Archives for March 2012

A RESEARCH FLAW IN THE NEW YORK TIMES EXPOSE…AND MORE

The Washington Post posted an article today by the well-known and highly regarded horse racing columnist Andrew Beyer titled “Thoroughbred Racing Under Fire After Investigative Reports, Cancellation of ‘Luck.’” Mr. Beyer made an astute observation about the New York Times expose on horse racing that calls into question the methodology used by the authors and hence their conclusions:

“The Times focused on racing in New Mexico, but readers undoubtedly assumed that the horrendous breakdowns and injuries to jockeys in that state were mirrored in New York, home of the country’s top thoroughbred racing.

However, almost all of the New Mexico horror stories cited by the Times occurred in quarter-horse racing — a different sport, with a different breed, a different style of training and a different ethic… According to the Times’ own statistics, the seven U.S. tracks with the highest percentage of breakdowns or signs of injury were all ones that offer quarter-horse racing — five of them in New Mexico, where supervision was notoriously lax. Yet the Times never drew a distinction between the two sports and did not even mention the phrase ‘quarter horse’ until the 48th paragraph of its report. Subtract the quarter-horse component from the study and the Times might not have a carnage-laden front page story.”

Mr. Beyer has perceptively brought up the subject of “external validity.” When a survey researcher inquires about “external validity,” he or she is asking whether results obtained from a sample can be projected to make predictions about the entire population from which the sample is drawn.

The Times study does not have external validity in extending the results from its study to Thoroughbred racing (or to harness racing) for reasons pointed out by Mr. Beyer; i.e., the sample included “the seven U.S. tracks with the highest percentage of breakdowns or signs of injury were all ones that offer quarter-horse racing — five of them in New Mexico…”

I am going to assume that the authors did not know the proper sampling procedure and erred, rather than did know and glossed over it to sensationalize the story and get it on the front page.

The Times authors should have acknowledged that their study is exploratory in nature rather than leaving the impression that they followed the scientific research procedures that would have enabled them to make the hard-and-fast assertions in the article.

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The following was released today by the office of U. S. Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico:

Udall: Times Investigation Paints Disturbing Picture of Horseracing Industry

WASHINGTON – Following an in-depth report by The New York Times on the state of horseracing in the United States,U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) issued the following statement:

“The findings uncovered in The New York Times investigation about horseracing in the United States, and New Mexico in particular, paint a very disturbing picture of the industry.

“The sport of horseracing which, at its best, showcases the majestic beauty of this animal and the athleticism of jockeys, has reached an alarming level of corruption and exploitation. The consequence of inconsistent state-level regulation is an epidemic of animal doping that has led to countless euthanizations of helpless horses and the injury and death of their riders.

“The Times exposé has shined a glaring light on the need for national standards in a sport that reaps gambling profits, but has lacked proper oversight for decades.

“I urge our leaders in Congress to advance the bipartisan legislation Congressman Ed Whitfield and I have introduced in both chambers to renew the sport of horseracing and set minimum, nationwide standards for medication and doping. The Interstate Horseracing Improvement Act would kick cheaters out of the sport. The horseracing industry has promised voluntary reforms for decades, but as we’ve painfully observed, our legislation is the only viable way to address doping problems plaguing the sport.

“Now is the time to end the unscrupulous practices of those trainers and track veterinarians in horseracing who abuse these magnificent animals and endanger jockeys for gambling profits.”

ABOUT THE NEW YORK TIMES EXPOSE

The New York Times on March 25, 2012, ran a front-page article titled (online version) “Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys” by Walt Bogdanich, Joe Drape, Dara Miles, and Griffin Palmer. As indicated by the title, it was a highly unfavorable depiction. Not surprisingly, reader comments were overwhelming anti-racing and many commenters called for an outright ban on the sport.

Like my website Horse Racing Business, the New York Times writes with a point of view, even outside its editorial page. If you disagree with their slant, you have a few options: complain in an email or a letter to the editor; not buy the newspaper; or cancel your subscription.

But keep in mind that front-page articles offered as reporting and analysis–like “Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys”–are the direct result of flagging readership. Simply put, The New York Times needs to sensationalize in order to attract readers.

The facts are: The New York Times Company has seen a continual dramatic decline in its subscriptions, with its revenues plunging. The company now has negative earnings per share and its stock price has retreated from $51.50 per share in 2002 to less than $7 a share today. The newspaper has become so desperate (and evidently resentful of its fate) that its editorial page has turned into an attack machine on people and groups it does not happen to agree with. Recently, for instance, the Catholic Church and Mormons were savaged by an angry female columnist. Any pretense about dispassionate journalism and reasoned editorial analysis has long since been dispensed with.

Even the paper’s traditional motto “All the News That’s Fit to Print” is an anachronism. If horse racing is (supposedly) a dying sport, the Times has a more advanced illness, with a foot in the print grave in the digital age.

The kind of article produced by Bogdanich et al. could easily have been written about head injuries in the National Football League, drug use in Major League Baseball in particular, but other human sports as well, punch-drunk former boxers, and the perils of auto racing. Indeed, some of these topics have been addressed because they sell papers. However, the major sports leagues have the financial wherewithal to return fire with their own publicity, whereas horse racing is decentralized and makes for an easy target for failing newspapers trying to gin-up sales.

In spite of The New York Times’ pecuniary motivation and bias, the issues raised in the Times article of March 25 and elsewhere are not without merit. When esteemed racehorse owners like George Strawbridge and Charlotte Weber publically protest about lax drug policy in 2-year-old graded stakes races, people should take serious note. These folks are not out to sell anything, but rather, are expressing anguish about the direction of a sport they love.

While justifiably railing against the New York Times may make you and me feel better, venting won’t do anything except expend negative energy. People who genuinely care deeply about the sport of horse racing–and the animals and humans involved—need to reform the sport, regardless of whose toes get stepped on in the process. Especially work to rid the sport of race-day medication and the thugs who give racing a bad image. Especially do everything possible to make racing surfaces safer for jockeys and horses. If a racetrack surface temporarily goes bad due to weather, or whatever, cancel the day’s races.

Horse racing will never be a 100% safe sport, and never 100% free of thugs, which also happens to be true of other sports and living per se. The reasonable and necessary goal must be to institute reforms, sooner rather than before it is too late. That way, horse racing will not be such an easy target for journalists looking to hawk their stories and do-gooders looking to bring down an elegant sport and large-scale agribusiness employing lots of people.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business

THE MOST RIVETING HORSE RACING ADVERTISEMENT EVER?

Today’s Horse Racing Business focuses on two advertisements for horse racing, one in Dubai and the other in the United States.

A reader alerted me to an extremely well done 60-second video advertisement (by DubaiMedia) for the 2012 Dubai World Cup on March 31. It dramatically captures and holds one’s attention. Even if a person is uninterested in horse racing, one is apt to watch this advertisement in its entirety if he or she happens to see it.

In my judgment, this is the most riveting advertisement I’ve ever seen for horse racing…and it has no dialogue whatsoever. The pictures and music convey the message.

Following is a link to the video:

Click here for the video advertisement.

Note that the horses in the video are Arabians, which seems fitting, since three Arabian stallions were the foundation sires for the Thoroughbred breed and the Dubai World Cup is held in their distant ancestral home in the Middle East.

The next advertisement is a 90-second video titled “Original Madness” that appears on the Jockey Club’s new website www.followhorseracing.com. This video’s title  is a nice tie in to basketball’s “March Madness” and is used to introduce the upcoming “Road to the Kentucky Derby” coverage. The website also allows viewers to enter a drawing for a “VIP Trip for Eight to the 2012 Breeders’ Cup.” The advertisement itself is well done, though it is ordinary, in that it similar to numerous ads that various racing organizations have run in the past.

The ad starts out with a brief history of Thoroughbred racing (the “original madness”) and compares its vintage to other sports. This is not a strong, attention-grabbing hook. Why would racing’s longevity matter to most customers?

Click here for followhorseracing.com and then click again on the video “Original Madness.”

The larger point to keep in mind is that the Jockey Club’s initiatives in social media are badly needed and one should cut them some slack in getting the program underway. Part of the initial social-media effort is a video called “Derby, the 2 Minute Intensity Drink,” which uses the Twitter hashtag #TheOtherMadness.

An advertisement can receive kudos yet not change minds or sell product. Conversely, an ad can test poorly and end up being very successful in building name recognition and business. Marketing experts can never be sure what ads will work until they are actually tried.

One issue that I see with most racing ads is that they show clean-cut younger people having a great time at the races. When a viewer responds by actually going to racetracks like Del Mar or Gulfstream, the environs are similar to what is depicted in the ads. However, when a viewer attends some of the seedier racetracks the picture is much different. There is no doubt that marketing and advertising can get more people to try live racing, but if the experience does not match up to what is promised, they will be unlikely to return. Thus national ads can only be expected to do so much.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business