As one of the oldest sports in American history, horse racing is a deep, integral part of our culture. Established first in the Colonial Era, thoroughbred racing in its current form can be traced back to 1868. Rising to prominence in the aftermath of the Civil War, it was a place where one could escape the troubles of daily life, and was one of the few sports popular with both the rich and the working class. The American Jockey Club was formed in 1894, gambling had taken a series of legal turns, and two world wars turned our attention away from the track and toward devastated shores. Throughout this history, the sport has flourished, waned, stood on the brink, but always come out ahead. Why? Because there is something in the race that calls to us, a recurrent progression that mirrors the fundamental nature of our lives. It is this majesty that must be preserved as the sport moves into a future where attention is fractured, our morals are telegraphed to us, and frankly, where the business has not kept up with the times.
We see these hurdles from outside as well as within the racing community. Whether by ignorance or bad faith, animal activists have levied an all-out assault on the California racing community. Defamation is rampant, while activists protest at racetracks and disrupt the procession of board meetings. Meanwhile, Churchill Downs closes racetracks like Arlington Park at the whim of their pocketbook, degrading the sport and betraying their fans. Finally, many racetracks across California and beyond simply have not adapted well enough to a shifting technological landscape, with social media, apps, and data collection permeating nearly every aspect of our lives.
The effects are staggering. Attendance has fallen at racetracks across California, much less the rest of the country. Even before the pandemic, attendance had dropped for every year since 2016. In response, many of the institutions have slashed their racing days to compensate for this loss. Del Mar had once raced six days a week: now it’s down to four. Santa Anita, which had once raced five days a week, now stands at three. Not only does this harm the fans, but it puts downstream pressure on the workers and the horsemen, who now face shorter seasons, wage cuts, and job insecurity.
All the while, the industry acts as if the old playbook will naturally carry us to the promised land. Here’s the unfortunate news: It won’t. If we want to save the sport of thoroughbred racing, it’s on us, not only to fight back against the forces running it into the ground, but to transform the business into one that welcomes a new generation of fans and creates an infrastructure that can capture their attention.
This is why I’ve started Save Our Sport, a cutting-edge multimedia and strategy platform dedicated to pushing the sport of thoroughbred racing into the future. We do not accept any donations or advertisements from racing organizations, which means we are beholden to no one and unafraid to speak on the facts. Mainly, we are a volunteer organization, run by dedicated and passionate fans of racing who want to see it succeed, to return to the glory it once had in our culture. To do this, we must tackle the many challenges that stand in our way.
The sport is drowning in bad faith attacks from inside and out. Misguided activists and greedy corporations have been dictating the future of our sport, to devastating results. And why? Because we’ve let them. We have not been playing offense! Our company plays offense. Using fact-based ads, videos, and op-eds, not only do we set the record straight on the sport, but we protect those in the industry who are being wrongfully and shamelessly maligned. After all, a boxer doesn’t win a fight without throwing a few punches, and we cannot let our sport stay on the ropes round after round.
However, saving the sport is not merely about offense, we also need a proactive campaign that can promote modernization around many aspects of the business. In thinking about this, I am reminded of something that may seem like an anecdote, but speaks to the heart of our problem today. In the 1950s, the three most popular sports in America were baseball, boxing, and horse racing. The sport that we love was a staple of American life. But we are still acting like it’s the 1950s, while thoroughbred racing is under assault not only by activists and the media, but the time in which we live. We need to adapt to the new technological realities of modern life. Our organization is designed not only to hit back at detractors of the sport, but to advocate for the changes we need to make, and ultimately become an influencer of the sport.
For instance, the current state of data collection in the industry is far behind what it should be. Many of the racetracks have created apps, but their technology is not up to par with the rest of the modernized landscape. Just take a look at some of the apps for the major tracks. Del Mar, a premier track, has only two reviews for the entirety of 2021. This gives us an idea of just how many people are engaging with these apps (not to mention, these reviews were each 1 stars). Even the one of the most highly rated track apps, NYRA, only stands at a rating of 3.8 stars. 3.8 stars? Is this really the best we can do? It may be a start, but it’s far from what we are capable of. How are we going to drive growth, and entice a new generation of fans, if we do not understand our customers? The younger generation, which we desperately need to bring into the sport, is a digitally experienced and cashless consumer. For them to invest in us, we need to invest in them by creating a sophisticated app through which paying and betting is seamless.
Despite these shortcomings, Del Mar has been an innovator in the field, and remains an extremely popular attraction in the sport. Its opening days are more than just a racing attraction, but a vibrant social event that attracts upwards of 30,000 people from all over the San Diego and Orange County areas. They are not diehard fans of the sport. They barely know anything about thoroughbred racing, but they’re here, enjoying the social atmosphere and the Del Mar experience. How do we enhance that experience, and draw them fully into the sport? Now imagine we sent young, lively Del Mar Team Members to hand out $20 vouchers to download this much improved, easy-to-use app. Thousands of recreational fans are suddenly invested in the game in both a visceral and virtual manner, able to bet, pay, and keep track of the different races as we cultivate the experience through their mobile devices. Through this, we gather data on the consumer, communicate with them in a more convenient and accessible way, and we are able to better understand the way they engage with the sport. Not only would we be able to communicate during the racing season, but would also engage with the customer during the off season. Many theme parks and entertainment venues have already been doing this with perfection for years. It’s time we caught up to them.
Another problem is the lack of new fans and investors we bring into the sport. What if we had a call center dedicated to reaching out to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, to bring them down to the tracks and curate their experience. Not only would we be establishing a new client base, but we would grow and diversify the pool of horse ownership within the sport, which is desperately lacking today.
If we want a new future, we have to invest in new customers, new technologies, and the new realities of business. And we cannot let our sport be determined by those who do not understand it or are actively trying to destroy it. Save Our Sport is here to fight for those changes, to help bring the sport of thoroughbred racing into the future. Will you help us do it?