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Social media initiative topic at day 1 of USTA

February 27, 2016

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The progress of the USTA-led social media marketing program was presented and debated vigorously during the opening day of the USTA Board of Directors Annual Meeting Saturday (Feb. 27) at the Hilton-Easton.

During the Communications/Marketing Committee, Rob Key, founder of Converseon, the New York-based social media marketing firm hired by the USTA to originate its social media efforts in 2014, outlined the steps the industry has taken to build a major-league social media marketing program from the ground up.

Standing before 60 people consisting of USTA directors, USTA staff and concerned industry stakeholders, Key showed how the creation of the Harness Racing FanZone website and mobile app, the Harness Racing Ambassador Program, analytical data and collaboration with industry groups has resulted in more than 21 million impressions in 2015. Each impression means that a person saw, read or engaged in some form of harness racing social media in the past year.

Key laid out some key goals for the third year of the program in 2016: an 80-percent increase in awareness of the sport (37.8 million impressions); 2,000 leads for affluent prospective horse owners to add to the 230 gathered in a 2015 test program; better collaboration with international racing entities; and a focus on turning impressions into revenue.

"We have assets now that we can leverage to begin to generate revenue," said Key. "We actually have something now that has value. We have assets now. We never had that before. We can negotiate with leverage."

Key's presentation carried special significance as the finance committee will decide Monday during their 9:30 a.m. meeting whether to approve the 2016 budget that would include $250,000 for the social media project. According to USTA Chairman Ivan Axelrod, the funding is currently in the budget, but more discussion on the topic would occur during Sunday's 8 a.m. general session, which will be streamed live on the USTA website.

Those with questions about the efficacy of the project included Joe Faraldo, chairman of District 8A from New York City, who pressed Key to define the metric that showed success, particularly increased horse ownership and wagering handle. Faraldo's concerns were echoed by Ashley Tetrick, who coordinates social media for her husband, driver Tim Tetrick.

"What are the metrics?" she asked. "What is the mission? What are the objectives? I see your statistics, but I don't see a connection. I don't see a connection from what you are showing us to something tangible."

Key responded by saying that this process was started from scratch three years ago. He said that in 2014 the digital assets were built; in 2015 they were sent "over the top" and scaled out internationally; and in 2016 the assets would be monetized and the ownership test programs would begin to be convert fans of Harness Racing FanZone (77 percent of whom do not currently participate in racing) into horse owners.

"This is the only thing we have going right now," said Jason Settlemoir, committee chairman and District 8 director from New York. "We have no national television presence, but we do know that 21 million people scrolled past and know what a harness horse is now.

"We missed TV. If we miss this, we might as well put the padlocks on."

Also discussed or presented during the 2-1/2 hour Communications/Marketing Committee:

  • Details of a pending agreement with Roberts Communications to host a harness racing video channel on Roku, an Internet streaming device. The subscription-based service would include live races, race archives, historical footage and original content.
  • Ellen Harvey of Harness Racing Communications showed the work of her two-person department in 2015, which included a story on Horse of the Year Wiggle It Jiggleit that was placed in so many mainstream press outlets that the same space would cost some $2.56 million if equivalent advertising space was purchased in those same outlets.
  • An update on the USTA's efforts to promote new horse ownership, presented by Allison Conte, USTA social media and publicity director. Plans in 2016 include launching the owner "mentor" program; expanding fractional ownership groups; and conducting an expanded series of new owner seminars around the country.
  • Ceasing print publication of the Trotting and Pacing Guide and moving the data into more dynamic format online.
  • Whether or not to fund a national harness racing television production in 2016.
  • A new wagering promotion website targeted to the 18-39 age demographic, called 20 Wins a Million (http://www.20winsamillion.com/), presented by entrepreneur Joel Benson.--By T.J. Burkett/USTA
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