He has faced them at Columbia Pictures and in his work on the World Cup. Now he's off and running as the first commissioner of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations.
"I enjoy sports and entertainment ... and I have an ability to reach other people who love sports and entertainment," Mr. McGrath says of the post he took March 1 with the mandate to improve horse racing's brand image and awareness.
"Horse racing doesn't have an image-we need one," says Joe Harper, owner of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, San Diego. And it seems the association, which represents 51 ownership groups in the U.S. and Canada, agrees.
To meet increasing competition in sports, gaming and entertainment, Mr. McGrath says, the racing industry must appeal to a younger, more diverse audience.
Mr. McGrath's appointment seems a logical move based on his track record, paved with high-power jobs in media, marketing and sports.
When Columbia Pictures was bought by Coca-Cola Co., Mr. McGrath was promoted to exec VP of Coca-Cola Television and later became president-ceo of the international entertainment business sector of Coca-Cola, responsible for international distribution and marketing of movies and TV programs. Interestingly, at Columbia and then at Coca-Cola, Mr. McGrath worked with Fay Vincent, who later became Major League Baseball commissioner.
Most recently, Mr. McGrath was president-ceo of International Sports & Leisure Marketing, whose clients include the International Olympic Committee, World Cup soccer championship and World Athletic Championships.
Under Mr. McGrath's administration, the company signed 11 exclusive relationships for the soccer industry with marketers including Canon USA, McDonald's Corp., MasterCard International and Eveready Battery Co.'s Energizer.
Mr. McGrath envisions similar marketing for the horse racing industry, a $10 billion annual business that peaked after World War II and has declined in recent decades. The latest threat is a growing number of lotteries and casinos.
"Somehow we've lost the magic of `a day at the races,' ... We have to re-create the magic," Mr. McGrath says.