Monday, January 9, 2012

What Have We Learned Here?

The World Reining League debuted last fall with lots of flash and bang; press releases, articles, a TV commercial, an extensive website, and several youtube videos of 'trash talking' between the competitors (insert eye roll). But barely a whimper was heard when the WRL cancelled their first event, which was to be held January 21 in Oklahoma City.  Only 284 tickets were sold for the event, and according to Michael Miola's statement, several leaders in the reining industry "without exception agreed that canceling the event was the right thing to do."  I cannot feign surprise; when I blogged about the WRL twice last fall, in "Let's Make A Bet..." and "World Reining League Pt.2", I honestly did not see how it was going to work. 

I do not take pleasure in anyone's failure, rather, I see it as unfortunate that so much time and resources has gone toward this project.  Mr. Miola's statement goes on to say that he was given faulty information, has formed a new management team to figure out what went wrong, and that he intends to 'fix it' and try again.  In other words, the time and resources allotted to this project will continue to distract from other avenues for promoting reining. I'm sure we haven't heard the last from the WRL, but maybe its cancellation will delay having to watch the NRHA turn into the PBR for a little while longer.

I have two thoughts, little seeds of my own personal theory, if you will, on growing our industry.....

First, growing UP isn't the only way to grow, we can grow out and down and in every direction.  The reining industry has enjoyed tremendous growth for many years; and has focused on promoting the top 10 % of the business - the biggest shows, the largest jackpots, the trainers and horses with the largest LTEs.  But those heights are unreachable for most people.  Most people can't afford the $1,000 a month that the top trainers charge.  Most people will never come close to earning a million themselves in the show ring, or own a horse that has made over $100K, and the sticker shock for getting to either of these places would run them off before they even tried it!

We need to focus on SMALL too.  We should be looking at more grassroots, local promotion that gets people excited to show, excited to bring their kids and show.  I have some ideas, some of which I have put forth here, and I know that some of my readers have ideas.  I certainly have heard over and over that people are tired of the politics that favor the powerful within the show pen, they are tired of seeing trainers override their horses and still boast huge sums won, they are tired of paying large membership fees but still feeling powerless within their organization.  I have heard more people say that they were going to get out of reining, or that they intend to stay away from it in the first place, than ever before. They are people who love their horses, so they aren't getting out, just staying away....from all the drama, unfairness and pie-in-the-sky promises.  They are looking for somewhere to go, and spend their money, where they are appreciated.

Second, growth is relative to your starting point.  The NRHA has not been around that long compared to other horse associations; it was formed in 1966.  The American Quarter Horse Assoc. was established in 1940, the Arabian Horse Club, which later became the Arabian Horse Assoc., was founded in 1908.  Morgan horses have had their pedigrees recorded since the mid 1800's, though the first official register wasn't established until 1894 - which happens to be the same year that the Jockey Club was founded.  These older associations have seen their ups and downs, boom and bust, growth and correction.  Stability and sticking to their mission statement has helped them endure as much as any promotional endeavors.  Yes, you can have great years, and grow a bunch, but you can't do that every single year without losing something else.  In other words, if you worry only about growth, and growing BIG, you are going to fail to keep the people happy that you just recruited into the sport.

My dad used to tell me, fast changes aren't necessarily good changes; usually, when something changes really quickly, it often isn't for the better.  It is the changes that take more time and are gradual that hold the most positive changes.  Slow and steady wins the race.  My dad sounds pretty smart right about now....