12/08/2015 12:41PM

Symposium: '45 Ideas' panel proves popular


TUCSON, Ariz. - The Symposium on Racing and Gaming this year kicked off on Tuesday with a somewhat risky session in which five panelists were asked to deliver nine new ideas each that could impact the racing industry, and if the size of the audience was the measure, it was a rousing success.

The conference room at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort here, where the panel was held early on Tuesday morning, was standing-room only, indicating the rapid-fire restriction of the panel and its peculiar format certainly had entertainment value for attendees. Whether any of the ideas - which ranged from the formful to the fanciful - will have any impact on the game is another matter entirely.

Certainly, some of the ideas had been aired prior to the Symposium panel, including several calls to reimplement programs that have died or stalled, such as the industry’s ill-fated attempt to band together to fund a national marketing campaign in the late 1990s. Others, however, were far more novel, including several calls to begin experimenting with takeout rates and purse structures, with a piggybacked idea to study the results of such experiments in-depth.

The format allowed each of the five panelists one minute to explain each of their ideas, on a rotating basis, which did not allow for much introspection or any debate. The panelists were: Steve Byk, the host of a horseracing satellite-radio show; Daryl Kaplan, the editor of Trot Magazine; Steve Koch, the director of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Safety and Integrity Alliance; Peter Rotondo, the vice president of media and entertainment for Breeders’ Cup Ltd.; and Amy Zimmerman, the director of broadcasting for The Stronach Group.

Despite the shallow format, some quixotic ideas certainly generated food for further thought. Koch notably said that racing needs to approach the International Olympic Committee with a proposal to add “one or more Thoroughbred racing events” to the event, which is held every four years in various locations around the world. The IOC certainly has the pedigree for adding events – golf will return to the Summer Olympic Games in Rio next year, a prospect that has electrified the international golfing community – and, as Koch noted, the Olympics already holds a variety of equestrian events. As a measure of the idea’s intrigue, several other panelists returned to the idea later in the session, as did several other officials after the panel.

A basket of ideas touched on the need to deal with racing objections and disqualifications more efficiently and transparently, by centralizing replay offices and requiring public explanations of decisions through a variety of formats, much as most other major sports do. Marketing was a frequent subject, with several advocating for more intense efforts to market to Latinos and families. Kaplan called for the mass marketing of tiny shares in horses, perhaps even sold at large retail locations, to be given as gifts.

While many of the ideas called for the implementation of a specific program, some were nebulous. Zimmerman, for example, saved for last a call for the industry to conduct its fights behind closed doors, in an indirect reference to the bitter, highly public infighting that has taken place over the past five years regarding the industry’s medication policies and drug testing, most notably in regard to the legal raceday use of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide.

“We need to stop fighting externally,” Zimmerman said. “It’s not all about [us versus them]. It’s all about all of us. Without all of us, there is no sport. And yet we insist on having these conflicts play out quite publicly. There is no other sport in the country that does this.”

Acknowledging that many of the ideas had little chance to be implemented, Koch closed the panel by saying the work that went behind the exercise had value in and of itself in that it would likely lead to far more detailed discussions among the racing officials gathered in the conference room.

“If even only a couple of nuggets stick from this, then congratulations to this whole room,” Koch said.