Globalization, social media, and innovation were the topics du jour during Day 2 of the Harness Racing Congress on Sunday morning (March 3) at the Westin Beach Resort and Spa in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Of the three panels, the social media group, titled “The revolution will not be televised: The explosion of social media into racing’s consciousness,” generated the most interest and discussion on Twitter. Moderator Justin Horowitz, regional racing marketing manager at Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs, led the panel consisting of Rob Key, CEO of social media consultancy Converseon; Carie Lewis, director of emerging media at the Humane Society of the United States; and Ray Paulick, founder of leading independent Thoroughbred news website paulickreport.com.
Lewis, who gave tips on the type and frequency of posts organizations should put on Facebook, also advised organizations to set up Google alerts of their organization’s name to monitor online conversation. She said that looking at other companies successfully using social media is a good way to find ideas that could be implemented immediately. And outsourcing social media is not recommended, she added.
She said that while participation in social media may be easy to start, it takes dedication, diligence and professionalism to maintain.
“Social media is free,” she said. “Free like a puppy.”
Rob Key, son of prominent Pennsylvania owner and breeder Bob Key, showed those in attendance the importance of social media and gave tips on how to get started right away. He advised organizations to ask this question: What content would people want to share with their personal network?
“It is not about boiling the ocean,” he said. “There are things that can be done now, but it takes commitment.”
Key also recommended that all harness racing participants become more involved in social media, simply to provide greater transparency to those following the sport. Some examples: comments from drivers after a disappointing race, comments from judges after a ruling, or comments from connections of horses when they decide where to race next.
“People need to hear the cockpit transmissions,” he said.
Paulick, who said that “social media never sleeps,” praised the medium for its capability for any person to break news—whether within or without the media. He advised tracks to get somebody in-house to handle Twitter, Facebook and website updates, which all provide opportunities to engage and attract customers.
“If people on your staff can’t do social media, get rid of them and get somebody who can,” he said.
The final panel of the morning brought together some of the more innovative minds in racing to share their ideas. Titled “And now for something completely different” and moderated by harness racing broadcaster Gary Siebel, the panel consisted of entrepreneur and horse owner Eric Cherry, freelance writer and USTA website and Hoof Beats contributor Bob Carson, racing partnership administrator Jimmy Bernstein, and harnesslink.com founder and bloodstock agent John Curtin. A theme running through each presentation posited that harness racing’s future will be providing high-quality, engaging entertainment through digital means instead of on-track experience.
“This iPad connects the sport with [those with] the money,” said Carson, holding up the ubiquitous tablet device.
Carson urged racetracks to improve the digital presentation of harness racing, such as looking to Hollywood-type video talent to provide a new, exciting view of the sport.
Curtin said to concentrate on bettors—especially the way they perceive the sport’s integrity.
“If we want to keep gamblers in the business, we have to do something to improve the perception [of integrity],” he said.
Bernstein urged horsemen to take matters into their own hands and start marketing to new owners with their own dollars and energy.
“If horsemen don’t start doing stuff for ourselves, the results could be detrimental to the game,” he said.
Cherry said that in essence, people do not like change, but change is needed in the sport.
“For the long term, we need to start over,” he said. “We need to look at every rule, every nook and cranny, and make [harness racing] better for young people.”
The morning started with the globalization panel, moderated by Communicators’ Corner inductee Sam McKee of Meadowlands Racetrack. It was a discussion of how racing jurisdictions on different continents, in different time zones, with different past performance designs, could work together to share racing and increase wagering handle worldwide.
Panel participants included John Gallinger, president and CEO of Standardbred Canada; Tom Charters, president and CEO of the Hambletonian Society; Joe Asher, president and CEO of William Hill U.S.; and Michael Taranto, a breeder and owner from Australia.
With so many variables, it is not easy to share racing signals and data, but can be done with diligence.
“There are challenges to international distribution; it takes work,” said Gallinger. “Our roles at Standardbred Canada are to provide data formats that are easily adaptable into formats that are familiar [with local handicappers].”
Charters spoke on how adjusting the race times of the Hambletonian and Breeders Crown races to accommodate international entities has led to impressive handle numbers, especially on Hambletonian Day trotting races when simulcast to France.
Taranto stressed that many obstacles can be overcome if the racing product is attractive to bettors, meaning large field sizes and competitive racing.
“If the product is that strong, [regardless of the time of day it is simulcast locally], people will find it and bet on it,” he said.
Asher, who runs a series of sports and racebooks in Nevada, agreed.
“People will bet early in the morning or late in the evening on a product that is interesting,” he said.