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Sunday, May 31, 2009

What Would the Commish Do?

"Does all of this excitement "save" racing and bring us back to our glory days? I don't think so—because racing doesn't need a savior."
~ The NTRA CEO in his latest post Thoughts from 35,000 feet

My retort: Nope, we need just a commissioner, with some backbone and who has authority to make decisions for the well being of the sport. Why Hollywood Park for the next accreditation, a facility that most likely will be condos this time next year?? Does that make sense?

In addition to my comment, 15 other brave souls also commented. What would the over/under on a blog post by NBA commissioner David Stern be during the NBA Finals? Certainly more than the 16 generated by racing's CEO during Triple Crown season. But I digress. The two main chords that were struck here are: (1) Why the heck did the NTRA accredit Hollywood Park with all the turmoil and unknown that track is currently facing and; (2) Do we need a commissioner with authority?

Here are some of the better comments that touched on the Hollywood Park issue:

"I agree with other posters, why spend the time and resources accrediting Hollywood Park when its days are numbered? According to what I understand for accreditation, Hollywood Park spent $15,000 and the NTRA spent an additional $15,000 to perform the site inspection and other essentials. Why? Isn't that simply throwing away $30,000? Where was the NTRA or anyone else for that matter when the Inglewood City Council held public meetings to decide whether to pass the environmental impact report for the development? The minutes even show that the city council specifically said that the leadership of horse racing should have been present. It's likely that in a year the track will be a rubble pile much like Bay Meadows is now." ~Concerned in CA

"I'm very concerned about the future of Santa Anita given the track is about ready to be auctioned. What are the chances that racing will continue there after 2009 if ownership changes? It's already bad enough that we are going to lose Hollywood Park. " ~John Tucker

Concerned in CA's comment was right on point. She gets it. Why weren't racing's leaders at the public hearing? Makes no sense to me. What is our sport's position on losing a prestigious track such as Hollywood Park? Perplexing that only a grass roots effort is being put forth to save the track. (There is a website which outlines the issues and what you can do to help at

My commissioner comment also received some traction with others:

"Alex, my friend, as much as I respect and deeply admire you, you are the candy-man incarnate. Gene the Machine is spot-on: only one thing will save this sport, and it's the same thing that saved baseball after the Black Sox scandal; saved football from the AFL and basketball from the ABA; saved hockey from itself; and helped propel the PGA Tour to heights unimagined -- a Commissioner! As of this writing, only two "major" sports remain without a Commissioner -- horse racing and tennis, and both are on their proverbial death-beds. Jeez, Alex, how much more history do you need? Or, as my Dad liked to put it, "Whadda need, a building to fall on you, or wot (sic)?" And, please, don't tell me it can't be done. Don't give me all the "too many independent jurisdictions ..." and "too much state involvement" song-and-dance. With giants like Bob Lewis and Jim McKay before their deaths ... and more recently Gary Stevens, Jerry Bailey, Randy Moss, Andy Beyer, and others all on public record crying-out for a Commissioner, why does our game's (arguably) most powerful and influential figure -- YOU -- continue to dodge the concept like the plague? Where is that blog?" ~Octave-the-in Rave

"When I hear talk about "saving the sport", it usually strikes me as very self-serving. I'm a fan, in no way connected with the industry........if you're serving yourself instead of me, don't ask me to save you. If the sport were to become truly motivated by what was good for the public, then the public would become motivated to support it." ~Screamingbird

"I cannot agree with your statement that racing doesn't need to be saved. It does; from its leadership that continues to remain apathetic towards its customer and unyielding to work together for the benefit of all. Horse racing's future is anything but rosy. Betting is everything in this game and the average age of the bettor is getting older and older. Perhaps you were serendipitous in finding a twenty something who knew about horse racing. Most young people have no idea and no interest in the sport because at some point the sport stopped trying to get their attention. Horse racing gave up a long time ago on its customer and became too self-absorbed. Now we're feeling the effects of that. Horse racing will always exist, what form though depends on what actions and what lengths the leadership is willing to take." ~Concerned in CA

"This sport needs a central authority, central marketing, international connections, modern track facilities to draw a younger audience, art events, music, so much could be done! One successful Triple Crown season cannot do enough for the sport - we can learn from the NBA how it is done. One Michael Jordan was not enough to make the NBA what it is today, either." ~Angelika Hala

"Thanks for wanting our input: 1. Get a Commisioner (sic): racetracks are like teams, they need to co-ordinate the rules. Get a commissioner and "they will come." ~Rachel A. (for real!)

Hmm...even though there were only a couple handfuls of commenters, the theme was ringing loud and clear. Do you think Roger Goodell would squander money on a track that could go dark, or would he be out fighting for the track to survive? Bud Selig suspended Manny 50 games for powerful an example is that? So, what would a real commish do...go accredit a track being turned into mixed-use development or go to the meeting to try and prevent its demise?


Glenn Craven said...

I'll definitely go on record as saying U.S. horse racing needs a national commissioner.

As for the big in one comment about "one Michael Jordan" not being enough to promote the NBA, he might not have been the only thing, but he was the most important thing. I played basketball, I enjoy watching college basketball, but the NBA stinks. ... Yet I would watch (the finals only) solely for Jordan. ... Nobody now, not even LeBron, interests me like that.

The NBA is a poor example to cite, I believe, if we're trying to pattern horse racing management after another sport. The NBA is all marketing and individual stars; physical greats in a game otherwise poorly played. (As Oscar Robertson wrote in the New York Times, "all dunks and 3-pointers with nothing in between.")

I'm not sure the marketing of horse racing CAN be wholly patterned after any other sport, but the NFL might be closest. It has a regular season that builds in intensity toward playoffs in which nearly every game is a can't-miss, culminating in a Super Bowl for which the advertising rates are the most expensive 30 seconds on television.

Baseball is hitting hard on the doping issue now, but ignored it for years, it's a league of tremendous haves (Yankees, Red Sox) and pathetic have-nots (Kansas City, etc.) and postseason ratings aren't particularly good.

The NBA and NHL (which I do watch, hockey, that is) let too darned many teams in the playoffs and they drag on forever. Over half the teams get in and the series are all seven games; too long.

For all but the elite drivers and teams, NASCAR has become nothing more than staying close enough to the front for long enough to keep your sponsor's logo on TV; winning for 30 or 35 of the 43 drivers each week is all but out of the question. Some are now overtly engaged in the "start and park," that is, get your car in the field, collect the bonus money for qualifying in the top 43, and shut the car down early in the race rather than risk wrecking it or breaking parts. ... Splendid sport that is.

Still, all of these sports do have better followings than horse racing. ... And doesn't that speak terribly ill of our favorite sport?

Racing fan said...

EquiSpace -

You are right on the money.

The problem with the NTRA, Alex, and other leaders is they have cushy jobs and they want everyone behind them when they lead.

That's not leadership. These are tough times. The industry is under siege. We need a leader that is going to take the hill or die trying. Not do good enough so he can hang around for another few years. Good enough is no longer good enough.

- Racing fan

Power Cap said...

Maybe it is just me but the only sports I continue to follow are horse racing and tennis. Even worse than those two niche sports is that I play another commissioner free sport called handball. Handball is the greatest game on two legs but hardly anybdy outside of the five boroughs knows about it. My co-workers accuse me of participating in ghetto sports. Maybe I have an undiagnosed Commissioner phobia or even worse a commissioner allergy.

EquiSpace said...

Glenn: Thanks for the support. I played college hoops and principally only watch college, although I've been watching more NBA lately due to Kobe, Melo and LeBron. However, I do think they have a strong commissioner who has authority and is empowered to do what's best for the game.

Racing fan: We're on the same page.

PC: We agree to disagree. After reading your post, it seems that a strong, empowered commissioner is exactly who could enact the changes you suggest for racing. If we annoint another figure head I agree with your assessment. What I'm saying is give the office the authority to right size the game and make changes...

Thanks all for reading.

Anonymous said...

The NTRA concept merely facilitates a bunch of useless opportunists, each with his or her hand out, just trying to etch a salary out of membership dues. This organization does essentially nothing (seen Lori Petty lately???) and the only tiny discernable difference to fans and horsemen alike brought the minimum "mystery voucher" from $2 to $5 for two or three years - big deal!

The idea of a "National Racing Commissioner" is similarly moronic. That does no more than to alter one person's priorities from actually helping racing to thrive again, to his own self-interest. This would come at the expense of every other person directly or indirectly tethered to racing in any region.

"Horse Racing", at its core, is no different than poker in that horse racing is as much a part of the background of society as is that dusty deck of cards off in a drawer at every household in the land.

Come to think of it: Is there a national poker commissioner???

Racing's problems center around a false adjustment of its priorities which have been shifted away from the guy paying the two bucks at the window. The fees which make racing go are extracted from that two bucks - make that person, who pays the freight, the sole priority!!!

Horse OWNERS have and continue to cause their own problems, and have become the scourge of racing. Horse racing on this continent is so botched up that each time an owner makes another bid at auction he or she is contributing more to the problem than to the solution!!!

It is horse owners, each playing a separate, speculative game, who are the ONLY reasons why the perceived 'value' of a thoroughbred race horse exceeds that of a ping-pong ball.

Ask yourself: How much more money is wagered on valueless ping-pong balls in our society than on seemingly "valuable" thoroughbred race horses?

Once racing wakes up and moves its customers to the very top of the list of priorities, then and only then can it thrive as poker has done quite nicely over the past twenty years!

Just what is the street "value" of those decks of cards seen all over ESPN during the World Series of Poker?

If you cannot be part of the solution, then please refrain from continuing as part of the problem.


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