Updated on 09/15/2011 1:35PM

Show of unity at Symposium end

John Eastwood
NTRA senior vice president Keith Chamblin discusses 2002 NTRA Internet/e-marketing initiatives Friday at the 28th Annual Symposium on Racing that include a revamped NTRA.com (background).

TUCSON, Ariz. - A day after Magna Entertainment chief executive Jim McAlpine faulted the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, officials of the two groups Friday declared that they were supportive of each other.

McAlpine, also an NTRA board member, and Tim Smith, the NTRA's chief executive, affirmed their commitments to each other on Friday afternoon just after the NTRA's annual year-end presentation at the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing here. The presentation focused on the NTRA's priorities for the next five years as part of what officials called "Phase Two" of the NTRA's existence. The NTRA was formed in April 1997.

Smith said that the NTRA is "stronger and more united than at any time in its history," although McAlpine's statements may indicate another rift between the NTRA and Magna, which threatened to withdraw from the group last year over some of the same concerns.

"This is one of our MVP board members, and he does his job to push us on fundamental questions of priorities of business," said Smith, referring to McAlpine.

"There is no rift. In fact, we're doing more things with Magna each quarter than we did the last quarter."

At a Thursday panel session at the Symposium, McAlpine said that the NTRA should stop its advertising campaigns and instead spend the $25 million for lobbying efforts to encourage deregulation of racing. McAlpine repeated the suggestion in an interview after the panel, calling the budget for advertising and marketing "a drop in the bucket."

On Friday McAlpine said, "Everyone's trying to make it look like we don't support the NTRA, but I didn't say anything yesterday that I don't say at board meeting," McAlpine said. "All I was trying to get across was that we have to keep reassessing the priorities going forward."

TVG responds to Magna

McAlpine's comments on the Thursday panel were also targeted on Friday by officials from Television Games Network, the 24-hour horse race broadcast and wagering company that is supported by the NTRA and many of the highest-profile racetracks in the country. McAlpine criticized TVG during the Thursday panel and afterward called into question the worth of the exclusive contracts that racetracks had signed with the company.

TVG and Magna have been unable to reach an agreement on whether Magna's tracks will be offered on the service. Magna says it should be allowed to sign contracts without any of the restrictions that other tracks have agreed to.

In a written response, TVG chief executive Mark Wilson called McAlpine's comments "amazing." "Magna's position that racing can still have a broadly distributed presence on television without content exclusivity means one of two things," Wilson wrote. "It either demonstrates a clear lack of understanding of the television and entertainment industries, or to the contrary, it demonstrates Magna's understanding that as the global media and entertainment industry continues to consolidate, it is unlikely that Magna will be able to compete successfully in this market and is only trying to keep TVG . . . from succeeding."

Wilson also wrote that the racing industry should "reject" any Magna telephone-wagering initiative that does not include television distribution over cable or satellite television."

Looking ahead

The NTRA avoided the issue of telephone wagering in California during its presentation, though Smith called the expansion of account wagering one of the NTRA's five primary goals for the next five years. He said the other priorities are focusing marketing efforts on infrequent visitors to the track; lobbying for deregulation; increasing the marketing efforts for the World Thoroughbred Championships; and "strengthening the organization" as a whole.

The NTRA has hired SWR Worldwide, a market research company, and results of SWR's first study into the habits of infrequent or "light" racing fans were presented during the panel. Part of the research showed that light fans viewed regular racetrack patrons as less responsible, less family-oriented, and less intelligent than themselves.

"There's some misperceptions out there," said Keith Chamblin, the NTRA's senior VP for marketing and industry relations. "They don't think we have a rich tradition either. Oh my goodness. That definitely means we can grab on to some things."

The NTRA also announced during the presentation that John Deere, the farm-equipment company, has signed on to be a title sponsor of the Breeders' Cup Turf and a series linked to the Turf. John Deere joins Bessemer Trust and Penske Auto Centers as seven-figure sponsors of the World Thoroughbred Championships.