02/29/2016 1:54PM

Giwner: USTA Directors vote to extend Social Media initiative

The Harness Racing Fan Zone will live on for at least one more year.

The votes everyone has been waiting for came up Monday morning at the United States Trotting Association’s Board of Directors meeting. Would the organization continue to support its Social Media efforts with the firm Converseon and would it set aside funds to support potential national broadcasts of major events?

In the end, both items passed in a landslide, with the social media portion winning by a 31-4 margin and the television issue resulting in a 39-3 final tally. The social media budget was set at $250,000 while television was allotted $120,000 with a $37,500 limit per event.

While the votes were anything but close, the issue brought about a fair amount of discussion and controversy.

USTA Director John Brennan (District 12) asked that the voting be completed via secret ballots because he felt there was some bullying going in the room. That motion was defeated after a vote.

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Many people questioned the lack of metrics delivered by Converseon over the two years that it has handled the social media initiative under the leadership of Rob Key. Both Gabe Wand (District 4) and Brennan cited the lack of concrete numbers.

“We spent over a half-million dollars,” said Brennan. “I don’t think that we are in a position to be spending this money.”

Wand also brought up a budget he was shown by Key showing $1 million in spending for 2016, a total well above the $250,000 approved on Monday. USTA Communications Director Dan Leary was quick to point out that there was a $250,000 and a “wish list” budget if the initiative could receive additional funds from tracks and horsemen groups.

One of the more vocal people in the room was Meadowlands General Manager and CEO Jason Settlemoir. He spoke from the heart about the importance of the issues.

“You are about to vote on two important issues. This is about my future, your future and everybody’s future in harness racing,” said Settlemoir.

Even Settlemoir, who clearly supported both measures, admitted that perhaps the social media campaign hadn’t been “perfect” and that was a general consensus that more oversight was needed.

“We need to approve it for this next session and give him (Rob Key) more direction,” said USTA President Phil Langley, who planned on forming a committee with names like Allison Conte, Emily Gaskin, Tony Alagna, Nick Salvi, Gabe Wand and others to oversee the project.

Chairman of the Board Ivan Axelrod was clear that he would sit down with Key and make it clear that he needed deliverables between “now and December 31”.

Before the meeting concluded, Settlemoir made a plea to those in the room to work together in managing the continuing horse shortage situation in the Northeast. He pointed out that the entry box at the Meadowlands was down 20% that morning due to the opening of Saratoga Raceway and it would only get worse. He asked if Langley would form a committee to discuss racing dates for tracks in the Northeast.

Langley agreed to form the committee but felt the issue was complicated. “Is it the USTA’s goal to have as many people involved as possible or to have some tracks stronger,” mulled Langley?

Rules changes

Three rule changes which could affect handicapping to some degree were also announced.

1.       County fair tracks are now required to supply the same charting information as pari-mutuel tracks.

2.       If a recall occurs in a race the Past Performance lines must indicate the incident. How this would be done was left for future discussion.

3.       The amount of time a horse may be absent from racing without qualifying has been extended from 30 days to 60 days.