Part II: The industry in the digital age

  Social Media Horse Sense    Part II: Industry Issues In The Digital Age       By Peter J. Sacopulos       This is the second article in a two-part series on social media for Thoroughbred trainers. Part I appeared in the Winter 2017 issue. It examined social media usage and issues faced by trainers who wish to promote their business online. This installment focuses on broader issues facing the racing industry and how trainers can use social media to affect positive change and ensure the future of the sport.       In 1868, the publication of the The American Stud Book sparked the establishment and phenomenal growth of organized horseracing across the United States. America’s first racetrack had opened in colonial New York in 1665, and racing was popular in various areas of the country ever since, particularly the south. But the arrival of the first U.S. Thoroughbred registry was the game changer that transformed racing into a truly national sport.       This year marks the 150th anniversary of the American Stud Book’s debut, but do not expect much in the way of celebration. America’s Thoroughbred racing industry currently faces a slew of challenging issues, and the future of the sport is far from guaranteed. Another historic game changer would certainly be welcomed, but today’s problems will not likely be resolved with a single stroke. Odds are that positive, popularity-driving change will unfold via a variety of initiatives and approaches over time.        Since these efforts will take place in the digital age, the power of social media will play a vital role in their success or failure. Proponents of racing will seek to harness social media to succeed. Opponents of racing will do everything they can to use social media to foil such efforts. This dynamic has already been playing out online for years, and we may expect it to intensify in the years ahead.       As a trainer working to build a business and a reputation, you may feel that dealing with larger industry issues is someone else’s responsibility. After all, you have plenty on your plate, and the people addressing the industry’s problems are the experts on these matters, so they should be able to handle them.        Though this line of thinking is perfectly understandable, it is a mistake. Positive change and growth that assures a healthy future for the industry increases your opportunities and helps assure your future as a trainer. Your professional voice on social media matters, and adding it to the chorus promoting racing is a wise investment of your time and energy. However, before discussing ways social media may help combat industry issues, a review of the issues is in order.        Declining Popularity    For decades, the steady decline of Thoroughbred racing’s popularity has been a serious challenge facing the industry in the United States. It remains so today. Before you type a phrase such as “Popularity of horseracing in the U.S.” into your computer’s search engine, brace yourself for some very dispiriting results. You will be presented with a list of articles with titles including “Horse Racing Fading in Revenue, Popularity” (Newsweek, 2016), “American Horse Racing Isn’t Dead–But It’s Getting Awfully Close” (The Guardian, 2015), “Horse Racing Faces Decline in Popularity” (The Sport Digest, 2016) and “The Kentucky Derby and the Slow Death of Horse Racing” (The Atlantic, 2012).       American horseracing was tremendously popular in the years before World War II, when it was one of the country’s favorite sports, along with baseball and boxing. Its popularity declined after the war, but still remained high. A slowly stewing combination of factors began gnawing away at it in the 1950s and ‘60s. The appearance of three Triple Crown winners in the 1970s created a resurgence of public interest, but the renewed enthusiasm proved fleeting.        It would take a book to detail all the causes of racing’s fading popularity, but the rise of other sports and other forms of gambling and entertainment played crucial roles, as did suburbanization and repeated economic downturns. The fact that a surprisingly small number of “superstar” horses and riders have emerged over the last four decades further dampened public interest. A lack of cohesive marketing was also to blame. When racing failed to capture the imagination of the Baby Boom generation and those that followed, the industry appeared to do little to counter the loss of interest.       The Dark Side Of Racing    And then, there is the dark side of racing—a series of issues that continue to alienate the public.  Fans sour on the sport and play into the hands of racing’s and gambling’s most outspoken opponents. I am speaking of cheating and animal abuse.       Cheating involves betting scams and race fixes, the administering of illegal performance enhancing drugs, the use of shock devices, and other frauds. Illegal drugs and “buzzing” qualify as animal abuse, as do beatings and other punishments. Abuse also includes the reckless, inappropriate, and irresponsible use of legal drugs. Ultimately, the most disturbing form of abuse may be the attitude that horses are disposable, meant to be used up and cast aside or destroyed, as if they are the equivalent of the tires on an Indy car rather than living creatures.        The industry has failed to effectively deal with these practices for far too long. Schemes, scams, and abuse must be put to an end if the public’s confidence in the honesty and integrity of the sport are to be restored. If horseracing does not begin seriously policing itself, it is likely that sooner or later, ever more powerful government entities will. It is also likely that government action will occur after a major scandal that further alienates both fans and the general public—a scandal that would surely spread like wildfire on social media.       Other issues are playing out in local statehouses and racing commissions, the U.S. Congress, and IRS headquarters. These include health and safety regulations, immigration and guest worker policies, and various tax policies that impact the racing industry and pari-mutuel gambling winnings or losses.       A Lesson From History    It is understandable that one might feel overwhelmed by the multiple issues facing not only our industry, but you as trainers as well. Suppress that feeling; there is reason for hope. American horseracing has been declared doomed before, only to come back stronger than ever. In the early 1900s, a nationwide anti-gambling movement—bolstered by an ugly scandal involving corrupt bookies and widespread betting fraud—shuttered many of America’s tracks and succeeded in racing being banned in many states. The Jockey Club’s reform efforts and the establishment of the pari-mutuel betting system are credited with saving the sport.    The bottom line? There’s no future in getting discouraged. You can be an agent of positive change, and social media can greatly increase your ability to do so.       An Organized Approach    Joining suitable professional organizations is an ideal first step to adding your voice to racing-issue-oriented social media. There are several organizations and associations devoted to horse trainers in the U.S. These include the American Horse Council, The National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the American Horse Council, the Thoroughbred Racing Associations of America, the American Horseman’s Association, and more.       Every effective industry organization has a website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed. These organizations may also have a YouTube channel, plus Instagram and Snapchat feeds. All offer excellent opportunities to engage in issue-related social media. Getting started is as simple as viewing content (site blogs, Facebook postings, videos, etc.) and clicking “like” on the posts you appreciate or with which you agree. You may add relevant comments, share existing links on your own social media accounts, and forward links to appropriate parties. You may also follow them on Twitter, share their content through retweeting, comment through your own tweets, and participate in active conversations by using hashtags.       Organizations also create and promote online petitions and messages that address industry issues. These make it convenient for you to make lawmakers or other decision-makers aware of your opinion on issues. You simply sign the petition or message, and the organization handles delivering it to the appropriate parties.        Upping Your Game    As with using social media to promote your training business, taking your issue-oriented social media presence to higher levels requires time and effort. Creating and posting content is essential, whether you stick with brief formats like tweets or Instagram posts, or take on more serious challenges such as blogging or creating video posts. You may also create, circulate, and promote petitions, and email or tweet politicians and other decision makers.       And as with utilizing social media to promote your business, you should observe several basic rules. Positions and the reasons for them should be well thought out and professionally presented. Avoid lecturing by way of social media. Listen to feedback. Realize that those on the opposite side of a contested issue may have valid points, and that sometimes you may change your mind or simply agree to disagree. Avoid emotionally driven responses and disrespectful forms of discussion. Do not get drawn into pointless back-and-forths with internet trolls and the stubbornly uninformed.       The Power Of One    Whether you choose to participate in industry-issue social media at a basic or high level, or somewhere in-between, remember that those who say one person cannot make a difference are wrong. Consider Virginia’s November 2017 state elections. Whether or not the Republican Party would maintain control the legislature eventually came down to a single seat. The initial vote count for that seat awarded the election win to the Democratic candidate by a single vote. After review, an unclearly marked ballot was thrown out of the tally, resulting in a dead tie. In accordance with state law, the matter was ultimately decided by random drawing held in early January. Republican David Yancey won the drawing. Had one voter marked his or her ballot more clearly, or one more person voted, the results could have been very different.       Your efforts to drive positive change may not create the level of impact that Sanders D. Bruce, author and founder of the American Stud Book, had on racing. But when it comes to industry issues and the future of our sport, your voice matters. Using social media is an effective method for being heard and bringing about positive change.       SIDEBAR #1. BODY COUNT: 317 WORDS)       Stronach’s Social Media Strategy    In May of 2016, the Stronach Group announced the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational, an annual, invitation-only stakes race limited to 12 of the world’s top horses. The first running of the Pegasus World Cup was in January, 2017, at Gulfstream Park, won by the previous year’s champion three-year-old male Arrogate over Horse of the Year California Chrome, was heavily promoted by way of social media. This year’s Pegasus closed out the career of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, who took home the prize on racing’s biggest payday.       The Stronach Group’s strategy is clear: Create a singular event that raises racing’s profile, expand its audience, and attract a younger fan base. In advance of the inaugural Pegasus, the Stronach Group announced the race’s celebrity spokesman: Conor McGregor, an Irish-born, mixed-martial arts (MMA) fighting champion. Smart, tough, and funny, the charismatic McGregor is a ruthless opponent and relentless trash-talker whose energetic, obscenity-laced self-promotion makes Muhammad Ali in his prime seem camera-shy by comparison.        McGregor had no connection to horseracing. Why, then, did the marketing professionals at Stronach select him? Social media, is why. When the Stronach Group hired him to promote the race, McGregor boasted 9.6 million followers on Instagram, 3.22 million on Twitter, and five million Facebook “likes.”        The Stronach Group created a series of comic promotional videos starring McGregor and actor Jon Lovitz, in which McGregor decides to become a jockey and win the new race. The videos were expensive to produce, but rather than pay to air them on traditional channels like network or cable TV, The Stronach Group posted them on Pegasus’ and McGregor’s social media platforms, YouTube, and other “free media” locations, then promoted the videos and the race via both traditional public relations and social media platforms. The final video also aired on NBC on race day.       The videos—which included scenes of McGregor in the buff, swearing a blue streak, and running the race on foot—received widespread press coverage. That coverage, combined with McGregor’s massive social media footprint, ensured millions of social media views for the Pegasus World Cup’s long-form ads.

By Peter J. Sacopulos

This is the second article in a two-part series on social media for Thoroughbred trainers. Part I appeared in the Winter 2017 issue. It examined social media usage and issues faced by trainers who wish to promote their business online. This installment focuses on broader issues facing the racing industry and how trainers can use social media to affect positive change and ensure the future of the sport.

In 1868, the publication of the The American Stud Book sparked the establishment and phenomenal growth of organized horseracing across the United States. America’s first racetrack had opened in colonial New York in 1665, and racing was popular in various areas of the country ever since, particularly the south. But the arrival of the first U.S. Thoroughbred registry was the game changer that transformed racing into a truly national sport.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the American Stud Book’s debut, but do not expect much in the way of celebration. America’s Thoroughbred racing industry currently faces a slew of challenging issues, and the future of the sport is far from guaranteed. Another historic game changer would certainly be welcomed, but today’s problems will not likely be resolved with a single stroke. Odds are that positive, popularity-driving change will unfold via a variety of initiatives and approaches over time.

Since these efforts will take place in the digital age, the power of social media will play a vital role in their success or failure. Proponents of racing will seek to harness social media to succeed. Opponents of racing will do everything they can to use social media to foil such efforts. This dynamic has already been playing out online for years, and we may expect it to intensify in the years ahead.

As a trainer working to build a business and a reputation, you may feel that dealing with larger industry issues is someone else’s responsibility. After all, you have plenty on your plate, and the people addressing the industry’s problems are the experts on these matters, so they should be able to handle them.

Though this line of thinking is perfectly understandable, it is a mistake. Positive change and growth that assures a healthy future for the industry increases your opportunities and helps assure your future as a trainer. Your professional voice on social media matters, and adding it to the chorus promoting racing is a wise investment of your time and energy. However, before discussing ways social media may help combat industry issues, a review of the issues is in order.

Declining Popularity

For decades, the steady decline of Thoroughbred racing’s popularity has been a serious challenge facing the industry in the United States. It remains so today. Before you type a phrase such as “Popularity of horseracing in the U.S.” into your computer’s search engine, brace yourself for some very dispiriting results. You will be presented with a list of articles with titles including “Horse Racing Fading in Revenue, Popularity” (Newsweek, 2016), “American Horse Racing Isn’t Dead–But It’s Getting Awfully Close” (The Guardian, 2015), “Horse Racing Faces Decline in Popularity” (The Sport Digest, 2016) and “The Kentucky Derby and the Slow Death of Horse Racing” (The Atlantic, 2012).

American horseracing was tremendously popular in the years before World War II, when it was one of the country’s favorite sports, along with baseball and boxing. Its popularity declined after the war, but still remained high. A slowly stewing combination of factors began gnawing away at it in the 1950s and ‘60s. The appearance of three Triple Crown winners in the 1970s created a resurgence of public interest, but the renewed enthusiasm proved fleeting.

It would take a book to detail all the causes of racing’s fading popularity, but the rise of other sports and other forms of gambling and entertainment played crucial roles, as did suburbanization and repeated economic downturns. The fact that a surprisingly small number of “superstar” horses and riders have emerged over the last four decades further dampened public interest. A lack of cohesive marketing was also to blame. When racing failed to capture the imagination of the Baby Boom generation and those that followed, the industry appeared to do little to counter the loss of interest.

The Dark Side Of Racing.....

 

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