Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Another bonehead move

While California horsemen fret over the risk of customer cannibalization as a result of account wagering, Woodbine Entertainment officials say they have found just the opposite to be true: Televised racing drives wagering.
Nick Eaves and Andrew MacDonald of Woodbine Entertainment told the Harness Racing Congress Feb. 21 about their company's success by "employing any and all distribution strategies."


 The above quote is a direct statement in 2002 by Nick Eaves, the current Chief Executive officer of WEG (Woodbine Entertainment Group).

Before I start this blog,  let me make one thing perfectly clear. What the Liberal government and the OLG, led by one of the most crooked politicians in my lifetime, Paul Godfrey, did to racing is deplorable. And nonsensical. To cut them down in one fell swoop with basically no warning or plan to serve private interest groups who will benefit along with themselves is something that should never have happened. It has always been my position that if racing had strong leadership--real,  true, smart, competent leadership--and had acted quickly and defiantly when it first happened, they could have put a stop to it and at least reversed this decision and got them to do it right. Kind of like the leadership that the Meadowlands now has with Jeff Gural. But that is a blog for another day.
The slots do have to go. That is a fact. But it didn't have to happen this way. The point was not to destroy horse racing in Ontario, the point should have been to make it self sufficient and within a reasonable time frame and chance to do so. My position, again, is that horse racing and slot machines can never co-exist. They are adversarial. They aim to take the same market, gambling money and entertainment created to get that money. One flourishes, the other dies at the exact same rate. You would never see a Las Vegas Casino put one of their prime competitors right on their own property and help them do well. It goes against all logic. And now, when the bird is ready to fly we see what the caretaker is left with: Nothing.
Horse racing in Ontario had 15 years to bridge this problem and become self sufficient. It has horribly failed in that time. It sits today at the mercy of the government and appears as beggars pleading with the government to give them more time. Meanwhile, the leaders in the industry do nothing. Or they make bonehead moves like Nick Eaves just did last week.
I preface it that way because I never want to appear to come of as someone who doesn't want to see horse racing succeed and prosper. I love racing and it is a great sport, despite its many problems with all sort of issues. If I was in power, whatever position that would be, I would do whatever I thought was beneficial to make it work better and be viable. I think it is worthy of continuing, but not on the track it has been on for about 40 years. My position has always been that if done right, it can work and everyone can win. That, sadly, has not happened for ages. Slot money covered that ugly reality up for 15 years. Now, it is exposed again.
That said, it is where it is. How did we get here and why does it appear that there is less and less hope every day that it will survive?  I will attempt to answer that and bring up only the most recent example of why it seems anyone who has any clout is doing the exact wrong thing to fix this.


When the news came almost a year ago that horse racing in Ontario was going to lose the slot money that has carried it for 15 years it was a shock. A shock to most. Not a shock to me, as I predicted this more than 10 years ago. As soon as governments started to get in a deficit position, they were going to look for places to increase revenue. It doesn't matter that they will actually lose revenue--from a net gain perspective--with a move like this. They were still going to do it, because it sells with the general public who view slot money to horse people as charity and a subsidy. In some respects, it is charity.
 Sure, it is a business arrangement where the government benefits greatly from the deal. No doubt about that. And it doesn't cost the government a cent or cause them to take any financial risk. All that is true. But they could already do anything they wanted with respect to Vegas style gaming without the horsepeople if they wanted. And now they do want that. And as we have seen, the big players are lining up to get a piece of the action. 
So, the only motivation was to keep the horse racing industry viable by propping it up. And make no mistake, it needed propping up. And still does. Without the slot money, horse racing on any significant level in Ontario basically doesn't exist anymore. Racetracks like Elmira, Goderich, Leamington, Orangeville, old Barrie racetrack and others perished because they were not viable. Sudbury, Kawartha, Hanover, Clinton, Sarnia and Fort Erie would have if not for the slot money. Before the slots, they raced for purses so low you could not make a profit racing unless you won just about every week. And even then, over time, you would lose money as an owner and be broke as a driver or trainer if you had a bad month or two. That was the reality, and when the slots vanish it will be a reality again. Unless.....
I will get to that later.

But none of that matters anyway. It is going to happen. Why?
Because horse people are so focused on saving the slot money that they still don't get it. The only way out of the mess is to get people back to the track and betting. Steady. On horse races. Period. If that doesn't happen then there is no point. There is an industry because people want your product. If they don't, then there isn't. Just because you can sponge off the slot money doesn't mean you should. It was nice while it lasted, but it was bound to end. Now, it has.


In 2010, WEG rebranded its former Race Night On The Score show to Bet Night Live, designed to "introduce new people to the sport and immediately experience the excitement and anticipation of horse racing and the thrill of winning." 
 "Included in the cost reductions announced last Wednesday was a significant reduction in our network TV programming," Woodbine CEO Nick Eaves told Trot Insider. "We will still produce the Queen's Plate on CBC and we hope to showcase other major races on network television however the Bet Night Live program has unfortunately been cancelled."

Based on a move like this, I think the time has come to ask if Nick Eaves is the right person to be manning the ship at WEG. He was very eager to cut and slash staff, and maybe some of that was justified. But, at a time when it appears the only chance you have to maintain your product, which the last time I checked was horse racing, is to gain new customers and keep the ones you have on the fence interested, the last thing you should do is cut your media presence. Looks to me that he just wants to keep getting his big paycheck for as long as he can until it all collapses, which it will if this is the type of move he thinks is a wise one.

 Nick Eaves is the CEO and president of WEG.
CEO. What does that stand for? Chief Executive Officer. Let's break that down. 

A Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is the highest-ranking corporate officer (executive) or administrator in charge of total management of an organization. An individual appointed as a CEO of a corporation, company, organization, or agency typically reports to the board of directors


-Highest in rank, authority, or office. Most important or influential. 


 -A person or group having administrative or managerial authority in an organization.


-A person holding a position of command or authority

If we put it back together, what we have is the person of highest rank, with administrative and/or managerial authority who holds a command position.
From this type of power and decision making ability, you expect a level of expertise and leadership skills.


Because of this, I have to question Nick Eaves credentials. So, I decided to look them up. Here is what I found.


There isn't that much out there on the internet about Nick Eaves credentials. He ran a painting company during his college years and eventually came to run and off track betting parlor. He then spent 12 years with WEG before becoming COO of the company in 2006. His responsibilities were basically the internet and gaming aspects of the business. Slot machines and off track wagering. That is what he worked hardest towards. And with good reason. He had no experience with racing and knew nothing about it-by his own admission.

"I hadn't been exposed to racing that much prior to joining the Woodbine group back in 1994," Eaves said.  "I had been to Western Fair Raceway in London where I was going to school and to Greenwood in Toronto, but I knew very little about horse racing."

It appears nothing has changed. He doesn't have a big Ivy league pedigree. He doesn't have hands on experience in the racing business. It doesn't appear he has ever owned any racehorses. He doesn't even claim to work to build the racing audience and fan base. He just fired the most qualified person in the company, Bruce Murray, that was capable of doing that.

 Yes, he is slick and well spoken. No doubt about that. He has the corporate lingo and game down pat. He is a good face on the brand. I will give him that. He wears the very nice suit. He has the very nice, responsible haircut. Every hair is in place. He will never say anything that will cause the company to call him into the boardroom to explain himself. He is very "executive". He has that part down pat. He is also certainly an officer of the company. He follows the party line and does what is expected of him. He won't make waves. He won't take any chances. He is no Steve Jobs. He will get his big fat paycheck, he will do what he is told and at the end of it all he will leave with a big fat golden handshake while the rest of the industry dies a horrible death. The one thing he is not is "a chief". 

Chief's don't kiss ass. Nick Eaves is a total ass kisser. He has been kissing the governments ass, a government who is ass fucking his enterprise, for months now. How does that serve the horsepeople he is supposed to represent? It doesn't. Why? Because he doesn't actually represent you. He represents himself and his career. So, what to do about that?
What is a chief? A chief leads. He takes charge and makes decisions that benefit the people under him. The people who follow him, trust him and put their faith in his ability to do what is best for the whole group. A chief doesn't get rid of the soldiers most able to help the team win the battle. A chief doesn't make decisions that help maintain his level of power while at the same time ensure the cause will be lost at the end of it all. 

Nick Eaves...is not a chief.

 Eaves was quoted in March 2007 edition of The Harness Edge magazine as saying: "We have to provide a fantastic product to today's customer and make sure we're putting on the best racing and that our restaurants are as good as they can be and our facilities are as clean as they can be and that our communications are as succinct as they can be.  We're focused on that and I think we're doing a really good job."

Explain to me how the recent decisions are "focused on that?"


Horsepeople are very eager to blame the Liberals, and there is plenty about them to blame. And the OLG and Paul Godfrey. But they are an easy target. They are clearly the enemy here. But when your allies, or apparent allies are your actual enemies and are more allied with the other side than your own, if you do nothing to correct that you might as well wave the white flag. You have no chance. You can't fight your enemies when you have no competent leadership on your side. It simply won't work.


 "How are we expected to compete when the referee is also our opponent?" Eaves emphasized.

Mr. Eaves concluded his remarks by saying, "WEG hopes that the government will include the successful and participatory integration of horse racing into the province's overall gaming strategy. Otherwise it is hard to see the numbers working to allow WEG to be more than, at best, a pale imitation of its current status as a renowned international leader in both the Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries and, the anchor of Ontario's horseracing and breeding industry."

June 21, 2012
That was then. In his recent press conferences, he still refers to the government as "our partners".
Which is it Mr. Eaves? Are they the opponent and competitors or are they our partners? Do you even know? Or care? It appears not. 

What kind of idiot wants to partner with a government who has demonstrated they are out to screw you and destroy you? I have to wonder why this person has any power or interest in the best interests racing. I conclude he does not.
Nick Eaves is neither a chief or a competent executive. If anything, he is an officer with loyalties to the government, and not the horsepeople who are putting their livelihoods on the line. When the short term aid money is gone in two years, the whole model breaks down. By then, Nick Eaves will be long gone and on to his next job. Where will the horsemen with no viable alternatives be?
They will be on the internet bickering amongst themselves and wondering why they didn't speak up to get rid of the Nick Eaves of the world and promote the sport they love and make a living from. By then, it may be too late. It may already be too late. 
Nick Eaves is the Captain steering the Titanic towards an iceberg and telling you it is just a tiny piece of ice. Don't complain later when the iceberg sinks the ship. Speak up now and avoid the iceberg.   
Based on recent actions and decision, Nick Eaves must go and the whole team at WEG must be replaced. If not, big time racing in Ontario will be completely dead in 2 years.  

I will conclude where I started this blog, from the same article. This is what Nick Eaves said in 2002.

  "He (Nick Eaves) painted a picture of Woodbine in the early 1990s as a business in serious decline. It was failing to attract a new audience, its distribution was limited to live racing, it had little TV exposure, had no technological advances, and experienced a steep drop-off in wagering due to competition for entertainment and gaming dollars."

If it was important then to have a strong TV presence, isn't even more important now?