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.

  • Ben Cheese

    Hardly a “new” technology but Equibase should FIRST update and re-engineer its website. It is primitive, incredibly clunky and not even close to the standard that any consumer expects today (DRF should do the same). While the industry is ripe for disruption, charging consumers to become acquainted with new products is not a winning or welcoming approach. Like most of the rest of the web, use the “freemium” model and then charge for upgrades. Both Equibase and DRF are years behind what most web players are doing. They’ve got a LOT of work to do.

  • Robert

    Let’s see….monopolistic pricing, monopolistic bullying, zero-transparency (no financials), zero innovation b/c they price gauge potential new entrants into the data arena, zero self awareness and handle is down 50% since 2000 (partially because the data is extremely expensive and poorly managed). I heard “success” and “customer”referred too in the article above which is beyond insane. Equibase/TJC would not know ‘either’ if they saw them. I could go on forever, but Mr. Wilson much like his TJC brethren are the primary culprits in the demise of horse racing. Please stop. Throw up the white flag. Sell your assets and leave the sport to people that know what in the hell they are doing. Free the Data. Free the horseplayers. Free the industry from your ignorance. Most sports are thriving – horse racing is circling the drain – perhaps you guys at TJC/Equibase should take a long look in the mirror and say, “Maybe it’s me?”

    • Ben Cheese

      Kind of what I was trying to say. You said it better. Thanks.

    • JustJoe

      Robert, I got it you want free, which is just someone else paying for something to give to you. If you bet on TwinSpires you get free programs so why all the fuss? In addition, most tracks give VIP players programs or Forms. I really don’t find this a problem but you may because you don’t bet enough to qualify.

      Your anger is misdirected and calling smart people names at the Jockey Club is ignorant.

      • Tinky

        The problem with your argument, Joe, is that their is a large pool of people who have the potential to become serious players who are discouraged by the high associated costs.

        Furthermore, charging relatively high prices for basic information is a symptom of a larger problem in racing, namely an inability to recognize price sensitivity amongst its customers. There are many big players who have left the game because of high takeout rates, and yet insensitivity to that problem obviously remains.

      • Matthew Hood

        What about a person who lives in Texas? They don’t have access to free PP’s on a ADW, but there are 3 tracks to go bet the horses.

        • JustJoe

          Get them at the track, I’m sure someone at Lone Star could help you.

          • Matthew Hood

            It’s a delicate balance. It would be nice if they were free, but I can understand a little bit of a charge. They just seem overprice right now.

          • JustJoe

            Buy the way, all the Texas tracks loose money so horse players are already being subsidized.

  • Tinky

    This:

    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.

    is simply dishonest.

    Yes, there are other premium products available in both racing (e.g. Ragozin Sheets, etc.) and other major sports, but the basic information that all fans and gamblers require is only charged for (and dearly) by the racing industry.

    I follow NBA basketball, and the amount of information and tools with which to analyze it FOR FREE are amazing. Without spending a penny any fan (or gambler) can delve into vast databases that range far further back than that of Equibase, and, more importantly, which allow users to parse them in far deeper ways. It is possible to view individual replays of any shot or play executed during the NBA season. The sorting capabilities of Basketball, Baseball and Football Reference (dotcom) are outstanding.

    ALL. FOR. FREE.

    Go ahead, Mr. Wilson, keep charging high prices for your “proprietary” information, and you will oversee a further erosion of customers on your watch.

    • Matthew Hood

      That was my first thought as well when I read that. There are many (if not most) who bet sports or play fantasy and use nothing but the free info available. You can easily find out how a pitcher performs in day games vs night easily and for free. You can go as crazy as you want and search how a batter hits on Tuesday night in the month of August when facing a left handed pitcher. It’s all there and it’s free. Try finding out how a middle of the road trainer does off the claim while at Saratoga over the past 5 years without paying for it. That statement came off as spin to me.

      It also seems a problem that one company (who tries to turn a profit) is in control of all the data. I get wanting to have a complete database, but this creates problems trying to get a fair price.

  • Bryan Langlois (ShelterDoc)

    I do find his use of the term “fan” here interesting. Are we talking about someone who is interested in just coming out to the track more often for the love of the sport? Or are we talking about people we are looking to make more serious handicappers of the game? Ideally you want to take the former and turn it more into the latter in a large percentage of them, and if so, I agree that information still costs way too much, especially for the newbie. Why buy all that stuff when you can just walk in a casino, plunk some change or bills in a machine…and hit a button. No admission or info fee there.

  • Craig Milkowski

    The answer to the timing question is good theory but totally not accurate in the real racing world. Anyone that truly understands race timing can spot most bad times with pretty simple calculations and common sense. Equibase catches only the most egregious mistakes and relies on customers to point out others. The QA in place for bad race times (and, frankly, all the other data) is terrible. A had an employee tell me that a race time was “acceptable” because it was slower than the track record. The time in question was FOUR SECONDS off the actual time. It was a typo and nobody noticed.

    • Robert

      Here is a great blog I found on twitter in regard to the Equibase farce:

      http://diehardhorseracing.blogspot.com/2016/08/racing-industry-still-out-in-left-field.html?spref=tw

      I hope Mr. Wilson and the rest of the crew at TJC and Equibase realize that everyone that loves horse racing wants them to make $ and thrive. The current Equibase methodology is broken – severely broken. You cannot in good faith produce products that are inferior, charge a premium, and compete with other PP providers – no es bueno.

      Said differently, you cannot keep increasing prices in real terms, sell to fewer people and expect growth to magically appear. You need to create more value, for more more people and make the data accessible => increase the number of people that want to play this great game (increase demand not limit supply)

      The STATS PPs are nice but have close to zero chance of catching on with horse players. Timeform has their product beat by a mile – they will not be able to catch them or DRF, or the Rags, or Brisnet and so on…

      It’s not working fellas. Time to try something new.

  • David Stevenson

    “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?” This is an extremely important detail that was corrected at Woodbine and NYRA approximately 40+ years ago, by eliminating use of the portable rail in graded turf stakes races but has subsequently been neglected in recent years, at the discretion of track superintendents. Why are accurate distances important for the top 10 % of our racing herd? Because it is mainly where pedigree is established and published in sales catalogs and marketing materials. In North America, course records and time in general, are a major part of the measurement of pedigree. That’s why we have established expensive recording methods.
    By altering these measurements by creating incorrect distances, the opportunity to punctuate pedigree accomplishments is lost to our stakes winners.
    thanx

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