EQUIBASE STRIKES OUT

by | 11.17.2010 | 12:47am
By Ray Paulick
Equibase has been a financial success in the 19 years since it was created by the Jockey Club and member tracks of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations of North America. As a reader pointed out in a comment to yesterday's Paulick Report article on Thoroughbred racing's official database, Equibase paid out $3.6 million in dividends at the end of 2008 (that's $2.4 million for the TRA tracks and $1.2 million for the Jockey Club). An earlier press release said Equibase had paid out $24.6 million in dividends since 1998.

But how is the company doing in fulfilling the mission its founders established for Equibase?

Alan Marzelli, president of the Jockey Club and chairman of Equibase, said in 1990 the “promotion and betterment of racing is behind the decision” to start Equibase. The company's first president, David Haydon, said Equibase would “address racing's need for fan base expansion.”

Marzelli can point to the fact that the “industry” through Equibase since 1991 has owned its data, which previously had been collected and controlled by the Daily Racing Form. Limited portions of that data have been provided at no charge for promotional purposes to television, media and racetracks. Daily entries, jockey and trainers standings, and horse tracking software are available at no cost, as are race results for a limited time after a race is run. Equibase.com is a popular web site, by horse racing standards, though it pales in comparison with every other major league sport's Internet presence.

Equibase.com also strikes out, big time, when compared to what the other major league sports web sites offer in the way of free statistics to their fans. It wasn't until I started really digging around www.mlb.com (baseball), www.nba.com (basketball), www.nfl.com (football), www.pgatour.com and www.nhl.com (hockey) that I realized how woefully inadequate and misguided Equibase.com is as a sports information web site. It's a commercial site, pure and simple.

Other sports use their web sites in large part to provide information for fans who have an appetite for statistics, whether it's for the very popular fantasy leagues or for their own curiosity. It's truly amazing the scope and depth of information you can find on these other sites. The theory is that informed and educated fans are more likely to become engaged with a sport, and providing as much information as possible on the Internet, the undisputed No. 1 source for information gathering, is the way to inform, educate and engage them. It might take a while for those sports to capitalize on fans who visit the web sites; perhaps they'll go to a game, buy some team merchandise or at the very least provide a pair of eyeballs during televised events.

Racing can capitalize much quicker, since turning fans into horseplayers can be monetized through pari-mutuel wagering. You'd think racing would provide as much information as possible to fans in hopes of transforming them into paying customers, either at the racetracks or through legal online betting accounts. (There are rumors that some people bet on major league sports, too, but in the United States that's only legal in the state of Nevada, and the sports leagues don't get any of the revenue from those bets.)

Instead, however, Equibase, the official database of Thoroughbred racing, uses its web site in large part to promote its commercial ventures. Let's do a comparison:

I'm a baseball fan who grew up in the 1960s watching greats like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Ernie Banks (showing my Chicago Cubs bias). If I wanted to compare the lifetime statistics of any of those players to modern-day greats like Alex Rodriguez or Milton Bradley (just kidding), that information is just a click away at mlb.com.

Even better, if I wanted to see how Rodriguez or Bradley have done against pitchers like Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens, I could plug in the names and, voila, mlb.com gives me those statistics! (Click here for an explanation on how mlb.com's stats work.)

Now let's look at some racing greats. Say you wanted to compare the lifetime records of Cigar and Curlin, both of them two-time Horses of the Year in North America. Go to Equibase.com and click on the “search for products” dropdown menu on the left column. There you'll have an option for “lifetime PP's.” Type in the names of Cigar and Curlin, add them to your shopping cart, get out your credit card and buy the lifetime records of these two horses for $16. It's a slightly different fan experience.

Want to know how Cigar's trainer Bill Mott compares with Curlin's trainer Steve Asmussen? Sorry, but Equibase doesn't offer that kind of product. (It is available at the Jockey Club's other data company, equineline.com, for $7 per report.)

Equibase does offer some products for free, including what it calls E Leaders – horses in various divisions that have produced the fastest Equibase speed figures (a poor man's Beyer Speed Figure) for the year. I'm not sure how reliable these numbers are, though, since the highest speed figure for any horse racing in 2009 belongs to Researcher, who earned a 132 Equibase speed figure winning the Charles Town Classic Stakes in April. I guess in a sense you get what you pay for.

I'd tell you more about the Charles Town Classic winner, but Im not willing to spend the $8 for his past performances or buy the chart of his race from Equibase for $1.50.

Charging for lifetime past performances and race charts is just one of many commercial products available at Equibase.com. There are tip sheets selling for as much as $12.50 per racing program, charges for video replays, charts, pedigrees, etc.

Do yourself a favor and go to some of the other major sports web sites, and explore the vast, comprehensive information that these leagues are willing to provide to their fans at no cost. The data is so rich you might get lost for hours, but the result might be a closer bond between you and that sport. There is an investment involved, but these other sports are willing to make that investment to help build and maintain a fan base, especially among the youngest demographic that is most familiar with using the Internet for gathering information.

After you've seen some of these other rich and creative web sites, take a look at Equibase.com. I'd be interested in your comments comparing Equibase.com with other sport web sites.

Racing, through the Jockey Club and TRA, made an initial investment in Equibase nearly 20 years ago so that the industry could own its data. The hope I had then, and the hope I still have today, is that the people who run Equibase will look beyond the bottom line of their profit and loss statement, and begin to use the statistics that the industry owns to make horse racing more popular and more accessible. All they're doing now is making Equibase as profitable as it can be. It's a bean counter's mentality, and it's the kind of business philosophy that will stifle any prospect of industry growth.

Copyright © 2009, The Paulick Report

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