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Thursday Thoughts: Better to Give than to Get...

by Al Cimaglia

August 3, 2017

Many times, a business will look to build a client base by giving something away. To give is to get, but harness racing seems to miss that pitch. Ironically, the most valuable harness racing data is seemingly given away by the USTA, but with little if any promotional value coming in return.

Essential to attracting a younger crowd of racing enthusiast harness tracks can use online promotions. This can be done by providing worthwhile content to create clicks to individual race track sites. The richest content, which changes every race day is program pages. For reasons which seemingly make little sense individual race tracks don't control the rights to race lines, so they can't give the data away.

The USTA has an agreement in place whereby TrackMaster, an Equibase Company, pays a licensing fee which allows them to control all the data. This is a curious relationship, as logically one would think race tracks should own the data and be able to use it as they see fit.  After all the race track puts on the show, and as far as I know, they employ the chart makers.

I don't know what the USTA does with the money gained from their exclusive deal with TrackMaster. What I do know is the revenue has not helped to grow the sport or to refresh the ageing fan base. What also appears to be so, is by not being able to provide free programs pages individual race track sites don't gain additional exposure. The same can be said for the sport in total. 

In Canada things are different. Mohawk-Woodbine offers entire race day programs for free to anyone who wishes to download them. Currently, Mohawk harness seems to be doing just fine. The Pick 5, and both Pick 4 pools on even a Monday night can amount to a cumulative total of around $200,000.

On the other end of the spectrum is the USTA which allows a limited number of program pages for free on their site. Mostly they are Pick 4 sequences with guarantees, or tracks which have a carryover. It would be far better if every race could be offered for free on individual track sites, that's a way to market harness racing.

If one were to ask what the USTA stands for, most with a guess would say the United States Tennis Association. That's what comes up first in a Google search as well. Obviously, the focus should be on each race track rather than a governing body which people can't define. Harness fans don't identify with the USTA, but they could have a bond with their local race track.

In 2015 the USTA was paid $843,980 in data royalties. From what I have been told the amount last year was about $950,000. That may seem like a lot of money, but not really when considering the exposure which could be gained if not for being locked into a dead-end agreement. 

Most likely, whatever TrackMaster is willing to pay the USTA isn't full value. It may not matter if the data is worth twice as much or ten times more money. Individually, USTA members have little to say in the matter. A data sales agreement isn't brought to a vote of the entire membership, and that is something to wonder about.

The ability to control the data is too valuable to sell, it can be used as the foundation for a marketing program that could make a difference for harness racing. In this day of increased analytics in sports, the data could offer a wide spectrum of benefits.

The USTA knows how to cash a check, but in this a case it's better to give than to get. 

You can follow me on Twitter @AlCimaglia