view counter
view counter

Mark Hetherman's Blog


Promote the Drivers

Published: October 27, 2009 1:55 pm ET

Last Comment: November 3, 2009 10:58 am ET | 13 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

It is time to reward our drivers and make them the marquee athletes that can attract the public.

In the never ending discussion about who is more important in our sport, the horse or the driver, that answer is irrelevant.

Although we can never stop promoting horses like Somebeachsomewhere they are usually only around for 2 years and race in Ontario only a few of times. Our drivers are racing 8 to 10 times per night, they control everything that happens in the race, and they are true physical and mentally strong athletes.

Race Car drivers who are the closest comparison to our drivers take the power of a car of which they are in total control and require only the nerve to go fast and pass other cars. These are great skills for sure but compare that to what a Harness Driver has to do; I think our Drivers are much more of an athlete.

A Harness Driver must be able to get the most out of a independent thinking animal, that cannot voice its feelings, coax them to their best performance, weave them through tight openings, strategize in a split second what other drivers are going to do, (no time outs like football, basketball, hockey to figure out the strategy in the middle of the game) expose their bodies to unprotected danger (no roll cage and safety devices like cars have) and do all this while stressing that they are the 4-5 favourite and if they do not do all of this right to win the race fans will be cursing them. I can’t think of another sport with so much pressure.

F1 or NASCAR are heralded as athletes and paid millions of dollars to perform. We need to analyze how those sports have made superstars of their drivers and our drivers go unnoticed.

We must examine why the general public will flock to Maple Leaf games at the rate of 18,000 per night, Blue Jay games 25,000 per game etc. The Leafs haven’t made the playoffs for 3 years and the last Stanley Cup was 1967. The Blue Jays are technically playing exhibition games from around July 15 when they typically drop 10 games out of first place.

Maybe it is the spirit of cheering Toronto Teams or Players...wait a minute the Blue Jays do not have one player who was born in Ontario, the Maple Leafs only 6 players, the Raptors none...

One last thought... I think another appeal of those sports is the fact that athletes make millions of dollars and that creates intrigue. Wouldn’t Harness Racing love to have the press hockey received last year over the Mats Sundin retirement/non-retirement, come back for $20 million etc.,

As humans we idolize people who rise to the top and make more money than we could ever imagine. Our top driver Jody Jamieson has made approx. $270,000 (5% of $5,400,000) at Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) to September 21, 2009. Although this would seem like a lot of money to many of us it is nothing in the world of sports for a top athlete. I know he goes off and makes more money in stake races and driving at other tracks etc. but the point is still relevant.

How do we create this hype around our drivers? I would propose that the top 15 drivers be employed by WEG and paid a salary with some bonuses clauses built in for handle increases. Let’s say Jody would be signed to a one year contract for $2,000,000 per year. Other drivers would be paid according to their success just like all other sports. So let’s say that WEG would have a payroll of something like $15,000,000. I know that the history of paying drivers 5% was to ensure they were always trying to win to earn a living and provide the fans the best integrity for their wagering dollar.

We know that this does not guarantee anything to the wagering public.

I would suggest that we have a General Manager for all the WEG drivers. The GM would be someone like Ron Waples or equivalent legend driver who really knows what is happening on the track. The GM’s job would be to watch the races, council drivers and impose fines or penalties on drivers anytime he felt we were not giving honest and quality drives.

Any trainer/owner racing at WEG would have to use one of these 15 star drivers so all customers would be assured of getting a quality drive and we could build stardom amongst this driver group. The only exception would be stake races where outside drivers could drive for their normal trainer.

If a driver wants to join the WEG group then they would have prove themselves at a B track and would require approval by the General Manager.

The GM would allow them to drive some races at WEG to see if they can fit in. If the GM feels the new driver could be a new star for WEG then he must cut a driver from WEG and back to B tracks. Sorry if this sounds tough but we must think of the fans and all sports teams cut players if they can no longer perform at the same level as the past.

Let’s face it... what sport just allows anyone to come to their sports building or field to play and perform with the superstars. Can you imagine how you would feel as a fan if the Blue Jays would just allow anyone whether they have the required skills or not to play with the Jays for a game? Well our fans feel the same way when they have to decide whether they should bet some driver they have never heard of coming in from a B track for one race on the card. We want to know we have the best drivers sitting behind the horses every race when we are laying down our money.

If we are going to be in the big time we need to act like it.

To get the 18 to 35 year old demographic we need stars and future stars through rookies on the main stage every night. Let’s examine the amount of press the Leafs got when they were negotiating to sign Luke Schenn a rookie star in the making. Right now we have two or three exceptional young drivers coming up the ranks and they should be given the chance to replace the regulars if they are good enough. Imagine the press we would receive if WEG announces that they are signing the hottest young Harness Driver to a 3 year $2,000,000 contract.

WEG drivers would only be allowed to race away from WEG for stake races. As much as Jody Jamieson is a great driver and ambassador for the sport he is a superstar and should not be driving at B tracks. Do we think the Leafs would allow Tomas Kaberle go play for the Marlies a couple of times per week? Plus it takes money out of the pockets of local drivers.

Drivers would also have to make themselves available for any media/advertising/marketing/charity activities requested by WEG.

They would visit schools for career day presentation to build our future fans; they would host school trips to the paddock on qualifying days at Mohawk.

The drivers would have to make a commitment of a minimum numbers of hours in the public eye.

They should be on TV and Radio constantly building star personality. I think Bob McCown at Fan 590 would love to interview a driver every week. After all he did own a Harness Racehorse.

Etc. Etc. the mind runs wild with promotional ideas...

WEG would pay for the drivers salaries by taking in the 5% the drivers would normally get from driving and they would direct money from the marketing budget. They would receive revenue by the handle increases based on the new stardom we create with the drivers. WEG would also look to get many sponsors for the drivers and WEG would retain any sponsorship money. We have to think like NASCAR where there are sponsors logo’s all over their racing colours.

This new found stardom, along with success with new fans would allow drivers to renegotiate contracts annually and find themselves among the top paid sports stars in our city over time.

Obviously this is a simplistic view and many details have to be worked out but there is no denying that star athletes can sell a sport!

November 3, 2009 - 10:58 amThe whole show needs to be

carlo renon SAID...

The whole show needs to be redone from top to bottom . Races need to be put together so they are competitive in the race office not doing favors and opening up a class to let someone in so the fans can watch a mile post parade!

It is unacceptable for trainers to send out horses that are not capable or out there to win regardless of post position - this is wrong and fraud. Drivers should be out there trying to win every race anything less is criminal! If the trainer says just give him a start wouldn't it be a novel idea to hand the lines back to him and tell the trainer to drive himself! At least the fans would know his intentions or lack of them!

Make racing exciting, honest and competitive the fans will come.

November 1, 2009 - 10:41 amIs there anybody from WEG

ken myers SAID...

Is there anybody from WEG that could comment or post a notice on how they are going to promote the sport of harrness racing to the general public in all of canada. Is it a world wide problem or is it a local marketing problem? The races still go on.

October 31, 2009 - 7:58 pmI agree with Mr Kindornay on

Al Ferrusi SAID...

I agree with Mr Kindornay on His comments.I have been a harness fan and better for 45 years and have seen some great drivers and some not so great that are just as good given the right horse. I think some of the top drivers today are very lucky to get drives from the top stables and look like a pro.

Did SomeBeachSomewhere need a top driver??? Nobody even heard of the trainer before, was it luck??? I love WEG racing but I am starting to get turned off. I see some top drivers get off a horse from a top barn and go on a horse they never drove before and they go off at 3-5 or 4-5 and the horse is 3-4 seconds slower. If that horse wins which is rare, then the top barn horse is not in to go and stealing the betting money.

The betting public wants horse racing not a show, following the leader up to the head of the stetch is not racing. The US drivers come here to race, win lose or draw the horses are moving at all parts of the mile. Have a good day to Mr Hetherman and StandardbredCanada.

October 31, 2009 - 5:30 pmHERE IS HOW THE MEADOWLANDS

ken myers SAID...


October 31, 2009 - 11:31 amI think arguing with each

john thomas SAID...

I think arguing with each other and trashing others ideas is not the way to spend your energy.
I think that most in agreement would say that the marketing is way off.
When my mother and I would go to the races she would bet Doug Brown. She followed the drivers. Then she fell in love with Admiral's Express. The Peoples champion.
She didn't give a dam about "You gotta bet it to get it"
The marketing in general should be focusing on bringing the stars to the spot light.
Be it horses, jockeys, trainers. Make them more familiar with the stars.
Ads with Z-man, Randy, Mark and Double J.
Right now I don't follow the Leafs. I have no idea who is even on the team. Over the years I have lost that sense of familiarity. Same can be said for horse racing for the occasional better.
I didn't see any ad for the BC stating
Muscle Hill
Well Said
No drama at all to get you hooked.

October 29, 2009 - 2:46 pmI'm not sure what the right

Bryan Peters SAID...

I'm not sure what the right answer is, but I agree something has to be done to better promote the sport. "You gotta bet it to get it" just doesn't do it. People aren't attracted to simply the thrill of betting. Everyone bets on the NFL through Vegas, online or through their local bookie, but the NFL doesn't promote the thrill of betting when they try to get you to buy a ticket or watch it on TV. I realize that betting is where all of the revenue for our sport comes from, but there are lots of other attractions besides the thrill of the bet. We need to get people to the track to see the athletes - whether that be the horses or the drivers - first, and then get them to bet while they're there. Everyone in Toronto should have known the name of Somebeachsomewhere last year when he was racing at Mohawk and Woodbine. Everyone should have known that Muscle Hill was in town this past weekend. I didn't hear anything about him or any of the other horses and drivers. I heard on the radio that the Breeder's Crown was in town and that I should go out to watch them race for "millions in purses". The sport needs to create the type of buzz that a Tiger Woods creates for golf or Sidney Crosby creates for hockey, but on a scale that fits with our industry. Dominance drives fan support and when you have Muschle Hill in town everyone should hear about it. The same goes for Jody, Luc, John Campbell and all the big drivers. The top Open horses race most weeks also and could be promoted as well as the stakes horses that stop by a few times a year. They're world class horses.

If we create the celebrity and hype, people might just come out more often. I don't hardly ever watch golf, but if someone told me Tiger Woods was going to be 30 minutes from my house and I could go watch him for free admission and I could bet a couple of bucks and maybe even come home with some extra cash in my pocket...I'd go in a hurry.

October 29, 2009 - 12:42 pmMr.Mark Hetherman:Having

Mr.Mark Hetherman:Having just read your article on"drivers",it makes me wonder just how well do you understand the buisness of Harness Racing?
"DRIVER'S" do not make good race horse's;"TRAINER'S Do!"
As you must have seen, prior to a driver about to racesomeone else's horse,,most are standing by the paddock doors rather than being with the horse they are about to drive.To me this plainly shows the drivers lack of interest in promoting themselves.Therefore, are they really worth promoting at all?As well, it shows they really don't care about what they are doing.The impression they project by this act alone, is not what you want to promote.
Driver's are only as good as the horses they are lucky enough to drive.Give your leading driver enough 10-15 to one shots and you will see how fast they become a "regular average driver," instead of the so-called "self-proclaimed STARS"
Louis J. kindornay :involved in harness racing since 1968.

October 29, 2009 - 10:20 amC.Renon Who decides the 15

carlo renon SAID...

C.Renon Who decides the 15 best? Why not just let Randy Waples be Randy istead of years ago coming down on him for an interview. HE is by far the most personable and out going driver there. Along with a passion for the sport and great driving ability in my mind he would be the best driver you have to promote the sport!

October 29, 2009 - 9:49 amI got an idea..... why can't

stephen bell SAID...

I got an idea..... why can't one of these famous drivers go on dancing with the stars? That should give some exposure to the general public. Some how some way ..harness racing has to be consistantly seen on ESPN for the public to grasp the sport. It all starts with the breeders and the track owners if the sport is to be productive.. Spread the wealth around. don't put everything in one kettle.You need one voice leader everyone else stand silent.

October 29, 2009 - 9:45 amI don't neccessarily think

I don't neccessarily think that Mark's ideas would work either, BUT I applaud him for making a concrete suggestion. Rather than bashing this proposal, why not ask what is good about it, what challenges the industry to be better and use it as a spring board forward. Racing is in trouble. The normal response when something isn't working is to reinvent it. Mark should be congratulated for swinging for the fence. Sometimes the big swing results in a little dribbler down the line that you beat out for a single. There are a lot of visionaries that have been told their ideas won't work. Some of them have had great success. From this I would want to see all tracks crank up the publicity machine and work at making the horses, the drivers, the trainers, more accessible to the general public. Tell the story of horse racing. An image over haul might just be the best thing for racing and a whole lot more constructive in moving forward

October 28, 2009 - 11:49 pmReally you could promote God

Really you could promote God as a harness driver and 99% of people would not cross the street to meet him!! Also why is it WEG who should "control" everything? And how would you hide the 100,s of fines for drivers indiscretions weekly that you see now? And what about owners who are assisted by drivers when training or conditoning their horses and rightly feel an allegiance to them when/if their horse make it to the races.
As for a GM of WEG fining or suspending drivers for "less than honest efforts", the present day ORC judges should do that, but right you are you would have to go back decades to find when they last did(possibly to not smear harnes racing more than it has been),so imagine the publicity that would cause and imagine where a smeared driver might take that kind of impossible to prove accustion!!

October 28, 2009 - 6:36 pmHarness racing is about

Norman Hall SAID...

Harness racing is about horses - not drivers. There are some drivers that have a positive impact on the sport but the John Campbells are few and far between. Don't try to turn a sows ear into a silk purse.

October 28, 2009 - 3:49 pmLots of money spent...on new

David Graham SAID...

Lots of money spent...on new rules (new rules being only certain drivers be allowed on the weg circut.) More attemps to cut the little guy out of the industry
The 15 drivers will be pretty busy, trying to drive and train horses, do public relations work. Would they really want that? Plus would they be allowed to drive a horse, at another track, or would their contract prohibit that?
Sounds wonderful for the 15 and not so great for anyone else.

view counter

© 2018 Standardbred Canada. All rights reserved. Use of this site signifies your agreement and compliance with the legal disclaimer and privacy policy.

Firefox 3 Best with IE 7 Built with Drupal