The University of Louisville Equine Industry Program has named Tom Aronson the 32nd recipient of the John W. Galbreath Award for Outstanding Entrepreneurship in the Equine Industry.
Aronson is an original business architect of two of the most successful companies the history of horse racing, the Television Games Network (TVG) and Exacta Systems, both of which have become billion-dollar wagering companies since their creation.
“Tom Aronson is a true ‘horse enterprise architect,’ as defined by the criteria governing this award,” said Ted Nicholson, senior vice president of Kentucky Downs, in nominating him. “He turned a youthful fascination with horses and horse racing into what has been a remarkable career highlighted by repeated innovation, business building and cutting-edge thinking for the industry.”
TVG is the pioneering national television network and groundbreaking account wagering platform. As the company’s chief business development officer in the 1990s, Aronson secured the live racing content from America’s most prominent racetracks needed to fuel the network. He also devised a national revenue-sharing scheme to properly compensate all of racing’s stakeholders as the new company moved horse racing into legal home wagering coupled with daily national broadcasting.
More recently, Aronson helped launch Exacta Systems into the world of Historic Horse Racing (HHR), the electronic entertainment that has fueled the rapid growth of racetrack revenues and prize monies (purses) over the past decade. Since 2015, Exacta has generated over $14 billion in bets on races and more than $1.2 billion in revenue for racing, including allocations to purses paid to horse owners and breeders that helped revitalize the sport in Kentucky, Wyoming and Virginia.
“Horseracing in Kentucky is only as strong as the health of the game. Many of Tom’s initiatives have been significant in building the industry and helping it become more mainstream and available to people,” said Karl Schmitt, president and CEO of the Louisville Sports Commission. “He is passionate about horseracing. He also is very analytical – he understands how to analyze an issue from a theoretical perspective, and he has practical experience, so that is the best of both worlds.”
Upon graduating from Harvard in 1977, Aronson chose a career with horses as his personal and professional path, serving first as an executive assistant at Harness Tracks of America and then as director of legislative affairs for the American Horse Council in Washington, D.C. In 1989, Aronson started his own marketing, development and analytics company, Racing Resource Group, Inc., from which he stepped periodically to build other companies. The first of these was AXCIS Information Network, subsequently AXCIS TrackMaster, now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Jockey Club.
Aronson also served as corporate vice president of programming and product development at Churchill Downs, Inc., and as a faculty member at UofL in the College of Business Equine Industry Program, where he instructed students in entrepreneurship, networking, business capitalization and enterprise building.
“I am privileged to have had the opportunity to help build two of the horse industry’s greatest start-ups from the ground up,” Aronson said of his TVG and Exacta experiences. “Helping to make horse sports more economically viable in a challenging world has been an exciting and rewarding career for me, and the honor accorded to me here by the University of Louisville is truly gratifying. The list of previous winners is breathtaking, and I am deeply appreciative of the inclusion and recognition.”
The award is named for the late John W. Galbreath, a self-made person who distinguished himself in both business and as a horseman. Previous Galbreath Award recipients include John A. Bell III, Cothran “Cot” Campbell, Tom Meeker and B. Wayne Hughes. Last year, the award was presented to Elizabeth James, Ph.D., an educator and equine career coach and co-founder of the Liberty Horse Association, the first organization supporting the discipline of liberty training.
“Horses and horse sports are not naturally inclined toward change,” Aronson said. “Horses in America have survived and prospered despite momentous changes around them over the past 125 years. They have earned and deserve the tireless efforts of all of us to keep their many uses viable, safe, proactively recognized and participated in by the public. My career has been all about doing that, and the acknowledgment the John Galbreath Award represents is a genuinely great reward.”
Recipients of the Galbreath Award demonstrate original and creative techniques or approaches to business, a willingness to take personal or career risks, forward-thinking and visionary management planning, an ability to render a business firm or organization more effective and profitable and the respect of peers as evidence of character and integrity. The recipient is selected by a committee of faculty in the Forcht Center for Entrepreneurship in the UofL College of Business.
“Tom graduated from one of the finest schools in the nation. Not Harvard, but the Stan Bergstein ‘Harness Tracks of America’ graduate program, where he learned from one of the best minds and individuals in all of racing,” said Christopher McErlean, vice president – racing for Penn National Gaming in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania. “Since then, Tom has been an industry leader and at the forefront of many innovations within both the Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries. From the boardroom to the racetrack, Tom has made his goal to bring insights and ideas to help make racing better. The description of the Galbreath Award is tailor made for Tom’s accomplishments and he is a deserving recipient.”
By Betty Coffman
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