12/10/2004 1:00AM

NTRA to take a look in the mirror


TUCSON, Ariz. - The National Thoroughbred Racing Association will establish benchmarks for handle growth and its marketing programs in an effort to evaluate its effectiveness, NTRA officials said Friday during the closing panel at the Symposium on Racing.

A benchmark will be established for handle growth over the next six years. NTRA officials said the organization's board would determine what the benchmarks should be by the end of the first quarter of 2005, as part of an effort to re-evaluate the NTRA's role as the industry's league office.

The NTRA board met recently and requested that the organization do a better job of measuring whether its programs were effective. The NTRA was officially established in 1998 with the mandate of increasing racing's long-term health, through a mix of advertising, marketing, and lobbying programs.

D.G. Van Clief, the president of the NTRA, said during the panel that the NTRA wants to make racing a "top 10" sport by 2010, and that the organization would "tie our success to specific, tangible handle results." Van Clief said racing is currently ranked as the 11th most popular sport in the U.S., by fan interest.

The goals are part of a broader re-evaluation of the NTRA. As part of the project, the NTRA has decided to cancel its cooperative advertising program and focus more on public relations. The co-op advertising program allowed member tracks to use NTRA-produced advertising materials, but its use has not been consistent among NTRA tracks. The advertising program also included a national component funded by the NTRA with the intention of raising awareness of racing, but the program could not "break through the clutter," Van Clief said.

"Our strategy is going to change," Van Clief said. "It's our belief that today it's not achieving the leverage effect we had initially planned."

Keith Chamblin, the NTRA's director of marketing and industry relations, said that the NTRA will focus its efforts instead on increasing television coverage for racing and tying national wagers to the programs. The effort is to create several "big-event" days from after the Belmont Stakes until the Breeders' Cup in the fall.

During those broadcasts, the NTRA will also focus on handicapping techniques and wagering, Chamblin said, along with what the NTRA called "edutainment." The goal will be to get more racing fans to gamble on the sport.

"We know that national wagers work," Chamblin said. "They create fan interest, and they deliver revenues to tracks and horsemen."

In other Symposium news:

* Television Games Network will introduce interactive wagering through its network in the second quarter of 2005, the company's chief executive officer, Ryan O'Hara, said Friday. The interactive features will allow bettors to wager through an interface using their television's remote control.

* Delaware Park will begin offering two new wagers at its 2005 meet, according to officials of the group that developed the bets. One of the wagers, called the Group Bet, will allow bettors to wager against the favorite and receive the rest of the field. The bet will pay off at the inverse of the favorite's odds. For example, a winning wager on the group bet in which the favorite was 1-2 will pay 2-1. The other wager, the Choose Six, will allow players to choose any six races on a card for a pick six bet.

The bets have both been patented by Cantor Index, a division of the financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald, and are being marketed by Scientific Games, the totalizator company. Scientific Games and Cantor will receive a small percentage of each bet, according to Joe Asher, a Cantor official.

* Paul Berube, the longtime president of the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, is retiring in early 2005, officials said. Berube has been with the bureau for 35 years, and was appointed president in 1988. A search process for a new president is under way, and Berube will stay on until the replacement is named.

* The Thoroughbred Racing Association board on Thursday approved a plan to study whether the industry should create its own betting exchange, the Internet gambling operations that match bettors to each other. Betting exchanges have become popular in Europe, but the legality of the exchanges in the U.S. is questionable. In addition, the exchanges have been criticized for allegedly introducing opportunities for corruption.

* Lonny Powell will leave the Association of Racing Commission-ers International as of Feb. 1 to join Youbet.com as that company's vice president of public affairs. Powell was the executive director of the RCI for the past three years. He will be based in Lexington, Ky., Powell said Friday.