Racing Future is determined to inspire a new generation of fans to enjoy the sport of horse racing.

The Racing Future Advocacy Progress Report

 

I. Racing Future and the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Crisis

Headed by former long-serving Liberal Member of Parliament and business executive and horse racing industry participant Dennis Mills as President and CEO, Racing Future was established in early 2012 as a business enterprise dedicated to motivating and inspiring a new generation of fans to get involved in and support the horse racing industry. The primary focus was the creation of a website as a means both to communicate directly with potential and current fans and to stimulate and support dialogue and innovation within the industry itself.

Just as Racing Future was being set up, in March 2012 the Ontario government of Premier Dalton McGuinty announced that, as proposed to it by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission, it was cancelling the Slots at Racetracks Program (SARP) effective March 31, 2013 as part of a purported “modernization” of the Ontario gaming system. The government indicated that the horse racing industry’s share of slots revenues – $345 million in 2011-12 – would be directed to other public priorities such as health care and education.

The withdrawal of the crucial revenues from this successful partnership directly threatened not only the viability of the racetracks but also the full- and part-time jobs and the futures of some 55,000 people who work in the sector. Moreover, due to the size and importance of the industry to Ontario’s economy as a whole, the spin-off effects of the government’s action were certain to far exceed the immediate results identified.

Because of this unexpected crisis,  Racing Future was asked by the horse racing community to step forward and serve as an advocacy voice throughout Ontario for the government to reconsider the impacts of its move and put in place a viable plan to safeguard and sustain the future of this important industry and the hard-working Ontarians who comprise it.

Racing Future immediately accepted this advocacy role, put on hold the development and implementation of its business plan and devoted all its human and capital resources to responding to the Ontario horse racing industry crisis. 

II. The Racing Future Approach 

From March to June 2012, Racing Future worked on two priorities: 

We developed a strategy to help change the course of what had been presented as a final and unchangeable government decision. 

And, at the same time, we completely reconfigured the Racing Future platform, website design and planned content to accommodate its new role as proactive advocate for the Ontario horse racing industry. 

Racing Future identified three key strategic objectives for its campaign on behalf of the Ontario horse racing community. 

1. We wanted to help correct the initial public and media misperception that the government’s announced termination of the Slots at Racetracks Program was simply a routine elimination of a subsidy and would have little significant impact on anyone other than affluent horse owners participating in the “Sport of Kings” and the relatively small percentage of the population that attended racetracks and/or gambled on horse racing. We needed to help create awareness that this was a partnership not a subsidy, and that its elimination would not only unfairly wreak havoc on the lives of tens of thousands of hard-working modest-income Ontarians, but would also have significant adverse economic impacts on the entire province and on government revenues. 

2. We wanted to help transform the withdrawal of the Program from being an issue that was noticed and understood only in rural Ontario to one that captured the attention and concern of people in urban areas, in order to make it a political issue that would bring increased pressure to bear on the government to reconsider its course of action. As Racing Future President Dennis Mills explained in a June 2012 interview: “My experience has been that once we explain the sport and once we expose city people to the majesty of the horse, the charisma of the horse, an attitude change comes across city people and it's only by getting them to understand and get involved that they will prick the conscience of their city legislators and say this is something that we have to deal with. When I explain what's going on, I've never had anybody say 'oh, I don't care'. They all say 'why did this happen, how did this happen, what's the reasoning?'. I'm really confident that once we explain what's going on and what possible results could come from collaboration, we're going to get this back on the right track. And that is my sole focus."

3. We wanted to help give decision-makers in the Ontario legislature and in the bureaucracy a strong sense that this was a campaign and an issue that was not going away and that was capturing significant public attention. Consequently, a highly visible campaign – including billboards, public transit posters, radio ads and earned media coverage in print and broadcast, all focused on bring people to the Racing Future website as the primary source of detailed substantive information – was identified as strategically important not only to increase public awareness but also to demonstrate to politicians and other decision-makers that public awareness was indeed growing and that the issue “had legs”. When Premier McGuinty announced his resignation and the Ontario Liberal Party leadership race was launched, we identified an opportunity to advance this strategy by inserting the issue of the horse racing industry’s future directly into the leadership race.

At the same time, Racing Future redesigned its planned website into an instrument for effective and sustained advocacy and assembled an expanded team to carry out this campaign with the necessary reinforced expertise in strategic analysis and planning, communications and media relations ,writing and editing, research, videography, web and graphic design, social media, marketing and volunteer coordination. 

III. The Racing Future Campaign

The Racing Future campaign on behalf of the Ontario horse racing industry, conducted from June 2012 through to the present, included the following elements:

·       The Racing Future website, www.racingfuture.com

·       Billboards and subway station posters

·       Social media (Facebook,Twitter and You Tube)

·       E-mails to Ontario government decision-makers

·       Radio ads

·       Earned media (print and broadcast media coverage generated through background briefings and interviews by Dennis Mills)

·       Advocacy by Dennis Mills to the Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel

·       Direct involvement in the Ontario Liberal Party leadership campaign to insert the issue of the future of the Ontario horse racing industry into the campaign and generate candidate commitment to safeguarding the industry 

IV. Results of the Racing Future Campaign

Website:

The Racing Future advocacy website,  www.racingfuture.com , was launched on June 22, 2012 as the primary source of public information and advocacy about the crisis being experienced by the Ontario horse racing industry as a result of the Ontario government’s decision to withdraw slot machine revenue-sharing from the industry.  

From that date to February 14, 2013, the site has had a total of 58,713 visits by 33,324 visitors, who looked at a total of 123,091 pages. Almost 60% - namely 56.6% - of visits to the site were new visitors, which demonstrates that Racing Future’s efforts to drive traffic to the site through advertising, social media including Facebook and Twitter, generated media coverage and direct contacts with numerous people including legislators and officials – were successful. 

Billboards and Transit Posters:

Racing Future recruited the Pattison Group as a campaign partner, with the result that billboard advertisements advancing our advocacy were displayed in and around the Greater Toronto Area and poster advertisements with the same purpose were placed in Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) subway stations.

The billboard campaign involved 40 billboards for 28 days from June 25 to July 22, 2012 in various locations including Toronto, Mississauga and North York. Another two billboards carrying Racing Future’s advertising were on Highway 27 for 21 days from June 18 to July 8, 2012. The message on all the billboards was “Mr. Premier, a partnership is not a subsidy!” and the Racing Future website address. 

The Pattison Group measures the reach of its billboard advertising on the basis of “impressions” – that is, the estimated number of people who passed by the billboard locations one or more times each day with an opportunity each time to potentially see their advertising message. According to the Pattison Group’s figures, the 40 billboards that carried Racing Future’s ad for 28 days had an estimated 2,095,188 impressions daily, for a total over the course of the campaign of 58,665,251 impressions, The two Highway 27 billboards that carried Racing Future’s ad for 21 days had another 5,278,788 impressions, bringing the total reach of our billboard campaign to 63,944,639 impressions. 

As well, Racing Future ran two waves of TTC subway station poster advertising in partnership with the Pattison Group. The first wave, in the same 28-day period from June 25 to July 22 as the billboards, carried the same “Mr. Premier, a partnership is not a subsidy!” message and the Racing Future website address. There were 50 posters in subway stations. Over the entire campaign, the Pattison Group estimates that these posters had a total of 125,532,000 impressions. 

Racing Future ran a second wave of 40 TTC subway station posters from December 1 to December 31 during the Ontario Liberal Party leadership race. These posters had a new message: “Farmers & Horses 1st, Casinos 2nd ”. The Pattison Group estimates that over the entire time period there was a total of 69,732,000 impressions. 

In total, Racing Future’s 92 billboard and subway station poster ads in June-July 2012 created 189.476,639 impressions, or opportunities for members of the public to potentially see its advocacy message and become aware of the existence of the issue. The December 2012 subway poster campaign created another 69,732,000 such opportunities.  

Social Media:

Racing Future has also pursued its advocacy campaign through an active and steadily growing presence on Facebook, Twitter and You Tube..

Our presence on Facebook began on June 22, 2012. By the end of August, we had 1,225 Likes and 23 people a day talking about and our campaign. By the end of December, we had 7,211 Likes and 137 people a day talking about us and our campaign. By February 14, we had 11,210 Likes and 180 people a day talking about Racing Future and the advocacy campaign.

To date, Racing Future’s total Facebook reach – defined as all the people who are Facebook friends of the people who Liked our page(s) - is 5,242,831.

We have also run eight paid advertising campaigns on Facebook. These ads got 37,751,226 impressions, defined as the number of times an ad is displayed on users’ Facebook pages, regardless of whether or not it is clicked on. Our ads were clicked on a total of 87.325 times, resulting in 90,322 Actions, defined as the number of times that someone Liked, shared etc. one of pour posts.

Twitter data for the whole time period of our advocacy campaign to date is not readily available. However, what is known is that in September 2012 “Dennis Mills @racing_future” had just over 100 followers. Now we have 752 followers. We have posted 1,067 Tweets, or messages.

The total number of visitors who came to the www.racingfuture.com website via Facebook is 13,463, The total number of visitors who accessed the website via Twitter is 2,623. Thus, the total number of visitors referred to the Racing Future website by social media is 16,409, a result which indicates that our use of social media has been a very effective driver of traffic to the site.

As well, on December 21, 2012, all 23 current videos that belong to Racing Future were placed on the Racing Future You Tube channel. Since that date, we have had a total of 6,299 video views, for a total of 13,332 minutes, or 222 hours, watched.

E-Mails to Ontario Government Decision-Makers:

On October 6 and 7, 2012, Racing Future, through Daily Racing Form, encouraged racing fans to send e-mails to Premier Dalton McGuinty, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan and Deputy Finance Minister Steve Orsini sharing their Canadian horse racing story.

A total of 1,490 e-mails were sent.

Radio Ads:

Racing Future conducted a three-month radio advertising campaign on major Greater Toronto Area stations CFRB, FAN 590, CHFI, AM640 and Q107.

Earned Media:

Racing Future generated news stories and features drawing attention to the plight of the Ontario horse racing industry, the industry’s workers and participants and the horses themselves as a result of the of the Ontario government’s decision to terminate the slot machine partnership.

To achieve this, Dennis Mills gave numerous and extensive background briefings to print and broadcast journalists, as well as on-the-record interviews, explaining the issue, its impacts and its importance.

Advocacy to the Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel:

Dennis Mills formally met twice with the Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel on behalf of Racing Future.  He also maintained continuous ongoing discussions with the members of the panel.

In these interactions, he emphasized the gravity of the situation facing the horse racing industry and its members, and recommended specific measures to safeguard the future of the industry.  

Direct involvement in the Ontario Liberal Party leadership campaign:

Racing Future identified the Ontario Liberal Party’s leadership race to select the next Premier as a unique opportunity to inject its advocacy on the issue of the future of the horse racing industry into the very heart of the province’s political process.

To achieve this, Dennis Mills met one-on-one with the candidates to argue the industry’s case and to solicit their support for safeguarding its future, and he maintained personal contact with them throughout their campaign.. As well, Racing Future volunteers were actively present in several of the campaigns and at the leadership convention. The government-inflicted crisis confronting the industry was positioned as an issue with urban as well as rural resonance, and one that could have impact on the outcome of the leadership race as well as on the next election.

Most significantly, late in the campaign Racing Future invited each of the leadership candidates to make a brief videotaped statement, for posting on its website, as to their views on the future of the horse racing industry in Ontario and what approach each of them would take.

Six of the seven candidates agreed to make the statement (only Sandra Pupatello declined), and each of them allowed Racing Future to videotape a strong acknowledgement of the importance of the industry and commitment to safeguard its future. The videos were posted on the Racing Future website and quoted verbatim in a December 21, 2012 press release. 

V. Effectiveness of the Racing Future Campaign

Beyond an accounting of what was done, we believe that the most important metric of the effectiveness of Racing Future’s advocacy efforts is the extent to which the situation has actually been changed over this period.

Racing Future’s advocacy campaign has been conducted in support of, and in conjunction with, the efforts of industry associations and members. For that reason, it would be impossible and inappropriate to attempt to isolate, for purposes of this progress report, the impacts of the various initiatives that we have undertaken as factors in the overall successes that have been achieved to date.

However, it is gratifying to compare the situation that existed last spring with the one that has been achieved so far by the collaborative efforts of the industry and Racing Future.

Last spring, the McGuinty government was depicting the outright termination of the successful partnership with the horse racing industry as a fait accompli and nothing more than ending an unjustified subsidy to affluent horse owners that was needlessly diverting funds from health care and education, There appeared to be real risk that the devastation of the industry would pass unnoticed, at least until it was too late, by most people other than those directly affected.

Now the threat to the future of the industry is a significant political, public and media issue and the nature and impacts of the government’s ill-considered decision are much better understood.  In its final report in October, the Transition Panel acknowledged that “Scanning other jurisdictions, the panel could not find a single example of a viable horse racing industry without some form of public support.” It concluded with a virtual paraphrase of our messaging, saying that “Ontario’s horse racing industry is worth saving. It generates jobs, economic spinoffs and tax revenues. It is a valuable social and cultural asset, with deep roots in Ontario’s heritage, and maintains strong links between rural and urban communities.”

On January 24, the Ontario government announced a new deal that will give Woodbine and other racetracks across the province a two-year reprieve during which they will be able to continue operating, although in weakened financial circumstances.

Ontario’s new premier, Kathleen Wynne, has unequivocally put herself on public record on Racing Future’s video, stating: “I believe that this has been a real trauma for the rural communities and for the horse racing industry, and so my commitment is to work with the community so that we have a sustainable horse racing industry based on the report of the transition panel and I think that that’s the starting point for this discussion. I’ve also committed to taking on the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs as my own as premier for up to a year because I think that this issue and others in rural Ontario need the focus of the premier.”

Also significantly, Ontario’s new finance minister, Charles Sousa, in striking contrast to predecessor Dwight Duncan, has publicly stated on his video for Racing Future that “The industry is critical to Ontario, so obviously critical to many families. We’re one of the best horse breeding industries anywhere in the world. It also makes Ontario even that much more special when we have such an important horse racing and breeding industry. It’s also nice that it energizes communities all over the province. For that reason, it’s important that we continue to make the horse racing industry sustainable, to make the horse breeding industry sustainable…. We need to find ways to make it work. I look forward to doing that.”

In short, the political climate for the Ontario horse racing industry has been dramatically changed since last spring, and the stage is set for future progress.  

VI. Next Steps 

If anyone has any questions or would like more information about any aspect of the advocacy activities that we have briefly summarized in this interim report, please contact Dennis Mills, and Racing Future will be glad to respond. 

Racing Future will submit a final report at the end of March and wind up its advocacy activities effective March 31, 2013, unless we are asked by the industry to continue those activities into a next phase. 

We would be open to continuing our advocacy role for a further period if that is the industry’s wish. Although much has been accomplished, much still remains to be done to ensure the development of the appropriate mix of public policies to build a secure and sustainable long-term future for the Ontario horse racing industry. 

The Transition Panel has expressly made clear that its final report is not the last word, and that there may be room for improvements to what it has recommended. 

In Racing Future’s view, it will now be important for the industry going forward to build on the rapport that has been established with the new Ontario government, to be pro-active in ensuring that the government’s stated goodwill is actually translated into measures that best safeguard the future of the industry, and to keep public awareness and attention focused on the issue until it has been definitely and satisfactorily resolved.

 

Dennis Mills

President and CEO

Racing Future

dennismills@racingfuture.com

(416) 587-1716