Munley is married to U. S. Army Staff Sergeant Matthew Munley.

The horse-racing industry has many participants who have served the United States in uniform during war and peace. John Shirreffs, the trainer of  Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Zenyatta, was a Marine in Vietnam. Congratulations to him on his victory last Saturday and for answering his country’s call so many years ago in time of war. Another veteran is former Army Airborne Ranger Terry Finley of West Point Thoroughbreds. He not only proudly named his stable after his alma mater, but his Thoroughbred Thank You Fund sends active duty military personnel to major races. Many other veterans are involved in the racing industry, but less visibly. For instance, Harry Miller, a longtime associate in the advertising department at the Blood-Horse, was an Aircraft Armament Repair Specialist in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam in 1968 and 1969. Harry, an affable bear of a man, loaded the bullets and rockets and repaired the guns on Cobra helicopter gunships. Like so many others in the sport of horse racing, currently and in the past, these three men have been loyal to the patriotic tenets of duty, honor, and country.

Bill Shanklin and Horse Racing Business salute all of the men and women who have served honorably in the U. S. military, from the American Revolution to the present, and protected our cherished freedoms.

May God bless them all.

Copyright © 2009 Horse Racing Business

RAISING THE CUP

Raising the Cup” originally appeared in the October 24, 2009 issue of The Blood-Horse (pp. 3818-3820) and is reproduced here by permission. Copyright © 2009 Blood-Horse Publications.

By William L. Shanklin

Nearly two decades ago, D. G. Van Clief Jr., then the executive director of the Breeders’ Cup, spoke candidly with Stan Isaacs of Newsday about the disappointing television ratings for the year-end Breeders’ Cup card: “We have come to accept the lower ratings as a fact of life…[the Breeders’ Cup] is a championship event like the big golf and tennis tournaments, which have prestige but which do not command high ratings.”

Since then, the television ratings have deteriorated sharply. If the Breeders’ Cup persists with its present format, low ratings will indeed continue to be a fact of life. Yet flimsy television ratings in the future are not a fait accompli, provided that the event is revamped.

The Saturday edition of the 2008 Breeders’ Cup World Championships was telecast by ABC from 1:00-3:30 p.m. ET.  Thereafter, the telecast switched to ABC’s sister network ESPN from 3:30-7:00 p.m.  The ABC segment drew a rating of 1.0 (each rating point equates to 1.145 million television households) and an audience share of 3%. The ESPN broadcast earned a rating of .9. In contrast, a Saturday afternoon regional telecast of college football was on opposite the Breeders’ Cup and had an average rating of 5.1 and an audience share of 12%.

The 2008 Friday afternoon telecast of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships was on ESPN2 from 3:30-6:30 p.m. ET. It registered a rating of .3, or approximately 343,500 television households nationwide.

Declines in television ratings per se are unsurprising because the burgeoning number of cable TV channels have had the effect of dramatically fragmenting audiences. In addition, computers for the masses, progressively sophisticated mobile communications devices, and wi-fi have allowed people to conveniently access exponentially growing Internet content in place of watching conventional television. Communications technologies have also blurred the line between work and private lives and, in so doing, have curtailed leisure time.

In spite of this sea change, the Breeders’ Cup World Championships has unfailingly adhered to the lengthy Saturday format devised for the 1984 inaugural. This six-hour TV program has the dubious distinction of filling more air time than almost all telecasts of any genre, including playoff games in the major team sports. Paradoxically, in 2008, the Breeders’ Cup doubled down on its 25-year-old design by televising fourteen races in nine hours of coverage over two days. The consequence was predictably weak television ratings, as benchmarked against even the worst of the ratings for the 2008 and 2009 Triple Crown telecasts, which was a 5.0 for the 2009 Belmont Stakes.

IN SYNC WITH THE TIMES

Following is an executive summary of specific initiatives for transforming the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in order to enhance television ratings, which should have a salutary effect on wagering revenues. The proposals are intended to: capitalize on empirically documented societal trends and consumer behavior; encourage more fan involvement; move the nationally televised racing program away from the competitive juggernaut that it heretofore has been up against; appeal to a younger demographic; hone name recognition; and assist prominent racetracks, besides the host track, to stimulate interest in Breeders’ Cup races and boost their own on-track attendance and all-sources handle.

  • Segue to Friday Night Lights

Football is by virtually all performance measures the most popular sport in the United States–the true “national pastime”–and the overwhelming majority of collegiate and professional games are concentrated on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and nights in the fall. Consider this: On August 9, 2009, a Sunday, NBC-TV broadcast the opening exhibition game of the National Football League, the Hall Of Fame classic from Canton, Ohio, that pitted the Buffalo Bills against the Tennessee Titans. Meanwhile, ESPN telecast the Major League Baseball contest between the New York Yankees and their bitter rivals the Boston Red Sox in the conclusion of a four-game series that had repercussions for leadership in the American League East. The meaningless football exhibition, with substitutes and free agents playing much of the game, drew 61% more viewers than the baseball faceoff. USA Today’s aside: “The NFL doesn’t need to resort to trickery to outdraw baseball. Any game will do…”

Saturdays in the fall belong to the 120 universities that compete at the NCAA Division I level in football, plus the many more colleges and universities that choose to field teams in the lower NCAA echelons. Students, alumni, and other spectators tune in on television, radio, and the Internet and congregate in stadiums large and small across the land.

Thus the Saturday Breeders’ Cup telecast is butting heads, so to speak, in a losing battle with the likes of Notre Dame, Southern Cal, Ohio State, Florida, and Slippery Rock. A huge slice of avid-to-casual sports fans is preoccupied with football at precisely the same time that the Breeders’ Cup World Championships is trying to draw television viewers to its yearly showcase. In effect, through scheduling, the horse-racing telecast relinquishes or concedes prospective access to millions and millions of sports-oriented people and then attempts to harvest or salvage a respectable television rating from among those who are left to watch.

Shifting the Breeders’ Cup to Sunday would offer no relief, as the National Football League dominates. If a pennant-influencing baseball game between legendary franchises cannot cope with America’s fascination for professional football, horse racing has no chance.

The Breeders’ Cup World Championships should steer clear of the vast majority of college football games and benefit from a reasonable chance to penetrate a prime-time audience by moving to an October Friday night with a start time of around 9 p.m. ET. Another advantage of Friday night is that the majority of people do not have to report to work the following morning. Scheduling the event no later than the third or fourth Friday in October would diminish the threat of cold weather at a host track in Kentucky, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, or Ontario.

While a Friday night program would lose many European viewers, owing to the time differential, it would gain exposure to a massive television universe in Asia and Australia, where the time would be mid-to-late morning on Saturday. This would cater to horse racing’s currency in Japan, Hong Kong, and Australia.

  • Condense the Presentation

 The protracted manner in which the Breeders’ Cup World Championships program has been offered for the past quarter century is a throwback to how people spent a day at the racetrack before full-card simulcasting and off-track betting. It is decidedly not in keeping with the brisk velocity of the prevalent contemporary lifestyle. Though that may be agreeable with the most ardent horse-racing enthusiast, it does nothing to entice everyone else; in fact, quite the opposite is true.

To accommodate this cultural reality instead of working against the grain, the telecast of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships should be presented in an action-packed two-hour (or less) program with four Grade 1 races. This duration would allow 30 minutes per race instead of the 40 minutes in the existing set up.

Most of the customary human-interest vignettes interspersed into the current telecast would be moved online so as to keep the program content dynamic and the spotlight on the horses. The rationale is to highlight the on-track competition, while having extensive background on horses and humans readily available at a website, along with detailed past performance information and in-depth handicapping by experts.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club’s eminently successful Turf World Championships has established a precedent for such an offering. This annual telecast of four Grade 1 races, worth some $8 million, in about 2 ½ hours is the premier day of horse racing in Asia and is beamed around the globe.

  • Headline Equine Star Power and Integrate Fan Input

The Breeders’ Cup races featured on the Friday night telecast would be those most attractive to U. S. and world viewers—the Classic (gr. I), the Turf (gr. IT), arguably the Sprint (gr. I), plus a wild-card race. The latter would be selected a couple of months in advance and would vary from year to year depending on which division happened to have the most intrigue. For instance, this year it would likely be the Ladies’ Classic (gr. I). In an effort to engage fans in a substantive manner, the wild-card race should be selected by a public vote, similar to how the All-Star team is chosen in both Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association.

The Pick Six would remain an integral part of the Breeders’ Cup wagering menu, as there are several options that would work. One possibility would be to have the Pick Six consist of the four featured Breeders’ Cup races, plus two Breeders’ Cup races run the same day or night at other racetracks. A Pick 4 would be heavily publicized for the Friday-night extravaganza.

  • Spread the Cachet

The ten Breeders’ Cup races that are not included on the main-event Friday night telecast would be contested weekly in late September and early-to-mid October at racetracks holding meets across the United States, notably, Belmont Park, Keeneland, Lone Star Park, Santa Anita, and Woodbine. The Breeders’ Cup mile could periodically be run at a European or an Asian racetrack and telecast globally. This “sharing of the prestige” would allow a handful of geographically-dispersed racetracks to promote a world-class race and concurrently build up awareness, interest, and handle preceding the Friday night finale.

  • Infuse Panache

The presentation of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships needs more élan. At least a couple of the on-air personalities should connect with an all-encompassing audience of younger sports fans and also project the image that horse racing is not a vestige of a bygone time. To illustrate, two trendy announcers with a personal history in racing are Jim Rome and Christina Olivares. Rome, a California Thoroughbred racehorse owner, conducts a weekday syndicated radio talk show (“The Jim Rome Show,” aka “The Jungle”) and a daily ESPN television program (“Jim Rome is Burning”) that draw mostly male sports junkies dubbed “the clones.” The unconventional and witty Rome reaches two million radio listeners. Olivares, the stylish daughter of former jockey and trainer Frank Olivares, is a TVG host with a confirmed ability to draw viewers, and in particular she should relate to those in their late teens, twenties, and early thirties. Rome and Olivares chat about horse racing when she intermittently appears on his radio show. The banter sometimes turns to Olivares evaluating for Rome the chances of one of his horses in an upcoming race.

  • Sharpen Name Recognition

The title Breeders’ Cup World Championships does not inherently convey what the occasion is about. What is a Breeders’ Cup and what world championships are being decided? For the purpose of strengthening the lexical and promotional value of the name, Breeders’ Cup World Championships needs some tinkering. The modestly modified Horse Racing World Championships presented by the Breeders’ Cup or the World Championships of Horse Racing are upgrades in signaling to an individual perusing a scrolling television guide what the program is about.

STEP OVER A LOWER BAR

The Breeders’ Cup World Championships programming, as delivered in its traditional mode, has time and again shown that it is not a robust television platform for the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing; it demonstrably does not reach enough viewers. The event’s unhurried marathon telecast in an age of short attention spans, shrinking leisure time, mobile communications devices, and proliferation of entertainment content, coupled with its placement opposite the prime time for collegiate football, ensures this outcome. Doing the same thing over and over and hoping for an improved result is unduly optimistic. Conversely, accepting the inevitability of low ratings is defeatist; unlike tennis and golf, the Breeders’ Cup World Championships can be reconfigured into an abbreviated, fast-paced, audience-friendly telecast. Horse racing has the further built-in advantage of legal wagering to create a vested fan interest.

How significantly the preceding proposals would invigorate the Breeders’ Cup World Championships can only be estimated. Yet the television ratings and degree of fan participation would almost surely exceed the status quo–and plausibly by a lot–because the suggestions for change go with the flow of consumer and societal currents rather than against them. Likewise, the Breeders’ Cup World Championships would no longer tilt at windmills by challenging America’s unwavering passion for football on Autumn Saturday afternoons. In view of the event’s perennially dismal television ratings, the upside potential far exceeds the downside risk; the incumbent ratings do not have much room to fall.

Warren Buffett once proffered this sage metaphor about his approach to life and investing: “I don’t look to jump over seven-foot bars: I look around for one-foot bars that I can step over.”

The Breeders’ Cup World Championships telecast, since its inception, has been trying to vault an impossibly lofty cultural/competitor bar. The imperative in energizing an underperforming business venture is to reposition it into the best possible competitive situation…where it can begin to step forward.

William L. Shanklin is a longtime contributor to The Blood-Horse. His website is HorseRacingBusiness.com.

Copyright © 2009 Blood-Horse Publications