Pope: Where’s the Game-Changing Innovation for Racing?

by | 10.03.2014 | 8:37am

A few weeks ago, Apple presented its latest innovations, including a smart watch and a new way of paying for goods and services. In a short time, the company has literally changed the world with its innovations. The investment necessary to create and deliver such innovations is driven by a profit motive.

Last summer, FIFA delivered game-changing innovation to World Cup soccer and reached billions of people. Their innovative production techniques brought us onto the field of competition in dramatic new ways that altered the perception, interest and enjoyment of the sport.  FIFA is growing fast. The investment in these innovations is driven by FIFA's aggressive, central profit motive.

Thoroughbred racing doesn't have that, does it? The question is how badly do we want it for our sport? And importantly, can we get there from where we are today?

Next week, members of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) will meet in Paris to talk about problems and opportunities in Thoroughbred racing. They will discuss ways to help each other, but without infringing on each other's wagering market. They will say how upset they are with the United States for withholding uniformity on drug rules.

While IFHA members may envy the success of FIFA soccer, they will not waste time talking about a sport structure that they, as racing authorities, cannot achieve.

That's because the racing authorities of IFHA are not a business unit. Each country is an island, separate from all others, with no central profit motive to join together and invest in game-changing innovation for the sport and its fans.  That makes them completely different from FIFA and other sports leagues.

Until recently, the revenue each racing country received from wagering was enough — not enough to invest in innovation and grow, but enough to keep racing going.  Without investment and innovation, any business is on borrowed time.

Allowing our sport to be controlled and limited to government racing authorities is why Thoroughbred racing does not have a central governing body and a central profit motive. It is why we do not have game-changing innovation.

How do the other sports do it? The other sports start at a disadvantage. They do not have the revenue crutch of legal gambling, so they are limited to live attendance, media rights and sponsorship.

That's why image quality, presentation and promotion are the most important investments the other sports make.  FIFA committed $150 million to media production of the World Cup soccer games alone to bring new people into their game and grow their business.

No racing country can go it alone as an island and make the investment necessary to create game-changing innovation for international racing because at the end of the day, it is not about the location, it is about the competition.

The billions of eyes watching the FIFA World Cup games did not care where the games were being played or what the facility provided. But the innovations in sight and sound put the viewer on the field of competition in a way that has changed the sport of soccer for new generations. The up-close and personal images penetrated the U.S. market beyond all expectations.

The game of soccer was not changed in any way. FIFA just invested heavily in new technology and production techniques tailored to their sport. Next time will be even better because each year technology will improve, and FIFA will grow and make more profit when more people are drawn into the drama of their game.

What would it look like for Thoroughbred racing? Can technology be used to bring viewers into our races in compelling new ways?  Can we use dramatic replays to excite and educate the viewers to our game? FIFA used 70 cameras and replays from every angle to achieve what the organization wanted. Each sport has its own drama. Once a proprietary look and feel is perfected for races, it can flow from country to country. That's what you need for a successful international sport. That can happen when a new structure is created with a central profit motive.

Thoroughbred racing cannot get there with the structure in place today. The racing authorities are not the answer, but they will need to buy into a new creation. Their role will not change. The participants in racing need to discuss how a new structure can be created that works with the racing authorities to deliver game-changing innovation to revitalize our international sport.

Innovation is not about gimmicks. It is not about new ways to wager; that will come. Game-changing innovation is about bringing our sport to the world audience in new ways to make viewers want to find the answer to which is the best horse in the race. We can bring new generations into the drama of Thoroughbred racing.

Like the examples of Apple and FIFA soccer, a central profit motive that spans country borders is needed to bring investment and proprietary innovation into Thoroughbred racing.

How fast can it happen? How fast is innovation changing the world?

© Fred A. Pope 2014
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