JC / Railbird

Locked Up

Ray Paulick has posted a piece this morning on the possible expansion of the Jockey Club into the tote business that includes a bit on Equibase and its practice of locking all data up behind a paywall, unlike most major sports. “It’s short-term thinking,” says an executive quoted by Paulick. “If our objective in racing is for the horseplayers to win, we should do everything we can to help him, and increase the churn. That’s where the revenue for our business should come from, not from the statistics the horseplayer needs.” Heck, yes.

On the topic, here’s a bit from a post on June 5, 2008:

The Supreme Court squashed Major League Baseball’s attempt to maintain exclusive control of player statistics, turning down its appeal of an Eighth Circuit Court ruling that allowed fantasy baseball leagues to use the data without paying a licensing fee. “The information used in … fantasy baseball games is all readily available in the public domain,” said the appeals court, “and it would be strange law that a person would not have a First Amendment right to use information that is available to everyone.” Well, this is interesting … and most definitely relevant to the industry. Applied to racing, this ruling could be interpreted to mean that almost all data and statistics in the past performances and results charts are in the public domain (which makes it ridiculous that Equibase buries historical charts behind a paywall), but not presentation of the data or statistics [so no straight re-posting of PDF charts], or analysis derived using proprietary methods (such as speed figures).

CBSSports.com responded to the Supreme Court’s decision by launching a new site that makes available data for baseball, as well as football, basketball, hockey, and auto racing. I’d love to see a similar initiative in racing. As baseball stats wizard Bill James said,

People take information and build knowledge. When you give them new information they will create new knowledge, absolutely and without question.

Free data and historical stats, that’s the way to build the fan base.

“If you look back to 1990 and see what information was available and how it was made available, we’ve accomplished a lot,” Equibase president Hank Zeitlen tells Paulick, and that might be true — but it’s not enough.


Thanks for this link, Jessica.

We have several members that spend thousands on data, and are serious about racing. They tell us that the $4000 or so they spend can be put to much better use – in the wagering pools.

Better distribution of data in a better and more cost effective way to the horseplayer, and potential new fan is one of the original planks. We think, I think like you do, that this can spin-off into handle gains and new fan growth for the sport. Commission Junction is a reseller of so much, and is a success. The Internet is full of resellers. There is football betting software, fantasy football software (all sports really) with people using free stats to promote the game. We want to see similar in racing. Thousands of resellers, using our data to be a voice for racing and promoting it to other gamblers, and other sports fans to hopefully pull them to this game we feel is a very worthwhile pursuit.

Unleash the data virus.

Posted by HANA on March 24, 2009 @ 11:51 am

Still think this is the biggest issue. Every marketing effort is flawed until this issue is addressed and corrected. The sport is a big closed door with a sign on it that says ‘GO AWAY’ to anyone that’s remotely interested in becoming a new fan.

It also is about transparency. If you’re new to the sport and you have to pay to find out basic information about what happend in a race 6 months ago, some might believe that not only is that info proprietary but maybe also subjective. It’s an image issue for a sport that already has too many negative images.

You want to market racing as a sport?

What new fan is going to put up with that?

How did us old fans ever get this far?

Because it’s a great game. Imagine what would happen if you introduced someone new to this game and they didn’t have to jump through hoops to find out what happened? Imagine the kind of interest that could be generated, for nothing, when you unleash this data?

Basic PP data and historical info should be the very definition of a loss leader in this industry. This is common sense. This is the utility that keeps the money in the game and brings in new money by itself without any marketing.

We complain about the industry marketing itself but you have to wonder where are you marketing new people to? What are we selling that is so great? Once you get past the bias that bloggers obviously have for the sport, I don’t really see much that we should all be excited about to market at the moment. Marketing is empty without a good product. It’s a trick that the target of your marketing finds out about and then NEVER comes back under any circumstances.

We have a sport that is already very complicated to understand and follow, made doubly more so by the huge walled off garden of data that you would need to understand this complication. That’s the barrier to selling this sport to newbs.

Posted by o_crunk on March 24, 2009 @ 12:03 pm

Thanks for the comments — you’re both absolutely right. Unleash the data virus! Marketing efforts will flounder so long as all data is hidden to potential fans, requiring they display tenacity and a willingness to open their wallets to get anywhere. I have a feeling this topic is going to be a prominent theme on this site and elsewhere this spring.

HANA — I tried to leave a comment on your related post, but it doesn’t seem to have appeared. Basically, I just wanted to say thanks for the link, and that pursuing open and low cost data is a great goal for the Horseplayers’ Association. Making data more widely available will free up more money for handle from existing customers and remove one of the biggest obstacles to enjoying racing faced by new customers.

Posted by Jessica on March 25, 2009 @ 9:51 am