11/10/2015 12:02PM

Giwner: A new harness racing message

Derick Giwner

Back in July when the USTA conducted a summit dealing with the declining foal crops and attracting new owners, an idea popped into my head. With the stakes season in full flight and my mind perhaps elsewhere leading up to the Meadowlands Pace, I made a note to write something in the future.

There is no denying that harness racing has a perception issue. The public either views the sport as full of unsavory characters or just doesn’t know it exists, and changing people’s minds or becoming relevant is far from easy.

While I’m far from the No. 1 cheerleader for the Harness Racing Fan Zone, much of what they have done is along the lines of creating awareness and a positive image, and that is a good thing. But perhaps we need to push harder and shove the message right in the face of those that don’t believe or aren’t aware of the wonderful sport of standardbred racing.

[DRF HARNESS LIVE: Real-time insights every Saturday night. Meadowlands returns this weekend! Coverage starts at 6:50 p.m.]

We hear time and time again how highlighting our major events on television (cable or broadcast) is of paramount importance. I can agree as far as the Hambletonian since it has some “name” appeal, but does showing major races really sway people that harness racing is worth trying or change their minds if they had a negative view of the sport?

Instead, let’s produce the message we want people to see rather than the visual reality. I love the horses, but if we are going to sell the sport it is going to be through a personal connection, almost a plea to the audience that our sport is worth their time and attention.

Let’s get the drivers, trainers, owners and their families into the winner’s circle at a track to shoot a commercial. Let’s get the Yannick Gingras family, Jason Bartlett family, David Miller Family, John Campbell family, Ron Burke Family, Brian Brown Family, Joe Bellino family, etc.

And here is what they say:

Trainer: “We spend our days and nights at the track participating in the sport we love.”

Driver: “We are the people you see at the local store. Our kids go to school with your kids.”

Owner: “Whether as an owner or fan, there has never been a better time to experience harness racing.”

Driver: “We invite you to visit your local standardbred track to experience the thrill of harness racing.”

Everyone together: “It’s a great ride!”

I think we can get the above done in a 15-second spot, though I’m certainly not opposed to expanding it to 30 seconds. Obviously there would have to be a destination webpage created by the USTA so people can easily find their local track.

I recall something written by USTA President Phil Langley in 2014 that said the cost to produce a one hour show for a major racing event was $115,000. I just don’t see how that $115k is well spent on a one hour cable show that is likely to produce a small audience. I’m looking for quality of message over quantity.

Give me 15-30 seconds on a major primetime show where I’m reaching the people we need to transform into new fans. According to a quick Google search, it would cost $344,827 to place a 30-second spot on the most expensive show on network TV—“The Big Bang Theory”.  That is a lot of money, no doubt. But it seems like a small number when compared to the $382,494,725 (as of Nov. 8) paid out in purse money this year. Certainly we could run 10 commercials a year and everyone would survive with $379,046,455 in purse money. And I’m not saying that track ownership, breeding farms and others couldn’t lend a hand to eat some of the costs.

From my perspective, it is time to stop promoting only the obvious (racing) and start crafting a message that people can relate to on a personal level.