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Showing posts from 2009

Angelos Joins Jeff Seder in Maryland Bid

Blow Horn Equity LLC, headed by Jeff Seder, who founded and runs the bloodstock advisory firm EQB, Inc., has just announced that Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos and family will be joining forces with Blow Horn Equity to bid for the Maryland Jockey Club properties now owned by Magna Entertainment. The auction is scheduled for January 8th in federal bankruptcy court.

According to a press release issued this afternoon, the joint Blow Horn Equity - Angelos family bid will go forward despite the ongoing uncertainty over whether the slot machine license earmarked for Anne Arundel County, where Laurel Park is located, will be awarded to developer David Cordish's Arundel Mills shopping center, just up the road from Laurel. The slots license had been intended for Laurel, but Magna generalissimo Frank Stronach decided he could ignore the rules and didn't pony up the required deposit with his application. As a result, the state had no choice but to accept the competing bid from Co…

There They Go Again - NYRA Takes on NY State

New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, the state's chief fiscal officer, has subpoenaed the books and records of the New York Racing Association (NYRA), as first reported in the NY Daily News, and later in the Blood-Horse. Like many others, DiNapoli is presumably curious as to how NYRA spent the money that it received from the state as it came out of bankruptcy in 2008.
As NYRA points out in its press release, hurried onto its website late this afternoon, the Comptroller's apparent surprise that NYRA is now running out of money is a little disingenuous. The original bankruptcy rescue plan anticipated that slot machines -- approved by the NY Legislature back sometime in the Jurassic (well, actually, it was 2001) -- would be up and running at Aqueduct by April of 2009. As we all know, that hasn't happened, and the blame lies largely in Albany, where the hapless "leadership" of the State Senate, together with the incompetence of the Governor's office and the bu…

THE WIDENING RANGE OF REVENUE SOURCES IN NEWS ENTERPRISES

It is obvious that both the offline and online news providers are in the midst of substantial transformation and that the traditional means of funding operations are no longer as viable as in the past. This is disturbing to the industry because it has enjoyed several decades of unusual financially wealth and few in the organizations know how to find and generate new sources of revenue.

The financial uncertainty facing the industry is not unusual, however. We tend to forget that news has historically been unable to pay for itself and was subsidized by other activities. In the past newspapers and other news organizations engaged in a far larger range of commercial activities than then they do today and publishers had to be highly entrepreneurial and seek income from a wide variety of sources in order to survive.

The initial gathering and distribution of news was paid for by emperors, monarchs, and other rulers who needed information for state purposes. Later, wealthy international merchan…

IMPLICATIONS OF CHANGING DEFINITIONS OF MEDIA MARKETS

An important contemporary development is the shift of media market definitions from traditional platform-based definitions to functional definitions. This is occurring because media product platform definitions are losing their specificity and uniqueness due to digitalization and cross-platform distribution developments.

Newspapers are becoming news providers, delivering news and information via print, online, mobile, and other platforms; broadcasters are moving off the radio spectrum, exploiting not only other streaming and video-on-demand opportunities, but also text-based communication on web and mobile platforms.

Although functional definitions clarify what companies actually do, they obscure wide differences in audiences, business relations, and revenue sources on the different platforms and give some the mistaken impression that a functionally defined operation can be successful operating the same way across the different platform environments. The functional definition is also co…

MEDIA, INNOVATION, AND THE STATE

There is a growing chorus for governments to help established media transform themselves in the digital age. From the U.S. to the Netherlands, from the U.K. to France, governments are being asked to help both print and broadcast media innovate their products and services to help make them sustainable.

State support for innovation is not a new concept. Support of cooperate research initiatives involving the state, higher education institutions, and industries has been part of national science and industrial policies for many decades. There has been significant state support for innovation of agriculture/food products, electronics, advanced military equipment, information technology, and biomedical technology and products.

State support tends to work best in developing new technologies and industries and tends to focus support on advanced basic scholarly research through science and research funding organizations, creation and support for research parks and industrial development zones fo…

No Christmas Business, But...

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Hello Show Attenders,

Following a spectacular Holiday Spectacular show with THREE guests (Louis Katz, Amy Dresner and Chris Thayer), The Business will be dark for the Christmas holiday week. However, we will be back for a big New Years Eve Eve show on Wed Dec 30th 2009. No secrets revealed yet, but plans are in the works for some knockout guests.





...and as Jan crests on the horizon, The Business is proud to ba a part of SF Sketchfest 2010 on both Thur Jan 21st and Friday Jan 22nd. Still at the Dark Room, but joined by new guests and other great sketch groups. Check www.sfsketchfest.com for more details. These will be the only Business shows until February, so come by and get your Biz Fix.

THANKS FOR ALL THE SUPPORT IN 2009!

Sincerely,
The Businessmen

A Bid That Could Save Maryland Racing

Details have not yet been made public of the initial bids, submitted last week, for the assets of the Maryland Jockey Club -- Laurel, Pimlico and the Bowie training center. And the final auction -- assuming anything's ever final in the ongoing saga of the Magna Entertainment bankruptcy -- won't be held until January 8th. We know that bids are in from real estate developer Carl Verstandig, partnering with a California gaming company, from the Cordish Co., which operates the Arundel Mills mall near Laurel, and from the De Francis family, whose prior stint at the helm of the MJC was somewhat less than stellar. And we suspect that, one way or another, Farnk Stronach will try to hang onto the tracks, either using his personal money or, if he can get away with it, using funding from one of his tame subsidiary corporations, at the usual expense of minority shareholders.
For those of us who would like to see racing continue, and even thrive, in Maryland, none of these bids exactly mak…

The Bids are in for Maryland Tracks

Yesterday was the final date for interested parties to submit bids for the Maryland Jockey Club piece of Frank Stronach's bankrupt Magna Entertainment empire, comprising Pimlico and Laurel race tracks, the Bowie training center and an OTB. According to the Baltimore Post, one of the bidders is none other than the same DeFrancis family that owned the tracks prior to their sale to Stronach in 2002 and that, to be kind, is viewed with less than total love and affection by most in the Maryland racing community.
The names of all the bidders will be forwarded to Maryland state officials on Monday, but we already know that there's a competing bid from real estate developer Carl Verstandig, in partnership with an unnamed California gaming entity. Among other possible bidders are the family of Peter Angelos, the owner of the Baltimore Orioles, and a group headed by a well-known racing industry figure from Pennsylvania. And there's always the specter of Frank Stronach himself cobbli…

Why Does Anyone Bet on the Races?

Interesting piece in the New York Times yesterday, about Jesus Leonardo, a 57-year-old New Yorker who makes $45,000-$50,000 a year as a professional "stooper," picking up discarded parimutuel tickets and cashing in the winners. Leonardo, who collects the tickets at various OTB parlors in the city, rather than the race track, appears to be doing far better than most bettors, or for that matter, than NYC OTB itself, which is the latest racing-related entity to fall on the mercy of the bankruptcy court.

That got me thinking about why any of us bet on the races at all. In my own case, I've noticed that I hardly bet these days, certainly a lot less than I did, say, 10-15 years ago, even though I'm still as much, or more, of a follower of racing.

It seems to me that there are two likely reasons, in my own case. These may be merely personal, but perhaps they shed some light on the death spiral that racing as a whole seems to be in.

First, I've become involved in owning…

Fear and Trembling in Lexington

US financial markets were closed Thursday for Thanksgiving, and Middle Eastern markets were closed for Eid al-Adha. But in the rest of the known world, markets were plummeting on the news that Dubai and its major corporations, closely linked to Sheikh Mohammed, are unable to repay some $59 billion in debt that will be coming due in the near future. European banks, in particular, were thought to be exposed to high levels of risk , as many of them had borrowed dollars and then turned around and re-lent the money to fuel Dubai's crazed building boom.
As is often the case, the Paulick Report picked up on Dubai's troubles quickly, posting an online report from Bloomberg News. The debt default story is getting massive international coverage. See, for example, here, here, and here.)
In the grand scheme of things, the couple of hundred million a year that the Sheikh and his associates spend on thoroughbred bloodstock probably doesn't matter much, one way or the other, to Dubai'…

Reality Check for Keeneland

Initial reaction to the results from Keeneland's November breeding stock sale seem to be determinedly positive. For example, Frank Mitchell's Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog talks about how "the recession is over," and that there's "confidence in a down market." And Deirdre Biles' Hammer Time blog on the Blood-Horse web site concludes that there's "at least a glimmer of hope" in the market post-November.
I guess those views, reflecting the by-now-desperate hope of thoroughbred breeders, are based on the fact that the sale numbers this year declined less from 2008 than 2008 had, in turn, declined from 2007. Small consolation. The 2007-2008 decline was about 40% in average price and 45% in gross for the sale as a whole. In contrast, the decline from 2008 to this year was only 7% in the average price and 14% in the gross.
Here are the numbers for this month's sale: of 4702 horses cataloged, 2779 of them sold (59.1% of the catalog), f…

FAIL OFTEN. FAIL EARLY. FAIL CHEAP.

Rapidly evolving technologies and market adjustments have thrust media into states of nearly perpetual alteration that require agile and swift responses to gain benefits and defend the firm from outside forces.

Managers who have been used to stable environments and well conceived plans are often reticent to move to seize opportunities with quick and decisive action based on incomplete information and knowledge. The turbulent contemporary environment, however, require leaders to rapidly evaluate the potential of new communication opportunities and to take risks in a highly uncertain setting.

This is disturbing to managers who are used to employing well developed and elegant strategies that require significant investment and commitment. Declining to test opportunities until a clear roadmap is produced, however, takes away flexibility and the ability to rapidly change with contemporary developments.

While preserving the core activities of media businesses, managers need to simultaneously lo…

JOURNALISM AS CHARITY AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Many journalists pursuing new online initiatives are learning that good intentions are not enough for providing news.

The latest group to do so is former Rocky Mountain News reporters who started rockymountainindependent.com this past summer using a membership payment and advertising model. The effort collapsed Oct. 4 with them telling readers, “We put everything into producing content and supporting our independent partners, but we can no longer afford to produce enough content to justify the membership.”

There problem is hardly unique. The conundrum facing many journalists is whether to pursue the noble work of journalism as unpaid charitable work or to become engaged as journalistic entrepreneurs with a serious attitude toward its business issues—something many despised in their former employers.

If journalists want pay for their work, if they want to provide for their families, and if they want to pay mortgages, they need to spend more time figuring out how to provide value that will…

4 STRATEGIC PRINCIPLES FOR EVERY DIGITAL PUBLISHER

As publishers move more and more content to the Internet, mobile services, and e-readers, these digital activities change the structures and processes of underlying business operations. Many publishers, however, pay insufficient attention to the implications of these changes and thus miss out on many benefits possible with digital operations.

This occurs because publishers become focused on issues of content delivery and uncritically accept the fundamental elements of the processes involving platforms and intermediaries. In order to gain the fullest future benefits from the digital environment, however, publishers needs to strategically consider and direct activities involving the users, advertisers, prices, and purposes of their new platforms.

In creating business arrangements with platform and service providers and intermediaries, 4 fundamental strategic principles should guide your actions:

1. Control your customer lists. The most important thing you do as a publisher is to create rel…

Oct 14th Re-Cap

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It was a veritable barn-burner of a show on October 14th at The Business! That is not to be confused with a barn-raiser, which connotes a successfully comedy show in the Amish community. Instead of churning butter, the audience churned with laughter. Instead of scorning technology, we used microphones to provide amplified sound. And instead of a bunch of guys with beards standing around and talking, our show had performances from Alex Koll and guest star Kyle Kinnane.

Sean Keane began the show discussing his childhood speech impediment, his illustrious career as a teenage musical theater performer, obscene phone calls, writing fake letters to the newspaper, and finally, how his dad started kissing him hello and goodbye at age 51. Truly a moving and unsettling set. Alex Koll followed, delivering a preview of his hosting gig the next night at the SF Weekly Music Awards. ("7:30 - Arrive. 8:05 - Introduce yourself. 'Hello. How's it going?'") He also explained t…

CAN PUBLIC BROADCASTERS HARM COMPETITION AND DIVERSITY?

This is not trick question and it is being increasingly asked as public broadcasters grow larger, offer multiple channels, move into cross-media operations, and increasingly commercialize their operations.

The Federal Communications Commission will have to consider that question shortly when it considers the effort of WGBH Education Foundation—operator of WGBH-TV, the highly successful Boston-based public service broadcaster—to purchase the commercial radio station WCRB-FM.

WGBH is the top ranked member of the Public Broadcasting Service in the New England and produces about one third of PBS’ programming. It operates a second Boston television station, WGBX-TV, and WGBY in Springfield, Massachusetts. In addition it operates FM radio stations WGBH (Boston), WCAI (Woods Hole), WZAI (Brewster), and WNAN (Nantucket) and is a member of National Public Radio and Public Radio International. It operates two commercial subsidiaries involved in music rights and motion picture production.

This mont…

Hari's Back...

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Wed October 14th marks the return of our most frequent guest, Hari Kondabolu! Officially known as the "Fifth Businessman", Hari never fails to deliver the word-goods on the stage-place. Get your tickets here:

https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/83854

PUBLISHERS URGE MORE PUBLIC AID FOR NEWSPAPERS, BUT H.R. 3602 WON'T SOLVE THEIR PROBLEMS

The push for government support for newspaper continues and this week publishers and their supporters—including the Newspaper Association of America—went before the House Joint Economic Committee detailing how the current economic climate has harmed their finances and arguing for preferential changes to tax and pension laws. They asked to be allowed to extend application of the net operating loss provisions from 2 years to 5 years and for changes in laws to allow them to underfund pension funds for a greater period of time. Both would improve their operating performance and balance sheets.

This is a case of the newspaper industry seeking long-term business benefits to solve a short-term crisis caused by poor management decisions and the recession. The leading newspaper firms and their representatives are making concerted efforts to dupe legislators and the public into believing their troubles are part of the general trends in the industry, rather than the result of management decisions…

Why Are We in This Business?

As everyone in the racing business knows by now, prices for race horses have dropped precipitously over the past year. At the current Keeneland yearling sale, both the average and median prices are off between 30-35% as compared to last year. It's now possible -- as it has not been for the past few years, to obtain high-quality racing prospects at what seems, by historical standards, to be a fair price.

But, in fact, even if one buys at those fair prices, the game is still stacked against the owner who actually wants to make money by owning race horses. Despite the increasing saturation of race track-based slot machines, purses have stagnated and even declined, while the cost of doing business steadily increases.

Let's look at a couple of examples to see how succesful a horse has to be on the track for its owner to break even.

First, let's look at a typical high-end yearling purchase, say for $250,000. That's not the top of the market, but it's a lot more than I …

Wed Sept 23rd...

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If Not For You

If not for you,
Winter would have no spring,
Couldn't hear the robin sing,
I just wouldn't have a clue,
Anyway it wouldn't ring true,
If not for you.Bob Dylan, ©1970 Big Sky MusicI'm pretty sure the folks at Keeneland, shaken as they may be by the bottom falling out of the yearling market the past two days, nonetheless harbor thoughts similar to those of Bob Dylan about Dubai's Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and his entourage. Of the 222 horses reported sold on the first two days of the annual Keeneland yearling sale, 50 of them were purchased by the Sheikh's bloodstock adviser, John Ferguson, or by entities associated with Dubai's royal family, including the Shadwell Estate Co., and Rabbah Bloodstock. That's an overwhelming 22.5% of the total number sold, and an even bigger percentage of the money paid over those two days. Gross receipts for the prestigious Book 1 horses sold at Keeneland this year were $58.8 million (a 48% drop from last year). …

Looking for a Good Horse at Keeneland

For the past several years, I've been part of a team that looks for horses at the Keeneland yearling sale, on behalf of cients with serious money and a serious desire to win graded-stakes races. Some "bloodstock agents" may claim to do it all themselves, and a lot of buyers just pick out a horse in the Keeneland walking ring minutes before its hip number is called for auction. But those of us --and there are many -- who are seriously trying to find the very best horses have no alternative but to put in a lot of hard work. For those who perhaps don't know the auction process, here's how it works.
Keeneland list some 5,000-plus yearlings for sale every September (though that number may, and should, shrink in response to the severe downturn in the thoroughbred market). The catalog is divided into "books," with each book containing horses that are, in general, a little worse than those in the earlier books, and a little better than those in the later books…

RADIO STATIONS FACE SIGNIFICANT STRATEGIC CHALLENGES

Fundamental market changes are pushing radio stations towards an uncertain future and managers and owners need to begin developing strategic responses to developments in their industry.

The challenges are being caused by declining demand for radio offerings due to lifestyle changes, the wide availability of substitutable audio platforms, and the primary content currently being offered. Audience behavior toward radio is changing and many U.S. stations now only make money for 4 to 6 hours each day. Overall, audiences are spending less time with radio and exhibiting less station loyalty than they did in the past, and young audiences are particularly difficult to attract and serve.

A major impetus of change is that audiences for music worldwide are progressively replacing radio listening with personalized playlists they have created on their computers, MP3 players, and mobile phones and by CDs on which they burned those favorites. They select music that suits their individual tastes and man…