Saving the Sport of Kings?

 Horse Racing is the original American Sport.

In the late 1600’s the Governor of New York, Peter Stuyvesant built a racetrack in what was to become the borough of Queens, and horse racing was born in America. In the early part of the 20th century it was among the most popular sports, if not the most popular form of sports entertainment in America. It goes back as far as man goes back. So why is it dying in the 21-century and what can be done?

Some quick background, I’ve been a Horse Racing fan since I was in high school. Growing up on Long Island my friends and I used to sneak out of school early, pile into my Dodge Dart and head to the Big A (Aqueduct Racetrack) or Belmont Park for after school entertainment. It wasn’t long after that Saratoga became a regular August affair for me.

I was at the Affirmed-Alydar Belmont Stakes in 1978 as Affirmed won the Triple Crown. I saw Spectacular Bid go out too fast and get beat by Coastal to lose his shot at the Triple Crown a year later, and watched Forgo stage one of the biggest come from behind victories ever in a major stakes race. If you’re a fan, Horse Racing leaves indelible moments etched into your memory.

I enjoy the intensity and excitement of the short all out races and the challenging exercise of trying to figure out how the race will play out by studying the past performances and then deciding how to wager to make money from your efforts.


As I became a broadcasting and production professional, sportscaster and writer, I was fortunate enough to get to hang out in the press box at Turf Paradise when I worked in Phoenix. I began to see the industry from the inside for the first time and also started to see what was not happening around the track.

I would later be offered the job as Director of Broadcast at Turf Paradise but decided to turn it down for an offer to work at NBA Entertainment and return home to New York. So I never ended up getting involved in Horse Racing professionally, but observed from a distance and saddened to see its decline. So what does the industry need to do to regain its glory?

The Sport of Kings is on life support. It didn’t happen overnight and won’t be solved overnight, but by breaking down some of the key issues we can start to form possible solutions. Here are my top ten problems and suggestions:

1) Let’s start with nobody knows the rules!

Only those who work in the industry and your hard core fans can answer these questions; why do only 3 year olds run in the Triple Crown Races, what’s a claiming race, what’s an allowance race, what’s a stakes race, why do they run all different distances on different surfaces, how do they decide how much weight goes on the horse, how are the odds determined and the list goes on. Without people having a basic understanding of the rules, you can’t grow a sport.

Strategy/First steps: Every person that walks into any racetrack in America should have the opportunity to watch entertaining videos that explain the basics of the sport on the big screen scoreboards and TV monitors before and in-between races. These videos should be produced through a central governing body such as the Jockey Club or NTRA and made readily available through all forms of traditional and social media. An on-line network should be set up to provide this and other racing information, features, and history. There should be track employees stationed throughout the facility that are there to answer questions and help this process.

This “education” should also be a core feature of EVERY “live” racing broadcast shown on the networks, during local recaps shows, simulcasts and other distribution outlets. They can be sponsored to help recapture production costs. A coordinated effort is needed.

2) Nobody knows anything about the PEOPLE involved

Without a connection between the fans and caretakers of the sport, nothing will change. A few trainers might have some notoriety but overall it’s an anonymous sport.

Strategy/First Steps: The sport needs to create stars that walk on two legs. Horse Racing can follow the tested and successful model forged by the NBA, NASCAR and other major sports leagues. The sport has plenty of characters and intriguing personalities to choose from. Jockey’s and trainers come from all over the world, owner’s range from blue bloods to blue collar. There needs to be a coordinated public relations plan to make them all visible in local markets and seen to be part of the community.

A primary aspect of this strategy needs to be based in broadcasting and social media. Programs need to be produced a la “NBA Inside Stuff” or “This Week in Baseball” that puts a “cool” mainstream spin on the current day participants and also gives a historical perspective. Behind the scenes access should be a big part of the programming.

3) There’s no compelling reason to hang around beyond the Triple Crown races and Breeders Cup

Strategy/First Steps: Connect people to things in the sport they can relate to, since the horses come and go pretty quickly, so anyone that gets attached to a particular horse only becomes a fan for a short time unless they are given other reasons to stay interested in the sport.

People need to know what they’re rooting for so there needs to be a general education about the history of the sport, what goes into making a champion horse, what it takes to become a jockey, trainer, owner. There can be stories of the rich history, current big business and intrigue (breeding and sales), fashion, medicine and science, overcoming obstacles, the key is relating it to a wide audience.

4) There are no leagues, standings, or playoffs to follow

Strategy/First Steps: There can be a two year old division, a three year old division, a 4 and up division with points awarded based on on-track accomplishments. A play-off system can be devised that could lead to the Breeders Cup as the Super Bowl. One reason the points system works so well for NASCAR is that individual races count toward a bigger goal.

5) The sport still has a reputation of being a bunch of seedy old guys hanging out and betting their last dollars, not a family affair for entertainment

Strategy/First Steps: There is a core fan base, but it’s not enough. That base does expand for the Triple Crown Races, Saratoga, Del Mar and the Breeders Cup but most days, it’s a dismal lonely affair at the countries racetracks.

The model to remedy this can be found in other major sports. A day at the racetrack has to be a full day of entertainment for a wide diverse audience, not just 20 minutes of races in four hours surrounded by a bunch of screens flashing odds aimed at the current core. Just like an NBA or MLB game, the entire day needs to be scripted and choreographed with a number of strategic goals in mind.

6) Simulcasting doesn’t do anything to grow the sport

Strategy/First Steps: The sports has a built in-satellite network, every track is up on satellite feeds for six or seven hours every day, this air time can be used to promote and market the sport as well as showing the odds and races to perspective betters.

7) There has not been an effort to create a community of on-line gamers

Strategy/First Steps: Horse Racing is a natural for on-line gamers. There are hundreds of ways it could be produced for video games. This medium directly connects the sport to the new target audience, young adults who can form the next generation of fans.

8) Most people don’t understand the analytical challenge required to handicap

Strategy/First Steps: Back to the education thing. Tout sheets are nice, but instead of tracks handing fans today’s “winners,” teach them how to handicap, make it fun. It can be tied to education in a way never done before by showing the math and strategic thinking that’s needed to handicap. Use it as a learning tool with prizes instead of dollars.

9) The current horse racing networks seem to cater to hard-core fans and don’t take a local approach

Strategy/First Steps: Between daily simulcasts, two full time networks, local broadcasts, and the current schedule of races slated for national and regional TV, the distribution outlets are already teed up.

My comment on why the two national networks have limited success is that these outlets do not connect with local racing fans, regional programming would be more effective. I think they need to reverse their approach, think local and start covering the sports at the grass roots level.

10) The Governing bodies don’t have the clout to unite the sport

Strategy/First Steps: There needs to be a single cohesive, empowered marketing and media organization that represents the industry. The current media landscape and new powerful social media outlets create new opportunities to reach potential fans. There’s a reason all the major leagues, NASCAR, and the PGA have large Entertainment, Production, Marketing and Business Operations and have networks run by the leagues.

After passing up the Turf Paradise opportunity, I ended up spending 18 years at the NBA, launched NBA TV, started-up the OKC Thunder’s Broadcasting Department / Digital Media Operations and learned the power of a coordinated Broadcasting and Multimedia effort. In my opinion it’s the first step to start reinventing the sport of horse racing.


Ken Adelson is founder of Adelson Sports Productions / Media Forward and former SVP of Production Operations for NBA Entertainment and Executive Producer for OKC Thunder Basketball.

NBA Season Open Turns Dysfunctional 
From the Digital Sports Desk:
  • DECEMBER 9, 2011 -  Just before the lockout was officially lifted and the proverbial floodgates were about to open, the trade rumors flowed like fine wine at a millionaire’s wedding. Instead, the deal ended up in the gutter, like a drunkard on Bourbon Street and the wine turned sour, into whines.  Free agent NBA All-Star guard Chris Paul was reportedly headed to the big market LA Lakers in a deal that allegedly tagged Lamar Odom with a ticket to New Orleans while Pau Gasol was nearly sent packing to the Houston Rockets.  Instead, it all came tumblin’ down.

    Multiple media reports, all originating after an extensive story broke from Yahoo Sports, claimed the trade was nullified after a number of NBA teams complained to the NBA league office about the bevy of deals, all seemingly benefitting the big market teams like Los Angeles, New York and Miami.  The ink on the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement with its players was barely dry after ratification by the NBA Players Association and the league’s Board of Governors when the reports of a blockbuster three-way trade between the Lakers, the Rockets and (league owned and operated) Hornets had the other 29 team owners in an uproar.

    The tenor of uproar stemmed from the newfound trend of players attempting to influence, maybe even dictate their destinations while they outwardly bucked NBA regulations for an fair and open trading season.  The dissatisfaction with the trend and the inability for the league’s labor relations committee to get more stringent rules in place to govern player movement was very much apparent as the league was ready to open for business.

    The NBA did not comment on the record, according to Yahoo Sports.

    While earlier reports had the Boston Celtics vying for the services of Paul and attempting to trade everybody plus the kitchen sink for the high-scoring guard, more recent missives reported that Paul was keen on a trip to Los Angeles to team with Kobe Bryant.  Paul made it certain that he was not seeking a long-term deal to remain in New Orleans, a city that has had its ups & downs after Hurricane Katrina struck the city and fan support for the NBA dwindled to the point where the NBA stepped in to purchase the franchise and hire an operating group that included San Antonio Spurs front office protege Dell Demps as GM.

    Demps, together with Houston GM Daryl Morey and the LA Lakers Mitch Kupchak hatched the blockbuster which would’ve leveled the Lakers’ massive frontline trio of seven-footers by subtracting Gasol and Odom and inevitably trading bigman Andrew Bynum, possibly in a deal that would land free-agent-to-be Dwight Howard.  Theoretically, the Lakers would eventually start Paul and point guard Derek Fisher, along with superstar swingman Kobe Bryant, alongside the artist formerly known as Ron Artest (Metta World Peace) and the highly coveted Howard at center.  The defensive abilities of Bryant, Artest and Howard would certainly make up for the defensive deficiencies of Paul and Fisher and the Lakers could build a long-term plan around a young, solid core.

    Meanwhile, reports from the twitter-verse have free agent swingman Shane Battier headed to Miami to complement the trio of Dwayne Wade, Lebron James and Chris Bosh.  Battier, known for his hard work and chemistry-inducing team play, will reportedly sign with the Heat as early as today, the first day the NBA returns to normal operating procedures, if anything in the NBA can be considered normal in this decisively abnormal offseason.

    The free agent frenzy, official team work-outs, rookie signings and the return of a legion of NBA players returning to their clubs from short-term deals in foreign lands will all crash together in a perfect storm as the league attempts to jump-start its engines after a 150-day lockout nearly cancelled the 2011-12 stanza.  The signing and training camp period, December 9 to 24, will be amongst the most turbulent times in NBA history as teams figure out the new rules, consider which players they might dump via an “amnesty” clause all while they maneuver for position, salary cap space and financial planning for the summer of 2012, a time when multiple free agent talents will become available after their existing contracts expire.

“Air Thunder “ case study, cross purposing content to extend the value of a broadcast

I designed The Thunder’s weekly magazine/news show “Air Thunder” with these basic principals in mind, the show would air on as many outlets as possible without having to be re-edited, providing additional revenue opportunities without any additional expenses. The program aired on Fox Sports Oklahoma, (regional cable) on the team’s flagship radio station, sent out as a podcast, posted on the team’s website, and posted on,.the multimedia arm of  Oklahoma’s leading newspaper and the state’s #1 web site.

By forming a production and distribution partnership with NewsOK, an additional outlet for the program was created. “Air Thunder” set records for page views on

The Thunder game production staff, producers, editors as well as the on-air television and radio broadcasters all contribute to the show as part of their regular responsibilities with no additional cost to the team.

In the show’s second year, the leading member of the state’s #1 morning radio show, a popular and creative personality who had prior in-market television experience was hired to host the show. This added yet another layer of cross- market integration to help build the show’s reach.

“Game Changer” – An Asset Management Quiz

The game has changed, while the core goals of making money, saving money, building brands and winning will never change, how an organization gets there is a whole new ballgame. In this digital age where content is king, being able to command that content and utilize digital assets to create ROI and a competitive advantage is mission critical to success on and off the field.


Professional and College Sports Teams, Leagues and Associations of all sizes have an opportunity to monetize their current and historical assets like never before and re-invent their business. It all starts with developing a multi-platform Content and Production Asset Management strategy.



How many of these questions can you answer?


  • Do you know the condition of your game tapes, interview tapes, historic event tapes and have you started a process to preserve these assets?


  • Could you easily find and re-use specific plays and interviews from these tapes on all traditional and mobile platforms?


  • What are your biggest challenges in production and distribution?


  • Does your sports operations staff and scouting group have access to all digital material owned by the organization?


  • Does your marketing and sales departments have on-line, immediate access to digital materials?


  • How do you manage handling multiple formats in production or in handling internal/external requests?


  • Do you efficiently utilize material across platforms; is there a single point of ingest?


  • What happens to your assets after they’re created? Do they get logged and how is that log preserved? Is it anyone’s job to make sure it happens?


  • Does the team and venue have separate unconnected production facilities?


  • Do you have a migration plan for SD and other outdated formats?


  • Can you share footage on desktops across the organization?


  • How often do production people need access to the same asset and how do you handle?


  • How much staff time is spent in tedious tasks of finding or retrieving and fulfilling request for digital or analog assets?


A well-constructed multi-platform content strategy and production asset management strategy (PAM) can answer these questions and provide the core building block to your success.


The infrastructure provides tools to create a centralized efficient digital work flow, enables real time collaboration and coordination throughout the organization, creating more efficient use of staff with less time spent searching for materials. The system will create additional programming capabilities driving new revenue streams, branding opportunities and interactive in-stadium fan interactive elements. It significantly increases the organizations ability to reach fans, staff and business partners on any platform, anywhere, anytime on any screen.


For a competitive advantage, it also enables management to provide the coaching staff and players with the latest tools and innovations for video capture and display in the locker rooms, coaches offices, team meeting rooms/theatres, family lounges and with minor league and remote scouting operations.


As a content strategist, executive producer for live games and feature programs, and production asset management specialist, I can help answer these questions and reinvent your media operations With an extensive professional network, I’m vendor agnostic and will always be working in your best interest to help design scalable systems for the long term.





The NBA “Bubble”

One thing is for sure, what’s happening now in the NBA isn’t good for anyone involved in the business of basketball and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

If you’re an NBA fan and you still care, you’re pulling your hair out wondering why the NBA team owners and their players association can’t figure out a way to split billions. To the average fan, it just doesn’t make sense. Even if you’re a casual fan, or you have a warped sense of humor and you like to watch rich people suffer, you’ve undoubtedly heard or read more than your fair share of stories on the NBA lockout. Certainly, you’ve been fed a steady diet of information from the PR machines operating on behalf of the owners and players.

But here’s one you probably haven’t heard and in my opinion it’s at the core of why we’re not watching basketball in November.

Once upon a time, not all that long ago, you could buy an NBA expansion team team like the Dallas Mavericks for $12.5 million dollars. In 1986, you could’ve thrown your hat in the ring for a team in Charlotte, Miami, Orlando or Minnesota for a sum of $32.5 million while a few years later, a team in Vancouver or Toronto had an expansion fee of a hefty $125 million, apiece. It seems like a bargin now, but in the 1980′s, the state of the league was pretty dismal, and you could have made an argument that forking over $32.5 million was an awful investment. Fast forward to 2011 and after Magic, Larry, Michael and David (Stern) made the league a global phenomenon, NBA franchises are now going for over $400 million dollars.

Since the turn of the century, 16 franchises have changed hands. That’s more than half the league and the owners of those franchises all paid top dollar. Even in the year 2000, it was getting pricey, from the $255 million paid by Stan Kronke to acquire the Denver Nuggets to the $285 million Mark Cuban paid to buy the Dallas Mavericks. In 2010, the Detroit Pistons were purchased by Tom Gores for $400 million and in 2011, the Golden State Warriors were bought by the investment duo of Peter Guber and Joe Lacob for a hefty $450 million.

Now here’s the catch, some of these new owners bought teams from guys who paid less than $40 million back in the day. Tom Gores bought the Pistons from the estate of the late Bill Davidson, who purchased the team in 1957 from the original team owner, Fred Zollner, for a mere bag of shells, reported as $6 million. Davidson’s estate reportedly cashed $325 mil for the club that was valued at over $400 million a year before. Dan Gilbert bought the Cavaliers from the Gund family in 2005 and paid $375 million, Gordon Gund had paid $20 million in 1983 and even bargained his way to secure extra first-round draft choices to bail out the woeful franchise. Robert Sarver bought the Phoenix Suns from an investment group headed by Jerry Colangelo in 2004 and paid some $401 million for the Suns and Mercury franchises and arena they play in. In 1987, after a drug scandal nearly took down the Suns, Colangelo’s investment group, highly leveraged, paid 44 million to Richard Bloch and a boat load of other investors, including the legendary Andy Williams. Bloch’s group originally paid $2 million to the NBA in 1968 when they hired the young Colangelo to be the team’s first GM.

You get the idea. The old guard were playing the game with HOUSE MONEY and they knew it. They could afford a bad labor deal or two, or overpay for some wins, because it didn’t matter. They knew their big payday was coming when they sold the team.

The new breed paid staggering big bucks for their franchises. These new guys, rich as they might be, bought at the peak of the market and now have a business on their hands that in many cases is a money loser facing a cash call. So guess what, no more house money, no more huge cushions, the BUBBLE HAS BURST and these owners have to start running these teams like a business nearing oblivion.

With their investments at stake, most new team owners can’t afford a losing deal and it appears they’re using this year’s Collective Bargaining negotiation to try and make up for the mistakes of owners of the past.

When you’re not watching the NBA anytime soon, remember the old adage, “follow the money.” Owners are trying to put a deal in place that will secure the big payoff when they’re ready to sell, and the players can’t understand whey they’re less valuable today than they were a year ago.


Ken Adelson is a major player in the broadcasting, production and new media world and previously served as a senior level media executive at the NBA and OKC Thunder.



Missing the point

In an article in the Friday November 4th edition of the NY Daily News, the media critic took on the topic of news organizations beginning to do “mobile” live remotes for their newscasts. The angle the writer took was this new technology  was useless because there was essentially no difference from what could be presented from a non-mobile traditional “live” report.”

On that isolated level, he is correct. From what the viewer sees, in most cases it doesn’t look all that different but that’s not the primary function and benefit of this engaging this new technology.

New mobile IP (Internet Protocol) technology creates the ability for a station to go “live” with a remote camera, feeding back the signal to the station with no satellite truck or local microwave link. So you take away the need for a separate videographer, audio person, engineer and the cost of a satellite feed. From the station’s point of view they now created the same content with 1 person instead of 4!  In theory enables them to do more “live” shots expanding their coverage providing additional benefits for their viewers and of course provide significant savings.

This is an example of there is usually more than meets the eye and when you read anything related to media or technology in the papers, don’t take it on face value.



The Next Big Thing!

The next big thing? It’s Video!

I know what you’re thinking, but what’s going to happen over the next few years will be as life changing as the mobile phone itself.

The ability to receive video instantly on mobile devices without buffering or waiting for the media to load is the game changer. Over the next few years video is going to become the primary currency on the web, used interchangeably with written text. By 2014, it’s estimated that 200 million mobile devices will be video enabled in the USA. With that comes the demand to produce all types of video, long and short, modestly produced or highly produced, video graphics and live streams.

Estimates are people will use their computers and mobile devices for more time in a day than they sleep. Web video will go from a 7 billion dollar business in 2009 to a 17 billion dollar industry in 2012. To compete, every organization, large and small, and individuals will have to get into the video business.

The technology of sending and sharing video across social media outlets and web sites will be basically figured out for you by the major technology and media companies.

What will still be a mystery for many will be how to produce effective video products to reach business or personal objectives. How do you acquire, edit, write, coordinate and catalog. How do you create budgets, workflow and processes and find the right people that speak the new language. The key is becoming one of those people yourself.

Gaining the essential end to end video creation techniques and learning what it takes to produce efficient cost effective and impactful video is the key to navigating these new frontiers.

HD TV Grows Up

High Definition TV has changed the way we enjoy sports games, events and programs. The screen resolution is so dramatically improved it makes the traditional Standard Definition look like mud when compared. While the clarity of the image is greatly improved, broadcasters have been slow to change the way they produce “live” games fearing backlash from SD viewers. For example, they place all graphics inside the 4X3 “safe zone” and the additional real estate on both sides of the screen often goes unused.

This fall, Fox Sports was the first to take the leap into producing content for a true HD telecast using the entire screen. SD viewers will see a letter boxed screen (black on the top and bottom) and a 25% drop in their resolution quality. It’s a forward thinking gamble Fox Sports has to believe will have more upside than down in this time of transition from SD to HD.

The other conversion dilemma becoming more noticeable now that more commercials are being shot in HD is how to handle the side panels when  SD commercials have to run on an HD broadcast. Before long, most commercials will be produced in HD and a the issue will go away, but for now networks have to either put up black bars with a station logo, blur out the side panels or create a box within a box effect, leaving black around all four sides of the screen.

TBS was also the first major broadcaster I’ve noticed to use the black sidebars to promote a specific show while a commercial is running. The Turner crew put up “CONAN” promotions in that space during the MLB Playoffs. I think others will follow soon to use the sidebars for promos, or add value for the advertiser. For example, if it’s a Coke commercial, display the Coke web site address on the side panels or put up a tag line that can be visible during the entire commercial. Turner Sports also left up their “pitch tracker” up on the right side of the screen for the entire game truly taking advantage of  the additional on-screen space.

ESPN has jumped into the fray by creating an upcoming story menu that is seen on the left side of the screen during Sportscenter and other sports news programs, and a sports ticker at the bottom of the screen that’s running throughout the game.

As a fan, a good way to see for yourself how much more  content can be created is to take notice when you attend a major sporting event of how they use the main video scoreboard. Most venues have upgraded to a 16X9 screen and the production professionals are creating a host of additional sellable content to their in-arena/stadium presentations.


Shaping the Sports and Entertainment Industry!

Ken Adelson is an Emmy-Award winning sports broadcasting and multimedia executive, innovator, producer and visual storyteller with over 28 years of production, programming and digital media leadership at top tier organizations 

Currently, the Executive Producer for TJC Media Ventures, an organization dedicated to the growth of the Thoroughbred Horse Racing Industry thru Digital Sports Broadcasting and marketing, Ken has been a media industry Senior Advisor and nationally recognized speaker. He specializes in creating and monetizing multimedia sports programming, multi platform television production strategies, banding, social media and public relations to support any fully-integrated media initiative. A highly regarded executive with expertise in working with organizations of all sizes and budgets to generate extraordinary results, create powerful and engaging content for any size screen.

Air Thunder Emmy Show thumbnail

OKC Thunder…6 Weeks to Air!

In August of 2008, I was hired by the Oklahoma City Thunder to accomplish something that had never been done before, start up an all-encompassing NBA broadcasting department and digital programming and production operation in less than 6 weeks. The Seattle Supersonics were relocating to Oklahoma City and the decision was made to bring the media operations in house.

When I came on board just before labor day, there were no TV or Radio contracts, no editing equipment or servers, no computers, no phones, no finished office space, no suitable in-arena control room or camera positions at the Ford center, no production staff, no on-air talent and not much time.

The goals were lofty, secure cable and over the air TV partners, a flagship radio station and create a radio network. Produce every game for TV and radio, create and assemble a weekly magazine show, produce profiles, features stories, tune-in promos, ticket ads, sales and marketing tapes, video news releases, cover all team community service events and create motivational videos for the players. Distribute the material across all outlets including TV, Broadband, Wireless and In-Arena and do it on a modest budget with a fraction of the staff employed by regional sports networks and sports leagues.

It was quite a challenge. By the end of our first season the pieces were in place and the operation was rolling.

In year two, we fine tuned the operations and ramped up the quality and quantity of the content. Thunder Broadcasting won a Heartland regional Emmy for best game broadcast of 2009 and “Air Thunder” was nominated for top series program.