Wilson: New Technologies, Customer-Centric Products Key To Equibase’s Future

by | 08.31.2016 | 10:46am
Equibase president and chief operating officer Jason Wilson

Jason Wilson in March 2016 was named president and chief operating officer of Equibase, a limited liability company formed in 1990 by The Jockey Club and member tracks of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations of North America that took over collection, storage and management of racing data and distribution of past performance information. Prior to the formation of Equibase, all racing data had been collected and owned by Daily Racing Form which – along with other companies providing handicapping information on North American races – now uses Equibase data in its past performances.

Wilson came to Equibase from The Jockey Club, where he has served as vice president of business development since October 2010. He later took on additional duties as president of TJC Media Ventures.

Wilson has degrees from Princeton University, the UCLA school of law and Columbia University, where he earned an MBA in finance and management. The following interview with Wilson was conducted by email.

What is the vision/mission statement for Equibase? Has it changed since the company was created?
Equibase's mission at its inception was threefold. First and foremost, the goal of Equibase was to become the primary source for all racing statistics for the Thoroughbred industry in North America. In furtherance of that, Equibase would collect, collate, process, store and disseminate racing information. The third part of Equibase's mission was to market that information to the Thoroughbred industry and the general public, with a commitment to improve the entire Thoroughbred industry.

That mission is being accomplished, and it has not changed since the original business plan in 1990. Equibase remains the primary source for and distributor of all racing statistics for the Thoroughbred industry, and we continually seek ways to use our unique position in the industry to help grow the sport.

Who owns Equibase (i.e., what percentage does TJC own, and is the percentage of ownership among TRA members based on a specific formula of sales)?

Equibase is jointly owned by a subsidiary of The Jockey Club and a subsidiary of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations of North America (TRA), each maintaining a 50 percent ownership interest in the company. The tracks do not have a direct ownership interest in Equibase, but participate in its financial success by receiving a portion of a dividend through a formula that is set by the TRA. We believe this ownership structure is critical to the success of Equibase and facilitates collaboration among Equibase, The Jockey Club, and the tracks.

How is Equibase's revenue derived?
Equibase's revenue mix has changed over the years. Originally, Equibase generated revenue through program sales royalties. Over the years, we diversified our revenues through bulk data sales to businesses such as ADWs and direct retail sales to consumers. Most recently, Equibase has seen growing revenues from advertising related to its digital platforms.

What were Equibase's profits (or losses) in its most recent fiscal year?
We do not comment publicly on our financial performance.

Is it fair to compare horse racing data to data from other sports (baseball, football) and ask why racing charges for the same type of data that is widely available at no cost to sports fans? (For example, Equibase charges $8 for one horse's lifetime past performances, while a baseball or football player's lifetime statistics are available at numerous sites at no charge.)
I think it is always fair to ask how we can better serve our customers and look to see what other sports are doing. However, I disagree that the information we charge for is similar to the information that is made available for free for other sports or the implication that other sports are not charging for data.

At the MIT Sloan Sports and Analytics conference this year, the issue of trying to strike a balance between free and pay for data and video distribution was a topic of several panels, and the leagues are not all uniform in their approach. Generally speaking, however, when you look at the information that is provided at the websites of other sports, it is the type of information used to provide more engagement for fans. It is not the type of in-depth information that serious Vegas gamblers or fantasy sports players would use to make decisions about their wagers or lineups.

Similarly, in recent years Equibase has greatly increased the amount of data available at equibase.com through its leaders lists and profile pages. You can view comprehensive annual and career statistics on horses, jockeys, trainers and owners — including every results chart for every race that has run since 1991. You can also get free basic pedigree and auction information from our partnership with Equineline. Basically, every data element that we collect is available for free on the website.

We charge when we package this data in products for handicapping purposes. These products include proprietary speed and pace figures as well as information about how these athletes have performed in relation to the competitive environment of that particular race. The lifetime past performance product you reference (which is actually an Equineline product) also includes that proprietary information, but the non-proprietary information is included in the horse's profile page on equibase.com.

We spend a large amount of time thinking about ways we can present free data and information to increase fan engagement. We constantly look for ways to improve the user experience in accessing the free information available at equibase.com. For example, in 2014, we added leaders list by foal crop and an interactive ranking feature on all statistical profile pages. Other additions in recent years include sorting capabilities on all leaders lists so fans can more easily hone in on the data they think is important, and the addition of career highlights to the profile pages.

Are there any lessons to be learned from the boom in Daily Fantasy Sports?
One of the biggest lessons is how quickly things can change in our current business environment. Two years ago, daily fantasy was barely a mention. A year ago, you could not escape commercials for different daily fantasy games. Now, the product is finding its way, but it clearly demonstrated that there is demand for different ways to engage with sports. I think the fact that New York recently legalized daily fantasy games under the authority of the New York Gaming Commission will have a trickle-down effect in other states.

What do you see as Equibase's most significant accomplishments?
The most significant accomplishment was the creation of Equibase as an industry-owned collector and database of Thoroughbred racing information and statistics. Equibase has maintained order, credibility and trust in the sport's data while maintaining a robust system to rapidly distribute that data nationwide for an ever-growing range of uses. This development facilitated the rise of simulcast wagering and allows signals from North America to be sent globally with confidence. It also enabled Equibase and Daily Racing Form LLC to cooperate on arriving at a single source for industry data, which has resulted in enhanced data quality and uniformity for the industry.

Further, the growth of Equibase's digital and mobile platforms to become the most widely trafficked in the sport has opened up significant new advertising opportunities.

Finally, in the past 25 years we have provided a significant return on investment to our partners in the form of dividends and other payments. In turn, our partners have used those funds to reinvest in the sport — whether at the track or through industry initiatives.

What changes do you foresee in Equibase's operations over the next three-to-five years?
Looking to the future, there are three areas we plan to focus on. First, we need to continue to focus on the customer by providing innovative products such as the newly released STATS Race Lens and creating more interesting ways to look at and use our data. The relationship with STATS has been fantastic, and we will continue to work with them to launch related products in the future.

Second, we want to provide more services to the tracks to help them grow the sport.

And finally, Equibase will need to adopt technologies to provide more accurate and timely collection of data, facilitate the development of even better handicapping tools, and open more avenues of engagement for fans. Technology is changing a wide range of industries seemingly overnight. In most cases, it enables new business models to arise in very traditional businesses. One great example is the way UBER uses technology to connect drivers and riders and is transforming the taxi industry globally.

For Equibase, technology is unlocking new ways to collect and disseminate data. An example here is automated tracking systems such as Trakus, which uses a proprietary radio frequency tracking system. Equibase supported the installation of Trakus at tracks in North America by providing incentives for them to adopt the technology. Newer systems using global positioning satellite (GPS) technology are being deployed in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The cost of these systems is such that we could soon see even broader adoption at racetracks across North America.

Timing inaccuracies continue to be an issue at some tracks, particularly turf racing where rails are moved in and out. What is Equibase doing to compile the most accurate timing data possible?

Equibase does not generate race times; we record the times provided by the official timer at each track. However, we understand the importance of race times to our sport and take timing issues very seriously. We continually work with the tracks and timing companies to develop refinements and rely on their cooperation to identify and address these issues as they arise.

What process does Equibase use to develop new products (i.e., test marketing, use of horseplayers in focus groups, etc.)?

Customer input is the most important part of any product development endeavor at Equibase. We recently went through an extensive testing process with the new handicapping product I mentioned earlier, STATS Race Lens. We officially launched STATS Race Lens this month following more than a year of development by STATS LLC and members of our team. Many know STATS as the leading provider of sports data and analytical tools to Major League Baseball, the National Football League and other major sports.

In the development of STATS Race Lens, we began testing in the spring with several focus groups in New York, California and Kentucky to see if we were on the right track. Then we invited approximately 200 handicappers to bang away at an early version of the product and provide feedback. It was overwhelmingly positive. Finally, earlier this month we started our marketing campaign with special introductory pricing — it is available at equibase.com, trackmaster.com and tvg.com with more distribution points to come in the near future.

What do you see as the company's biggest challenges?
To me, the biggest challenge is the same as with the sport in general. We must continue to evolve in a world that seems to change every six months and find ways to engage with a generation that consumes information much differently than previous generations have. We will continue our on-going work with other constituencies in the sport to do just that.

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