2015 USA Conference

A full report on our first year trainees’ USA conference.

By Lucas Marquardt, TDN

A community outreach organization, better utilization of technology, and the further development of fantasy events are all things that could contribute to the growth of racing, according to participants of a presentation and panel discussion of Godolphin’s Flying Start students held Wednesday evening in Lexington.

Mimi & John

The event, held downtown at a new space called The Livery, saw the 12-strong Flying Start Class of 2016 see what inspirations they could draw from particluar major sport leagues. Six teams of two were assigned the task of researching what racing could learn from the National Football League (NFL), the National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Soccer (MLS), Major League Baseball (MLB), the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA), and National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR).

“Of course, there are things these leagues could learn from us—it isn’t just a one-way street,” said emcee Gary King, a former Flying Start graduate and currently the V.P. of International Operations at the TDN. “But the point of the exercise is to look at things we could do better.”

Britain’s Emma Pugsley and Australia’s Bryce Bevan examined how the NFL, in what Bevan termed a socialist pooling of money, shared revenue among 31 of its 32 teams (excepting the Dallas Cowboys). They wondered if a horse’s licensing rights, perhaps designated to a certain organization when a foal is registered, could be used to the benefit of the sport. They also looked at how the NFL obtained maximum exposure through the NFL Network, and how it engaged international fans by teaming, for instance, with the Cinemex movie chain in Mexico to show the Super Bowl.

The Australian Dane Robinson and colleague Fanny Cypres offered several good examples of NASCAR’s successful fan outreach. Highlights included NASCAR’s FanVision, a handheld device that acts as a scanner, but which also has video capabilities. The units can be rented on raceday at NASCAR events, and fans can listen to any driver’s channel, and in some cases can watch in-car video.

“This gives fans incredible freedom to shape their race-day experience,” said Robinson, who with Cypres suggested that in-race cameras and microphones could be better utilized in horse racing.

Ireland’s Sam Harte and the UK’s Violet Hesketh noted that while only 27% of Americans consider themselves soccer fans, that number has doubled since 1995. The pair credited MLS for marketing its stars–David Beckam reportedly put an additional 8,000 fans in the seats each night for the Los Angeles Galaxy–and said racing needed to do better promoting those horses who figure to stay around for a few years. They mentioned geldings like Wise Dan and Shared Belief as prime examples.

“Horse racing desperately needs brand identity,” said Hesketh.

Ireland’s John Rowe and the UK’s Miriam Wadham added that racing could also better promote itself through celebrity tie-ins. Inspired by Pro-Am tournaments that pair professional golfers with celebrity amateurs, they imagined celebrity “co-owners” being used to represent horses for important Grade I races. They went on to praise PGA’s innovative internet video network, skratchtv.com, and suggested a more concerted effort in coordinating the licensing and sale of Triple Crown merchandise.

Australia’s Lauren Dunning and the U.S.A.’s Steven Hampson discussed the success of the NBA’s image reversal, in part due to the launch of NBA Cares. NBA Cares is, “the league’s global community outreach initiative that addresses important social issues such as education, youth and family development, and health and wellness,” according to its site.

“Horse racing needs to connect to its fans on a more fundamental level,” said Hampson. By way of example, Hampson added, “Offering potential fans an experience at a horse farm fosters a connection between [them] and the horses, and relating trainers and horses to people from different cities and regions can help create an identity.”

Dunning and Hampson suggested an organization called Racing Cares could facilitate these experiences and act as an outreach initiative similar to NBA Cares.

Kentucky’s Hallie Hardy and Ireland’s Caoimhe Doherty finished up with an examination of MLB. They began by drawing up positives and negatives of its fantasy leagues. They observed the length of baseball season–162 games–can be daunting to potential fantasy league participants, and urged horse racing to learn from that and focus instead on single- or multi-day events like the Kentucky Derby or Breeders’ Cup.

Hardy and Doherty also pointed to MLB’s success with youth summer camps that, “focuses on educating kids in a really fun, engaging manner,” said Doherty. “Their focus is to give children the ultimate major league experience, and that’s something we can really incorporate in racing.”

The event was well-attended by industry participants. They included Geoffrey Russell, Tom Thornbury, and Chip McGaughey from Keeneland; Fasig-Tipton’s Boyd Browning, Jr.; WinStar’s Sean Tugel and Kyle Wilson; Margaux Farm’s Michael and Kate Hardy, both Flying Start grads; and several representatives of Darley, including COO Dan Pride, Director of Farm Operations Michael Banahan, Sales Manager Darren Fox, and Flying Start coordinator Clodagh Kavanagh.

Founded in 2003 as the brainchild of Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Darley Flying Start is a two-year international management and leadership training program.