12/14/2015 11:29AM

Bergman: Harness racing can learn something from Donald Trump

Derick Giwner

Anyone that has listened to Donald J. Trump over the last few months has witnessed the incredible appeal both positive and negative of an antagonist. The media loves to love and loves to hate, and in Trump they get unequal parts of both.

Trump’s catapulting in the polls and immense presence on every form of media is vivid proof that the American public may be indifferent about politics but they love entertainment. Trump is a television star and as an A-list entertainer is quite aware of the camera and the microphone. That he is able to conjure up controversy wherever he travels just makes him a master at the art. That may not lead to a presidency, but in a nation that has an endless pre-presidential campaign Trump has managed to popularize the path and grow his own brand.

Trump is running in a race of his own just as nightly we put on harness races throughout this nation. The biggest difference between the two is one gets heard and the other is ignored. Much like those struggling to find a spot on the vast media network for political gain, we in this sport find ourselves unable to gain any traction whatsoever.

Trump is selling a story marked with good guys and bad guys. We are selling racing that is sugar coated and politically correct. At times some people say nasty things but for the most part our participants play very nice in front of the camera or to the news media.

It has been refreshing over the last few years to see more drivers looking enthusiastic in front of the camera, something we have collectively improved in the last decade. At the same time what fills the air is generally light and rarely combatively entertaining.

There are those in high positions in this sport that suggest it will not last over time. Yet many of those people appear to lack any imagination of how to change things.

Instead of trying to reshuffle ideas from the past it may finally be time to move into the Youtube clip generation and attempt to create videos that gain attention.

It’s easy to put up a clip of a horse race that is worth watching, but those clips only generate interest to people already aware of the existence. In order to gain any type of appeal there must be a unique storyline and a matching video. Donald Trump can make these moments anytime you put him in front of a microphone. We as a sport have collectively failed to produce a video relating to harness horses that has the potential to go “viral”.

Not all things that show up on Real TV are real. Most are choreographed in some way or written and re-written to come up with a finished product.

While I’ve always been an NFL fan, over the last few weeks I’ve become more of the opinion that some of the late drama that has occurred on Nationally-viewed games appears to be staged.

Is it just luck that there have been last second plays that decide the outcome of so many games?

Is it coincidence that the NFL is the only televised product that manages to captivate an audience for three plus hours? I mean this is a society that can’t stay focused on anything for more than 3 seconds yet somehow can keep its attention on a football game?

Dramatic finishes have become the norm and it compels the viewer to maintain interest to the finish.

Some could argue that during harness racing’s most successful days fields were tightly packed and finishes were routinely measured in noses and necks and not lengths.

Harness racing as a sport and a business is in a difficult predicament. How do you try to reach new markets while not alienating the existing one?

During this year’s Jug broadcast my head kept hurting while trying to watch the final turn of a race when the camera had zoomed in on the head and hooves of the leader and lost touch with the rest of the field. As a bettor I want to know if horses are trapped or moving wide during the critical part of the race. Perhaps the close-up of the leader is more dramatic (to some), but to those looking to cash an exacta or triple ticket it is irrelevant.

The broadcasting of an individual race is not going to bring us new customers. What we need to sell to any audience whether new or existing is entertainment. The public wants to be entertained and wants to know they are getting their money’s worth at the same time.  Storylines are a part of any entertainment program.

Professional wrestling has remained just as popular years after admitting that the “sport” was in fact “entertainment.” The subtlety of those words didn’t necessarily change how the events were being broadcast; it just made it necessary to come up with better continuous story lines.

Great writers are something to behold in a time where people are bored with the status quo.

I’m not sure there is very much we can do to change the dynamic of individual races. I’ve made suggestions to reward activity, but in today’s reality we must find pictures and stories that could potentially go viral. It’s the shortest path to gain attention and it may be the last hope for a great sport.

I find it doubtful that asking trainers to tell something about their horses on Twitter will have any impact on wagering or integrity in this sport. Reading an endless supply of the same “trained well” commentary just puts us in the category as those Facebook posters who need to tell you what they ate for breakfast this morning.

I say if we want to make an impact we need to be much more creative and pay attention to those able to sell a brand in today’s society.

If not president, how about Commissioner Trump?

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