News and Updates

Ontario Horse Racing's Race to the Finish - 5 Days to Post

Tuesday, 26 March 2013 14:35

5 days to the end of the Slots at Racetrack Program in OntarioI have been crazy involved in events for the past three-consecutive weeks, and have been following as best as I can the final days of the Slots-at-Racetracks Program and the negotiations of transition funding of the tracks involved mostly on tweets.  Lots of people have been messaging and emailing to understand just where everything stands, so, while I had a moment, I have punched out a summary.

As a preface though, at the London Farm Show, All Equine Show at Western Fair and Ontario Finals Rodeo in Ancaster I saw many, many, many Horse Racers in attendance.  Many of those I've tweeted with over the past year, and many proudly wearing WFD, Fort Erie, Mohawk and Flamboro garments that I saw.  Like most events, I included a racing platform into my announcing components, but it was a sombre moment that many of these people appeared to be in attendance supporting initiatives that have been supporting them in their past year's plight.  Since I first spoke out on the Racing Industry's Plight, my message has been: "it affects us all".  I was honoured to "meet" many of these people over the past month for the first-time face to face.  And today, we still stand beside them in hope and fight.

Today, March 26th, news comes in on the Ontario Horse Racing Industry: 3 more tracks will receive Transitional Funding: Georgian, Flamboro & Fort Erie now join Woodbine, Mohawk, Western Fair, Clinton, Hanover and Grand River Raceway.

That's 9 of the 17 Tracks in place 13 months ago with Transitional Funding, and 8 of the 17 with OLG Lease Agreements and Transitional Funding. The final-final deadline is in 5 days (March 31).

To really work, each track needs an OLG Lease Agreement and Transitional Funding.  Western Fair and Kawartha Downs were the first to announce OLG Agreements in December, but Western Fair got Transition Funding, Kawartha didn't, and closed doors on Racing.  

The OLG removed slots from Fort Erie, Sarnia and Windsor last March; now Windsor racetrack is closed, Fort Erie is going to try working with just Transitional Funding.  Sarnia is waiting on Transitional Funding and like Fort Erie, will try and make it go without the Slot Lease Agreement.

Right now: Windsor and Kawartha are the only ones for sure with racing terminated.  A new group is trying to start a new "track" in Leamington using the in escrow funds from Windsor, plus Transition Funding... but this one doesn't have the two-part package in play (OLG Lease, Transition Funding), just partial past horsemen money and Transitional Funding.

With 5 days remaining, word is waiting on the fate of:

Sarnia, Ajax, Dresden, Rideau Carleton, Sudbury, Woodstock (and Leamington).

The industry is in a holding pattern because race dates can't be set until it is known how many tracks are in play and how many players there will be.  

The fine line: The negotiation by the Government for Transitional Funding is divide and conquer negotiations.  They solidified their deal with Woodbine-Mohawk (WEG) first, the largest consortium, and they have been contracted to confidentiality.  Then they have gone to each other interested party to "negotiate", but the conversations have been parlayed as "we'll give you this much. Take it or leave it".  So, the tracks have no idea if their deal is as good as it can be, and have really no option but to take it or close the doors.  Added pressure is compounded by the March 31st deadline when the previous Slots at Racetrack Program expires.  So, though the Government has been diligent, it's more power-pressure to ink a deal or push out.

Hindsight: Tracks should have unionized in some fashion and group negotiated.  They hold all the cards (the venue for slots, the commodity of racing), and would have negotiated a stronger deal for all of the players combined, instead of looking after themselves… and watching their neighbours reel.

The reality: The transition funding is just a 2-year fix until a new plan is created through the order of the Premier-Designate of Ontario to the Ontario Lottery Gaming Corporation and the Industry.  Though there is money, hope and some racing in the near future, Woodbine-Mohawk's secret deal resulted in more than 100 lay-offs, or 25% of workforce.  Western Fair cut more than 20 positions, a similar 25-30% of employees.  The Breeding of Horses has been scaled and impaired, and even though races will be less in number, the 5-year breeding cycle of racehorses is now impaired for 3-5 years from now… after the next "fix" should be in.

The 60,000 Jobs Ontario Horse Racing Provides are already being decimated.

The new hope: First, the Ontario NDP and PC Party of Ontario are jointly bringing forth a motion for the extension of the Slots at Racetracks Program beyond the March 31, 2013 deadline and for referendums to be held before new casinos are built in Ontario, thus halting the OLG Modernization until a better plan comes forward.  

Secondly, the Premier-Designate has directed the OLG to include Horse Racing as a partner in their Modernization.

Thirdly, the PC Party of Ontario has a plan that they would like to see Race Tracks have at least the opportunity to purchase the Slots, and have the Government and Industry work together on a stronger partnership for all parties, as opposed to the rampid OLG Modernization Program of a Casino for every Taxpayor:

My summary to many is… the Provincial Government Leaders and Opposition Members are now trying to rein in the rogue crown corporation, the OLG, that started this slippery slope… and since this time last year Billions of Dollars of Damage has been done, and Billions more will transpire regardless of how the short-term solution (Slots Lease, Transition Funding) comes together, or the next stage of repair is implemented.

5 days remain.  I worked in London directly with two of those let go last week on and off for months prior.  I have come to know many breeders, trainers, owners, track management types, drivers, jockeys… people from the farm to the backstretch to the upper offices over this past year.  These are real people, these are real animals; and many of them are our friends, neighbours and family.  I have contributed as much as I could by correlating this plight to the Equine Industry and Ontario Taxpayer in ways that are perceived that "this affects all of us".

The political process is moving; the negotiations are moving.  With 5 days remaining, really all we can do is pray for our friends.  The Racing Industry is based on Hope.  And with 5 days left, almost 50% of its fate… is relying on your prayer.

9 of 17 is no reason to celebrate.  50% of a race card is no reason to celebrate.  Layoffs at the leading organizations of 30% is no reason to celebrate.  While we pray, lets see less pictures of politicians with horses and more press releases of deals, plans and visions.

360 Days for 50% of what once was saved with a short term fix.  5 Days to save the remaining 50%.  That's the unfair race that the Ontario Liberal Government and Ontario Lottery Gaming Corporation put #ontariohorseracing in… and that makes the odds over 99-1 today for many.  

Hold your bets and your breath. 


Gloomy update on Ontario Horse Racing - it's February

Wednesday, 27 February 2013 12:49

Ontario Horse Racing - It's a Partnership, Not A SubsidyWith just over 33 days to the next and final deadline on Racing in Ontario (#OntarioHorseRacing) it does not look as hot as the recent glimmers of hope had tried to foreshadow.

I have written on this matter numerous times on (see: How the termination of OLG Slots at Racetracks Program affects all Ontarians, and The latest on #OntarioHorseRacing (It's January)) with assorted tweets (over 218 since August 1) and facebook posts, and have been able to learn a lot about the Industry, the tertiary spin-offs and the political process.

As the countdown continues, there were two articles that have really jumped out at me that sounds the alarm bells on the recent confidence of many, and solidifys the nay-sayer views of others.

The First is the form of an "open letter" that speaks to how Premier-Designate Kathleen Wynne spoke with many in Horse Racing, and made comments on how the Government needs to "Hit the Pause Button (on the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation's OLG Modernization)", and now is now supporting the modernization and putting large stock in the Transition Panel Report.


The full open letter:

The Second is an appeal to government to do a full study and review, and continue with the program as in effect prior to the deadline of March 31st, 2013, until a proper solution is found.  



The full open letter: 

The "Cole's Notes" of this new information (paraphrased, highlighted, etc.) are that instead of the Slots At Racetrack Program percentages, Municipalities are going to receive less, and the slot parlours will perform less without a similar race program (10-20% stronger on race days)... relating to an additional 50 Million dollars aside from the Billions of Economic spin-off... more money being gassed for no reason.  Also, it has come to light that the "Mystery Number" as a Government Subsidy is 10 Million Dollars to approximately 13 tracks, with an undisclosed amount to Woodbine and Mohawk (Woodbine Entertainment Group).  In contrast, that's what 1 track earned from their SARP revenue in 2012.  

Woodbine laid off 25% of their workforce based on their undisclosed number (and the lay of the land of the Industry).  A lot of hope was in the Premier-Designate to right the ship in some fashion.  A lot of hope was in the Transitional Panel's recommendations (from the naysayers and the proponents) and in addition to recommending slashing the race days in half, they've slashed the revenues by... 80-90% (depending on how the SARP revenues to Industry are looked at in contrast to Transition Funding).

I think Burgess has it right... a freeze needs to happen now until it's really, really addressed.  It's not sustainable if the entire support and development system is wiped out.  Others have called this the short-term fix, but the long-term repercussions are being experienced now.

In a recent article, it was stated that the Premier-Designate hasn't opened the file.  Please do what you can to request her and her people to.  


Work in Sports Entertainment? Remember what's important

Saturday, 23 February 2013 14:46

Tweet by Brad Keselowski found by Rodeo Rod MacBeth - great insight Tweet by Brad Keselowski found by Rodeo Rod MacBeth - great insight

The Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Brad Keselowski is known for being a guy that speaks out and bucking the paradigm.  He recently was featured in an article in USA Today and was quoted as saying,

"The problem I see in the sport is that there are multiple entities that have to work together for us to be successful.
We have sponsors — partners, or whatever the hell you want to call them — tracks, the sanctioning body and the teams. Those are our four groups, and how well they cooperate dictates what we have as a product for our fans. And our fans create everything."

Of course he was speaking of NASCAR (the non-athletic sport centred around rednecks ~ Ryan Rodrigues), a once brand-dominant franchise that is currently experiencing a drop in attendance and viewership, but this setiment is true to all of Sports Entertainment, as "Rodeo Rod" MacBeth pointed out last night on Facebook.

As of late, I've been an advocate behind #OntarioHorseRacing's plight versus the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission, and in their struggle, a Ontario-Sanctioned Government Panel pointed this same setiment to them in their report: re-brand and re-engage the consumer.  But in the struggle, all parties negotiating are not considering all of the pieces: Tracks are making deals good for their survival, while not considering up-and-down the chain - the Commissions and Associations, the drivers, owners, breeders... while the owners, drivers and breeders are calling foul on the deals the tracks are making that are slicing and dicing their industry by large precentages.

Of course with all Sports Entertainment Properties there is a circle of contribution and existance.  

  • NASCAR: Sponsors, Tracks, NASCAR, Teams, Fans (what Brad Keselowski doesn't recognize that while the ultimate product has to be geared to the Fans, they are as important of a contributor to the rest of the pieces of the puzzle by their involvement)
  • Horse Racing: Tracks, Associations, Owners (with track and backstretch team), Breeders, Bettors / Fans (Sponsors are a variable throughout)
  • Rodeo: Host Committees, Producers/Contractors, Associations, Competitors, Fans (Sponsors are a variable throughout)

Remove one of these components, and the circle will implode.  Obviously, no Fans means no Sponsors (due to lack of ROI), No Fans means no attendance revenue, which then becomes no operating capital, and boom.  No Track or Host Committee... no event to host fans.  No Associations... it brings Marshal Law into the fold and brings no mediator, governor, or guide towards growth, no Producer/Contractors... no events, no nothing, and no drivers/competitors/horses, etc. ... then no Sport.

Regardless of the weight of Sponsorship and Operating Revenues, it will fluctuate based on the Fans.  And to attract and KEEP the fans, the product has to be enjoyable, develop a passion, fuel a need, and move FORWARD.  As soon as the Fan experience lowers, that correlates into the entire ecosystem going down.

The growth of the sport is based on the Fan Volume and Affluence.  Sport has Fans.  Gets on Cable TV.  Grows Fans.  More attendance.  Gets Network TV.  More attendance.  More non-attending Fans.  Greater Reach.  Think of your favourite sports... are they televised often?  Are they on digital/cable or on network?  Network won't pick them up unless they can capitalize on a large volume of attending and non-attending fans.  The more TV, the more Sponsorship, the more reward for the sport's stars..  It starts and ends with the Fans.

Think of your sport or event.  How has today's economy or political landscape affected the Fan Experience?  Did prices go up?  Or did they go down to become more affordable... at the expense of the product?  Have Race Cards or Competitor Numbers gone down because of attrition or segregation?  Have the purses decreased or remained the status quo in a time where cost of living and cost of competing or attending gone up?

As I look to Rodeo and Racing, I would cite examples to these and more.  The Fan Experience needs to be the focus.  The circle will need to become a pyramid with those fans at the top, and an intertwined system underneath fuelling them.

We often see the driver/competitor angle.  They are the stars and the focus.  But what they often show is a sense of entitlement.  They often take for granted that people came to see them run/ride/compete.  But they don't fuel that experience.  The Professional Bull Riders and Monster Jam are great organizations I have been a part of and seen the inner workings of; and they take their top-tier competitors and teach them public speaking, and ways to engage the fans... and thank the fans.  This comes from NASCAR who really nailed it first.  They used their fans at the top of the pyramid to build into a franchise.  Watch one of these events, and they're constantly thanking the fans.  Onto Baseball, Football, Basketball... it's very rare.  Think of the owner/coach/quarterback thanking the fans in the celebrations after a Super Bowl or World Series win.... when they're thanked, they go banana's... because it's not an ad nauseum thing as it should be.  But where they're doing OK, is they breathe into the fanatic experience and are beyond accessible to the fans in attendance and on television, as opposed to the Sports that are trying to work to that level.

Where the actual competition counterparts need to focus on building this fan experience, is as Brad said... by working together.  He cites an issue with how NASCAR is built on the Sponsors, and the Teams all fight each other to get the sponsors... not a good place to be when you mutually want to see your sport prosper.  

In our Rodeo World, there is a branching off by Event Committees (Calgary, Houston) or Producers and Contractors from the Association front, which has had some positive changes to the fan experience by featuring "The Best Of", but also some degregation to the fan experience... when the Association is the drive for the growth, that is one of the integral pieces that is needed.  They are the basis of determining "The Best Of", and garner the talent to get to that level.  For every event that detracts, less funds go towards that entity for growth, development, marketing... all correlating into: fan experience, competitor rewards, etc.  I have been following this end quite heavily, and part of the issue lies in the two entities not working with each other on their visions, back to the need for collective growth.

There is even cross-circle animosity a foot across the board.  A tweet from one of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo Qualifiers: "Rant of the day->all u ppl out there->it's the NFR. It's not the wNFR or anything of the such. Sorry wrangler, it's not your finals." ~ @jimrosscooper.  How can decrying paid-naming rights to an event be a positive in any fashion?  Or the opening of non-exclusivity of sponsors at finale events, when the prize pool is enhanced by one, while a handful of competitors are given a few bucks by the other for premier billing of a premier contender... 

There are many moving parts to each Sports Entertainment Industry.  I would almost caution that equally as integral to the Fan Experience is the Volunteer Experience.  Every Industry has them, and depending on the individual event, the entire organization thereof may be volunteers.  By dealing with all of the drama, it also affects their experience, which they really are in essence giving up their own time in the hopes of doing good.  When divas rain on that parade, they begin to dry up that pool of volunteers.  Also a major moving part... volunteers, replaced by paid staff, out of capital expenses, ultimately affecting the product, and again... fan experience.... purses... and so much more throughout the circle.  I often share the story of a speciatly act tearing apart the gate volunteer for "taking too long" to check them into an event.  That gate volunteer was more than a person with the clipboard, they were the event organizer, who volunteers year-round for an event.  How does ruining their experience affect the circle?  One less event... the ultimate detractor to fan experience.

As individuals of components of larger circles of an encompassing Sports Entertainment Industry, we need to be cognizant of the pieces that contribute, and literally work as a team, albeit Industry to enhance that Fan Experience.  It's working as a whole, not dividing and imploding amongst ourselves.  In our local racing situation, that's a collaborative negotiation with all parties heard and part of the ultimate solution.  In our Rodeo World, that's working together towards one direction so that all may prosper, not individual events or companies on the shortterm.

We're all in this to sell tickets to do what we love to do.  What has your contribution done to help sell tickets?  Could it be better, stronger, or more involved?

Even mighty NASCAR has a driver that sees that positive change is brought through unity, and that each individual needs to look outside of their own car or truck and see the greater picture.  "What's in it for me" is the last question someone should be considering in their actions... it's "what's in it for our fans, then me".

Without one, there is no all.  And the wheels will only spin until more people see that these rants out of the paradigm are by visionaries... not lobbyists with personal agendas.



An Insider's View of My Career

Saturday, 23 February 2013 12:24

Blog on Rodeo Announcer Joe Scully, ProRodeo MC on RidingHideIn my role within the business of event production Bio's are a standard item, which read like a grocery list of bullet points.  On the rare occasion, a writer may be looking for an interesting angle while covering rodeo, and the announcer definitely fit into that segment as not one of the more "storied" of an event, as the event and its competitors are the stars.

I have had articles in Newspapers and on blogs before, but this latest piece on my career has an intriguing perspective: it's written by a contestant.

Brandon Moyer of recently posted this piece that shares some of the stories of my early production days as a Rodeo Clown... and it definitely made me giggle!

With correlations to Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes, references to "Skinny Timmy Johnson" and those announcers that have influenced my style and career, I definitely thought it was a nice encompassing piece with that unique angle of from in the arena.



Rodeo Announcer Lessons

Thursday, 21 February 2013 01:38

Marshall and Daddy Marshall Scully rocks the microphone

On a recent trip to Wendy's, Marshall found the best prize ever at the bottom of his kid's meal... a microphone!  It kinda sounds like a kazoo when you talk in it, this entertained us for ever, until we noticed there was no one left in our section.

Marshall for some reason loves Brooks and Dunn's song "Cowboy Town" which is on CD in Super Duty, and on the iPad, iPhone and iMac... and he plays it over and over and over...

Combine the two, and you have our latest video: Rodeo Announcer Lessons.

One of the perks of being a combo Announcer and Soundman at events is the ability to have music complement your delivery, as opposed to fighting with it.  Letting a song build, then joining it and rocking to the post adds punch and style...

... Marshall naturally knows how to work with music as opposed to against it.

"Cowboy Town" is the country version of "Lose Yourself" in terms of letting music set the stage.  Time it right, and well, even a two year-old can get you amped up.

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