Melissa Nolan is the marketing director for the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders (KTOB)/Kentucky Thoroughbred Association (KTA). She holds a master’s degree in business administration from Midway College, where her thesis studied the model of wagering in Kentucky after the installation of synthetic surfaces at racetracks. Nolan has also worked as a financial services manager for Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, as well as a member and volunteer coordinator for the U.S. Pony Clubs.
What do you see as the major challenges facing the Thoroughbred industry?
I think our business model needs improvement. Racing gets a lot of flack because it’s not unified [in terms of having a central governing body], but at the same time, everything is so integrated. It’s a very obvious industry; you can see the business cycle, and I don’t know if it’s because my major in college was economics and I’m used to seeing things like that, but it’s clear that there’s something dysfunctional with our business model in some way. Things are just not fitting together. Each part relies heavily on the others but has different goals. The breeding side has different interests than the racing side and vice versa. Handicappers have things that they want that are different from what racetracks worry about.
It’s easy to say unity will fix our problems, but I think being smart about how everything is integrated is something we can really do. There’s nothing wrong with modernizing your business plan. Every good industry does it. Look at how the NFL has evolved over the last 20 years. I don’t think they ever could have dreamed what it would become, and they were smart about how they went about structuring their sport. How do we get everybody on the same page and make the sport better as we go forward? It’s definitely not functioning appropriately right now.
How do you get everybody working toward the same business plan?
At KTA/KTOB, quality is kind of our new slogan, and that’s what we want to impress upon the public. There’s the saying, ‘A rising tide lifts all boats,’ and I think that’s the attitude to take. We’re all on the same team here; it makes no sense for us to not work together.
I think that if we go for providing a quality product — breeders try to breed the best and fastest horses that they can, so that they’re appreciative of what bettors bet on, and racetracks want to provide the best product possible at the lowest possible price — each segment of the business will lift the others. There’s a way we can go about things where it’s not every man for himself. I think it’s just being the best that you can and recognizing everyone else is doing the same thing.
If you were the racing czar and you could do any one thing you wanted, what would it be?
I want to see a better tote system. I think that really should be improved. The technology’s antiquated. If you want integrity in the sport, you’ve got to make it operate like the technology that accepts purchases on NASDAQ or something like that, because that’s essentially what it is. This is 2012 — we shouldn’t have to have stewards literally pushing a button to stop wagering [before a race]. Couldn’t that be connected to the starters’ gun? We can do better. We can’t be making all these investments in mobile betting technology or mare produce apps, etc., and also have the fundamental monetary mechanism behind everything be so old. It just doesn’t match. I think we can improve that.