McGrath is off and running as racing's first commissioner

January 18, 1994|By Bill Finley | Bill Finley,New York Daily News

NEW YORK -- A sport with no direction, too much factionalism and no cohesive plan to get out of its current mess named a new leader yesterday to help solve thoroughbred racing's many troubles.

Brian McGrath was introduced at a midtown news conference as the Thoroughbred Racing Association's first-ever commissioner. In actuality, the 51-year-old New Yorker is more marketing czar than commissioner since he will have none of the regulatory powers normally associated with a sports commissioner.

Functioning as part of the Thoroughbred Racing Association, McGrath primarily will be responsible for selling and promoting a sport that has seen its fan base decline dramatically since the 1960s.

"I believe racing is one of the world's great sports," McGrath said. "It has an extensive following in the U.S. and internationally. Our sport has a heritage and a tradition unlike any other. I believe it has a bright future, otherwise I wouldn't have taken the job."

McGrath has impressive marketing credentials. He most recently was president and CEO of ISL Marketing, which represents the International Olympic Committee and FIFA, soccer's governing body. A graduate of Georgetown University, he also has served as executive vice president of Coca-Cola Television.

McGrath, however, has no background in horse racing beyond parking cars at Aqueduct when he was 16. He does describe himself as an avid fan.

"I'm fortunate enough that my background has included working in a number of aspects in the sports industry that cross over to thoroughbred racing," McGrath said. "I've been involved in the movie and television business and in sports marketing. They fall into the broad context of entertainment, which is also thoroughbred racing. I don't see us competing strictly for the gambling dollar but for the leisure-time dollar, as well."

McGrath was vague yesterday when asked to come up with a shopping list of areas he will tackle when starting his new job March 1. Nor did he present any bold plans or predictions. What is clear is that no one is expecting miracles.

McGrath said he will begin his tenure by taking the time to better familiarize himself with the industry.

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