By day, Dana Byerly is a user interface architect, trying to ensure that web-based applications are as intuitive and easy to use as possible. By night (and weekends!), she is the editorial and design faction of the fan education site Hello Race Fans!, trying to ensure that horse racing is as easy to understand and connect with as possible.
What was your motivation for creating this site and has it changed over the years?
When my friend and Hello Race Fans! partner Adam Wiener and I first became obsessed with racing in 2006 there wasn't a lot of material available about handicapping and wagering online, at least beyond the basic mechanics of “how to place a wager”, etc. Our main motivation was to create the site that we wished had existed when we went crazy for horse racing.
Just by my own casual observation it seems that friends or family introduced many, if not most actively-engaged fans to racing. One of our guiding principles as we conceptualized the site was to have it be the digital equivalent of that friend or family member for those not fortunate enough to have one. That motivation hasn't changed.
Based on that principle we set out with the premise that fans and players can learn as much from each other as they can from experts and we built the site around that, putting together what I consider to be a great cast of contributors. Our approach has been to share our observations and opinions with a focus on helping people create and trust their own opinions.
One refinement we've made since our initial launch in 2010 is to create content geared towards getting and keeping people more in touch with racing throughout the year. For example, we do a Weekly Roundup to help people stay plugged-in and create a narrative thread to the year. This year, contributing editor Kevin Martin started doing a Month Ahead post to give people who aren't as familiar with the racing calendar an idea of what's coming up. And then there are the unexpected opportunities, such as the short-lived HBO series Luck. Contributing editor Jessica Chapel came up with the idea for our Understanding Luck series that explained the racing concepts in each episode.
How did you get involved in horse racing and what turned it into a passion for you?
I got involved in horse racing by fantastic coincidence! I had never watched a race before in my life, but one Saturday afternoon I was channel surfing and as I flew past the channels focused only on the show titles, I noticed one channel said “Horse Racing”. Still flipping forward I thought to myself “horse racing?” I clicked back & tuned in as they were introducing the horses for the race. I found it enthralling despite not understanding a thing anyone was saying. I immediately went to Google learn more about racing and didn't get too far.
Not long after my random encounter, Adam mentioned to me that he gone to the track with a friend and really enjoyed it. He explained that he'd gone to the track as a kid with his grandfather and that his random return reminded him of how much he had enjoyed it. We like to joke that the next words out of his mouth were the truest words he ever spoke: “I think you'll really like it.”
It took us awhile, but eventually we went to the track together in the spring of 2006 (Coaching Club Oaks day at Belmont). He stood in front of a toteboard, making a sweeping Fantasy Island hand-gesture and said “welcome to your future!” (the second truest thing he ever said). We had a great time and vowed to come back, but it didn't turn into a passion for me until I started to figure out how to handicap.
By the time the 2006 Breeders' Cup came around, we had been to the track three times and started to get the hang of it. Our friend Joan sent us past performances in advance of the Breeders' Cup and THAT's when we both caught the fever.
If you could accomplish any one goal with Hello Race Fans!, what would it be?
Good question. I think it would be for potential and curious fans to feel like they can have their own relationship to racing. So much of the material that's out there for new folks who want to engage more deeply with racing assumes that everyone's goal is to become a serious, long-term player who must show a profit. That can be off-putting for folks who just want to spend some summer afternoons at their local track, having a good time whether they come home with extra money or not.
Maybe those folks will eventually want to get serious with their game or maybe racing will be an increasing part of their entertainment budget with no expectation of getting a return. I guess the short answer is “create a welcoming environment for people to learn about all aspects of Thoroughbred horse racing.”
Which topic are visitors to your site most interested in learning more about? How do you measure this interest level?
I spend a fair amount of my time monitoring our traffic with an eye towards search terms, referrals and path through the site. Different types of visitors are interested in different things.
We have three basic types of visitors: 1) the Triple Crown/Breeders' Cup traffic 2) the visitor who comes in for something specific and leaves after finding it and 3) the visitor who comes in and inhales 10-20 pages, spending a significant amount of time on the site.
The Triple Crown/Breeders' Cup crowd is interested in getting to know the field and race-specific wagering strategy, and we create content specifically for them. The other two types of visitors are a mixed bag of interests but generally skewed towards handicapping. We've certainly been able to adjust approaches or add new types of content based what we're seeing in our traffic, and our traffic has been trending up since we launched our full-featured site in 2010. So far this year, we're up 3-fold over the same time period last year.
What do you see as the barriers to involving new fans in the sport of horse racing?
Well, I guess that depends on how you define involvement. People can't get involved with something that they don't know exists, so count me as an advocate for more racing on TV, particularly since it played a crucial role in my introduction to racing. And I have to think that the part of the reason for our traffic being up is expanded racing coverage as we always see upticks in traffic around telecasts.
But one thing that always struck as me odd is the notion that racing is hard to understand. I think you'd be hard pressed to find a person who doesn't understand the concept of “whoever crosses the finish line first wins”, yet there's never a shortage of cries to essentially dumb-down racing. Building on the inherent simplicity of the win/place/show wagers and making it easy for people to get help at the track is a straightforward way to help people have a good experience. I think the folks at HorseplayerNow.com do a great job with their on-site track seminars – being able to get help at the track goes a long away towards being engaged. Having semi-clean, functioning restrooms and fairly-priced, decent food also helps ensure that people might want to return! I think a poor customer experience at the track is certainly a barrier for involvement.
It's heartening to see the industry take an interest in fans and fan education. There are plenty of fan education resources out there, both independent and official (and we link to all the ones we know about on our Links page!), so it's definitely getting easier for someone new to connect or reconnect. But once they do get interested and learn more about the industry, the barriers to involvement change a bit. I would go so far as to say there is probably a spectrum of barriers to involvement.
What has surprised you the most about novices or newcomers and their views about horse racing?
Honestly nothing since I was a newcomer/novice not that long ago… it's great being one's own subject matter expert!
Have you had success in turning casual fans into owners through partnerships or traditional means?
I doubt it since we just rolled out our first bit of content on ownership this month. I'm also not sure how we'd measure that unless someone came back and specifically told us that we were part of the reason that they took the plunge. But, our “Is a partnership right for you?” post did get a lot of traffic. We hope that as people do their due diligence that they find that post helpful. Our panelists spoke pretty frankly and did a great job of laying out a lot of considerations.
Why do you think you've been able to attract partnerships from high profile companies like the Breeders' Cup and Brisnet?
Based on conversations I've had with both I'd say it's two fold: 1) they believe that what we're doing is important and want to support the effort and 2) they feel it's important to get their brand in front of new and casual players. Plus, we're fun to work with! You can confirm that last bit with our sponsors…
What would you like to do with Hello Race Fans! in the future that you haven't been able to accomplish yet?
When we were in the planning stages of the site, we created a content plan that included everything under the sun that we thought we might want to do. We boiled it down to the basics, launched with that and have been working off of that list ever since. In fact our recent posts on ownership were on the initial list so it's satisfying to see that come together. I think our discussion style posts, like the one on partnerships and this one on the handicapping process, are some of our most successful posts as they present a wide range of opinion and interpretation of the subject at hand. In the near future, we'll be rolling out more discussion posts.
As far as future accomplishments go, Adam and I have 30 years combined experience in online media publishing, plus I've been working in software design for eight years. I would love for us to be able to put our expertise to good use for various industry initiatives, particularly with regard to online publishing.
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