Due to extreme public outcry and unfortunate misinterpretations, the original post has been edited for clarity. Changes are in bold
That’s what the roulette dealer (spinner?) said as I quickly spun my way through my initial $40. Meanwhile Jessica, the Roulette prodigy, easily (and giddily) doubled the same amount. I’ve never been to Vegas and can’t say that I’ve been all that interested in casinos, so I was surprised to find out how lackluster the odds were at the tables.
After a long day of presenting, mingling, discussing and trying to process all that was going on, Roulette provided the perfect mix of slightly engaged yet brain dead action with a hint of better odds and no counting.
I’ve managed to avoid conferences for my entire career. I’m bad at networking, worse at small talk and even more worse at public speaking. What was I thinking? I suppose, among other things, I was wondering what the heck goes on at a conference geared towards marketing horse racing and what the heck are racing executives like. Were they the hapless, greedy, uncaring, non-email answering lot we’ve made them out to be?
I was pleasantly surprised to find that all the people I spoke to were not only open to what we had to say, they really REALLY wanted to hear it… AND talk about it. It was a profoundly good vibe, something I never expected from any conference let alone a conference on racing.
In fact, after the presentation, aside from all the congratulations (no doubt for setting a world record for “um” usage), more than one person noted that it was a “tough room”. While I didn’t pick up on that, it did seem to me like there were folks who already got what we were saying and others who didn’t but were interested to know more. Perhaps the tough part of the crowd skipped our presentation.
Overall the biggest highlight for me was when Mike Maloney, whale extraordinaire and ardent proponent of wagering integrity, came over to Jessica and I to not only say that he reads both of our blogs (probably just Jessica’s) but to thank us for Self Appointed Fan Committee! I wish I could remember exactly what he said but it was along the lines of “it’s necessary” and “great work”. Totally mind blowing!
In a photo for biggest highlight was breakfast on the second the day with my new bestest pal Alex Waldrop, Mike Maloney, Mel Moser, Jessica, Patrick and non-blogger panel member Troy Racki (founder of the excellent NTRA Ambassador Program).
We sat outdoors on the terrace overlooking the mountains and discussing such topics as “are there different types of blogs” (yes), “turf writers vs. bloggers” (some blogs are more akin to reportage and others aren’t), “the stigma of gambling in the US” (Alex has a loose theory that the puritans are to blame… hint: Australians love gambling), “marketing the “gaming” aspect of racing” (Patrick = no, Mel Moser & me = yes) and probably a lot more I’m not remembering.
The topic of Larry Jones came up (prior to his retirement announcement) and Mike Maloney had a story to tell. At one point he was considering putting horses in training with Jones so he went to barn to get a first hand look at the operation. He was struck by the fact that every horse came up to the front of the stall to say hello as he walked by, unlike other barns where there would always be a number of horses cowering in the back of the stall with pinned ears. The horses at Jones’ barn were happy and well cared for. While not a surprise, nothing like a first person account to validate what you already believe to be true.
Throughout the conference I had a number of occasions to chat one on one with Alex. I found him to be very direct, easy to talk to and generally sincere if not totally down to earth. I don’t envy his job (which I think I mentioned to him several times). Any CEO’s job is to go around selling the vision but in most cases the CEO has the ability to make people get with the vision. Obviously this isn’t the case with the NTRA. As he put it (and I’m paraphrasing), “people think of the NTRA as a trade organization, but that would imply that everyone is of the same trade”. He slightly chuckled at the end of the sentence, sans snorting.
The thing that I liked about both Alex and Keith Chamblin is that they’re not bullshitty. They’re not acting like there aren’t problems, there not acting like they know how best to solve everything and most of all they really do want input (cough, SAFC, cough).
The night before the conference officially kicked off, we were invited to dinner by Keith and John Della Volpe of Social Sphere (the mastermind of the whole task force and man you should thank for pointing out to the NTRA that “your core fans are pissed”).
Dinner was festive and Keith & John were great hosts, although it’s not like it was hard to get the gang to hold forth on any number of topics… how often do you get the ear of the NTRA?
I was a bit reserved (and tired) but Keith yelled across the table “Are you gonna talk about Self Appointed Fan Committee tomorrow?”. As Patrick already alluded, he ran a pretty tight ship on what was included in our recommendation, so fairly early on the group settled on keeping the recommendations focused on creating new fans as opposed to addressing issues that effect existing fans. Since SAFC is specifically for existing fans (I hope new fans aren’t complaining yet!) it didn’t even dawn on me to include it in the presentation (more on the task force and recommendations later!).
Not to disappoint our host, I gladly agreed to talk about SAFC (even though when it came down to it, I stammered and “um”-ed my way though). “We love Self Appointed Fan Committee” he said. “How often do you get to talk to these people, go for it” was his advice. Not only was this exactly the kind of encouragement one would hope for in this situation, it was the correct approach and spirit for reaching out to your loyal fan base and, in part, why I believe them when they say they’re listening.
Alex gave the keynote address at lunch the day of our presentation. He’s a good speaker. At one point he half joked that racing is like a rorschach test, when you look at it do you see a butterfly or a bomb exploding? He said latter that that part was not in his notes and probably a little flip, but I have to say I think there’s some truth in that analogy.
Do you think they’re listening and will to try to make changes or do you think it’s hopeless and anything is too little, too late? Winston is right, we as the really pissed fans have to remain vigilant and part of that vigilance is letting them know what we think. After all, they do after all love SAFC!
The morning of the presentation I had forgotten my badge and had to go back up to my room. On the way back I rode in the elevator with a normal looking guy, probably 30s, khaki shorts, golf shirt, ball cap and freshly opened beer. It was 7:45 am. It was the perfect example of the kind of stuff that stays in Vegas. My suspicion is that the stuff that happened at the conference has left Vegas and will be seen again in the near future.