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Shapiro says racing needs national commissioner

February 05, 2009

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There was more of stating the obvious in the second of the two general sessions of the 2009 Racing Congress—that is, racing is struggling to remain competitive—and speakers in the second session threw out a few ideas for making sure horse racing is still around in the future.
But one of the last speakers delivered one of the most dire messages. Richard Shapiro, former chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, painted a bleak portrait of racing’s future with its current infrastructure.
“We’re not building fan—that’s the problem here,” he said. “We need to get people to attach to horse racing, and means getting them to a track.”
Shapiro said he grew frustrated as a racing regulator. “We can’t get along,” he said, pointing out that states still can’t agree on model rules.
Shapiro also bemoaned the countless meetings that can sometimes produce good ideas, but little important change. “While there’s a lot of good ideas and lots of talk, there’s no walk,” he claimed.
In order to get racing moving in a positive direction, Shapiro said it needs a national commissioner, “…otherwise we remain a factionalized industry without a plan.”
At the other end of the spectrum was a presentation of how communications is changing, and perhaps racing could use the technology that is driving the change to improve its business.
Dr. Marc Smith, Chief Social Scientist for Telligent Systems, told the gathering of about 70 horse racing people about social networking. One horse breeding farm owner, who is also a USTA director, remarked that the presentation made his head spin as Smith talked about Facebook and Twitter and the changes which will follow.
In a shocking reversal of what many speakers have told racing executives for the last 20 years, Dr. Smith told this gathering that television is not the future. “I suspect that their time of having massive power is coming to an end,” he predicted.
Dr. Smith said that advances in technology will continue to change society and the world we live in, and noted that people will continue to “pack more heat,” which he called CPU—or computing power—in the future.

While admitting that social networking would not immediately provide horse racing with new fans or customers, Dr. Smith told the racing group that he saw the horse racing culture as a “relatively closed culture,” and that something was needed to bridge this situation.

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