06/23/2017 8:38AM

Giwner: Where do we go from here in terms of marketing Harness Racing?

Joe Faraldo on marketing the sport: "Unless everyone can come together on a plan that works, it doesn’t make sense."

I read with interest in Harness Racing Update as driver Yannick Gingras spoke from the heart on many harness racing issues. One of the major themes centered on the need for a nationwide marketing plan to promote our industry.

The driver felt that a percentage of money should be taken out of every purse at tracks across the country and pooled together to hire a marketing firm that could lead the industry in the proper direction to appeal to the public.

Rather than beat around the bush, we took the question to those with the power in the casino-fueled states of New York and Pennsylvania. Both Sam Beegle, President of the Pennsylvania Harness Horsemen Association, and Joe Faraldo, equally titled at the head of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York, read what Gingras had to say and neither was opposed to the concept in theory.

[DRF HARNESS NEWSLETTER: Sign Up for the FREE DRF Harness Newsletter. Fresh content and insights delivered each week.]

Did they think their horsemen had an obligation to support harness racing on a national scale?

“Sure I do,” said Faraldo, “but unless everyone can come together on a plan that works, it doesn’t make sense. It is a complicated problem.”

“We want to do what’s good for everyone,” said Beegle. “I know [Yannick] is frustrated and I am too, but in Pennsylvania anything we do on a greater scale outside the state has to be shown to our commission. I spoke to Yannick and he understands.”

Beegle explained that there is $2.5 million set aside for marketing racing in Pennsylvania but there are restrictions. It would be a bit of a fine line on how to use money earmarked for Pennsylvania on a national basis. “Our law says we can market racing in Pennsylvania and only lets us use the money for certain things. We could potentially pursue a national program and say that our money will cover the Pennsylvania portion, but we can’t market races in New York and New Jersey.”

While he sees the importance of marketing, Faraldo was reluctant to commit money without an equal share coming from the track. “I say to Yonkers Raceway and everyone else out there, if you put up $50, I’ll put up $50. If you put up $100, I’ll put up $100. If you put up $10,000, I’ll put up $10,000. You put up half and I’ll put up half,” said Faraldo.

Never one to hide his feelings, Faraldo was also concerned that using purse money from the horsemen for a national marketing effort could be wasting it without management along for the ride.

“Marketing won’t help without a cooperative management,” said Faraldo. “Doug Warren, he used to be the head of the SOA of NY, would tell me that if you can’t give the customer a good experience then don’t waste your time marketing bad soup.

“My only intent is for the sport not to die. There are people on a lot of fronts who don’t care if it dies and want it to die, and in some cases the racetrack owners are the biggest enemy,” said Faraldo.

So, if everyone agrees that marketing is good but Pennsylvania can’t contribute to a national campaign and the SOA of NY is hesitant for multiple reasons, how do we move forward as an industry like other major sports leagues have done?

Logically the answer is we don’t. These same topics have been discussed for years with little to no movement and the trend seems likely to continue.

Perhaps Meadowlands General Manager Jason Settlemoir, who has been fighting for a national marketing campaign for nearly a decade, has the best solution. “I think we need to get everyone inside of a board room and not come out until we come together on a plan.”

I wonder, would that work?

Lock the President of every horseman’s association, the head of every racetrack, and each state’s racing commissioner in a room with no windows and no escape route. No one leaves until we have a viable unified plan for the future of Harness Racing. How long would it take? Hours? Days? Months? Years? Would all the men walk out years later with beards as long as the guys on Duck Dynasty?

Better yet, maybe it could be next year’s episode of Big Brother? We confine them all in a house and the group keeps voting someone out until only one person remains. The sole survivor (to borrow another reality show term) gets to make the decision on the best way to proceed for the entire sport.

That seems like must-see TV.

At least we’ll have a unified direction.