Hail the King - By Gary Fenton

I realize every Tom, Dick, and Harry has a diatribe on how to fix horse racing.

Add this to the list, sort of.

I’ve been in the TV business since I was 25. I was around when the FCC deregulated television networks in the ’90s, allowing them for the first time to own the programs they broadcast, and watched the industry adapt to an entirely new culture and business model. It took awhile, though. Sound familiar?

I’ll never forget my lunch with the president of NBC (who was just general counsel at the time) 12 years ago. He said, “I will never allow my viewers to TIVO our programs.” Ha. It’s truly amazing how every business adjusts to its customer base—except horse racing, which caters to the precious, now all of a sudden not really in the mood to buy, horse owners.

I am not here to fix horse racing, so much as to offer some helpful tips on how to improve the Breeders’ Cup TV ratings and overall TV exposure. Since “TV is King,” I figure we should start here and move on to the other horse racing issues another time.

As you know, the Breeders’ Cup telecast is longer than the Super Bowl. Did you ever wonder why NBC’s Sunshine Millions always draws considerably more viewers than the Breeders’ Cup? Eight races in two hours. People care about the live horse race, but that’s generally it. Everything in between is fluff, like halftime of a football game. If there were eight halftimes, the NFL never would’ve made it.

I have two possible solutions, and both start and end with the golden rule: “TV is King.” You adapt to its audience, not the other way around.

• You can’t compete with football right now. So stop trying. The Breeders’ Cup should run live on TVG and HRTV, and the races should also be shown live on network TV during football games—NCAA or NFL. A race is one-and-a-half minutes long. Networks do “game breaks.” One day a year they will do “horse racing breaks” throughout the day.

Then at 6:30 p.m., after seven “horse racing breaks” and numerous promos to watch the “big race,” you run a half-hour or hour show around the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I). That’s right, just one race. Look at the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). There are so many other great races that day—but America only sees one. If America cared about the Breeders’ Cup “undercard” races or had the time to watch them, the Breeders’ Cup ratings would reflect it.

In TV, when you launch a show, you put it on after your top-rated program. Why? ’Cause that’s where the most eyeballs are. Viewers traditionally will give the next show a chance. Go where the eyeballs are instead of competing against them.

• You run the races like Sunshine Millions. Two tracks. Races every 15 minutes. If every track did this, attendance would skyrocket. Handle would go down? Nonsense. People adapt. You can wager every 15 minutes just as easily as every 30 minutes. I used to buy records in a record store and books in a bookstore—now I buy them online.

A few years ago when NFL games began running long, over their precious three-hour Sunday blocks, what did they do? They adapted for TV and shortened games. Go out of bounds; keep the clock moving. At no point did the NFL want to try and hold their attention-span-impaired audience beyond three hours. The Academy Awards did the same thing when its telecast started running over three hours. Horse racing executives most likely would’ve seen this as an opportunity to run more ads.

Sure, you will have jockeys who can’t have every mount and some owners who won’t be able to witness all of their races in person…but really is that why you’re not doing it? So that some jockeys don’t have to share their mounts? Sounds like a nice way to increase the pool of jockeys.

In the end, no one will be upset when the audience goes up. More eyeballs, higher purses. If a few owners can’t get to both of their races, the rest of the world will be OK. NFL owners didn’t like revenue sharing at first…until the value of their franchises started dramatically increasing.

TV is King. You fit inside its box. Not the other way around.

Gary Fenton is the managing partner/CEO of Little Red Feather Racing, which is based in Los Angeles.

55 Comments

Leave a Comment:

John McEvoy

Mr. Fenton makes a lot of sense to me.

08 Dec 2009 2:11 PM
ace

Terrific idea.  Spot on in every way.

08 Dec 2009 2:16 PM
QUEENA

What do you do when the NFL and NCAA say no to "horse racing breaks?" The Sunshine Millions HAD (it's not on TV anymore) better ratings because it had no real competition. Do you really think all the fans watching the SM are NOT watching he BC? Of course, they are...they just may be consuming it differently and tuning in and out over a period of time. Please don't suggest the SM is in the same league of the BC. TV is KING but there is more to life than ratings. See CABLE TV.

08 Dec 2009 2:42 PM
Oldie

Gary, I think you have some good ideas, and you're right, at this time, TV is King.  

I think another aspect of television viewers that should be recognized is, you have to give them a reason to watch.  Getting stories outside the circle of regular followers will bring others to the screen - stories about horses, trainers, owners, jockeys, hotwalkers, grooms, various racing surfaces, etc. need to be in mainstream news.  

Also, there's the sexism aspect to the sport.  I like horse racing, have since I was a kid, yet I've never gotten to watch the Kentucky Oaks live - because it's run on Friday.  I only saw Rachel Alexandra's fantastic win because Rachel Maddow showed it on her MSNBC show!  It was a name thing.  Women love horses at an earlier stage of life than men, for the most part, and doing better broadcasting and promotion of the girls' races could make a huge difference, IMHO.

I know the big brains want more betting, but first you have to find more bettors.  I think you illustrated this component very well, and I hope the right people listen.

08 Dec 2009 3:04 PM
David

Mr. Fenton advances an intriguing idea and, in view of the steady rating slide, one which deserves a close look.  Unfortunately, reform is something entirely foreign to horse racing.   The struggle for a larger slice from a shrinking pie consumes so much energy that resignation has displaced motivation for fundamental change.  Those making the cursory pilgrimage to Tucson and alike typically take last year’s notes in order to get in an extra 18.  This year the U of A would have done well by having Mr. Fenton’s participation.

08 Dec 2009 3:36 PM
CRob87

Good point !!!

But, why stop at just 2 tracks ???

Why not include 3 or 4 of the Best Showplace tracks each year ???   That way you could "Offer" certain races at certain Tracks according to their surfaces ???

B.C. Turf at Gulfstream for the warmer and dry weather.

B.C. Classic at Belmont for it's Dirt surface.

And B.C. "Others" at Santa Anita for their Synthetic surface.

Or something along those lines.  

08 Dec 2009 3:42 PM
GunBow

Actually, the time between races is a problem for on-track patrons as well.  I have been a fan of thoroughbred racing since I was 14, over 20 years ago. Over that time, I have taken a number of racing novices to the track to get them interested in the sport.  Almost all of them, to a person, had a good time, and were happy to go to the track again when I offered.  However, none went on to become true fans of the sport, like myself, and rarely go to the track on their own, without me.  For them, thoroughbred racing is a 3-7 time a year experience, something to be done with me.

The biggest criticism these people have in regards to thoroughbred racing is the 30 minutes between races(of course, for those that have witnessed a breakdown, the safety of horse and jockey is the #1 problem).  The novice goes to the track to see racing, yet if they are on track for 2 hours, the normal time of a basketball game, they will only see 4 or 5 races.  While some of my friends do enjoy going down to see the horses in the paddock, and making bets, they don't need 30 minutes to do so.  And when they complain about the "dead" time, I really have nothing to say in defense.  Do people realy need 30 minutes to place a wager?

I'm sure the tracks would argue that the more time there is between races, the more will be wagered.  But I truly believe that all those that want to wager can do so in 20 minutes.  20 minutes also give jockeys and trainers enough time to to get back from the track to the paddock between races.  Harness racetracks typically have 18-20 minutes between races, a period which both novices and myself really enjoy.  

Just like watching racing on tv should be about racing, so should the experience at the track.

08 Dec 2009 3:58 PM
meownuela

Horse racing, espcially at the top level as is the BC, between football games? That would be really sad! It'd probably be like commercial time for many football fans, they'd probably go to the kitchen to grab some more beer.

I like the fluff, I don't want to see only the post parade and the race. Now that would be boring and certainly decrease people's interest in racing. I wish they showed more features on the horses! Do more segments on the horses to gain fans. I love watching profiles of the horses and it's unfortunate that there are so few shown. Take Zenyata for example. I'm a fan because of all I've seen about her on TV. I loved seeing her in the barn area or doing her Spanish walk. I liked Santa Anita's live webcam on Mine That Bird - now that was cool. Feature more background info, more on their sires/dams, training, etc.  That is a way to increased viewership, get people interested in the horses running.  I wouldn't watch the BC races in between football, I'd rather watch it on TVG or HRTV.

08 Dec 2009 4:04 PM
Laura

I completely disagree with Mr. Fenton's ideas...it would be a complete turn-off for people who are already fans of racing.  I don't want to watch racing in between football or any other sport for that matter--they are entirely different entities!  I agree with meownuela...I WANT to see more features on the stars of racing itself during the telecasts--the horses and the stories behind them!!  In order to draw more interest to the sport of racing, people need to be educated more about it (both about those involved and about betting), not less.  Why do we continually want to diminish everything to the point of catering to the attention span of a 5 year-old??  No wonder our country is going down the tubes!

08 Dec 2009 5:42 PM
tvnewsbadge

Put the BC between football and you'll lose me as a viewer but you're right.

Network and cable Television does an atrocious job packaging the sport. After a day of network racing, I have a headache the size of Texas and just about want to blow up my TV.

08 Dec 2009 5:48 PM
LEON

You say the B-Cup is longer than the Super Bowl...Football fans start watching football at 11:00 am with all the pre-game shows, and don't stop watching until the last night game on NBC...

You are suggesting no Post Parade, no walking ring, no Zenyatta dance, no buglar, no pre-race nor post-race commentary, & no feature stories...

I could not disagree more...

I don't know the answer to fixing the industry...yours is definitely not the one either...

08 Dec 2009 6:38 PM
ballyache

My moniker tells you how old I am, but it also tells you how I've experienced the decline in coverage, in all media, of horse racing. It could be that my TV coverage is controlled in Canada (CRTC), or I don't invest "enough" money in specialty channels, but I could not see any of BC broadcast 2 years ago. I have seen it live 3 times at Be, nor most of the lead-up coverage. I have seen 3 live,at Belmont and Woodbine.

Rather than "dising" new ideas, jump on board, as some may have potential. They can't be worse than the slow painful death I see (or can't see). I used to be unhappy if the "weekly" coverage was short-ciruited by a long baseball game.

I had hope, but neither the BC Board nor the TRA can see beyond myopic, egocentric interests.

Most of you are post-Bally Ache, so try to build something positive.

08 Dec 2009 8:42 PM
Brigitte

Fenton's ideas make no sense to me. People don't watch football because a 2 min football segment caught their eye during a pause in a basketball game. They watch because they played in high school and college, their sons play and so on.

When does racing get the full attention of the public? Seabiscuit, Secretariat, Barbaro, Rachel Alexandra, Smarty Jones, Zenyatta: it's about the horses, stupid. Kids love horses, fans go to Old Friends to see old champions, caring for retired thoroughbreds helps rehabilitate prisoners. I bet more racing fans started out horse crazy than looking to gamble. I know I did.

People are hungry for heroes and equine athletes don't disappoint the way human athletes often do. I don't know how to turn that into a quick formula for more TV viewers, but leaving it out won't work.

08 Dec 2009 10:08 PM
Smarie

I don't care for football. I would not tune in to see a brief horse racing moment. I don't care for these ideas myself, but that is just my opinion. I think too many people would be in the kitchen or the bathroom during these breaks and wouldn't care about watching racing. Besides, lots of folks enjoy watching all the beer commercials shown during football games. If this came to pass, I would stop watching racing altogether. Just my opinion, of course.

09 Dec 2009 12:52 AM
KYFan

Sort of like the redheaded stepchild. Think this bizarre suggestion would make hores racing even more of an afterthought than it is. This generation hasn't and won't embrace it because they'd probably like the spills that inevitably happen in the sport. Why the heck do you think anyone watches NASCAR? For the wrecks and the beatdowns that go on between drivers.Plus the fans get stinkin drunk.

There would always be a reason why it wouldn't be shown too.

The Derby still draws large viewership, the worst thing to happen to racing? ESPN. They didn't want to show it, just wanted to 'have' it so no one else could and as a power play for the Derby.

Why 30 minutes between races? Well, betting but also working the track, getting the horses off the track from the previous race and getting the horses into the paddock without a whingding being thrown. Rushing to get them saddled, stretched out and warmed up. Skip that and you'll have a lot of injuries.

TV is King?  LOL, DVD's and video games are king. The networks are sucking air (didn't someone just buy NBC?)and the cable networks come and go before I can even figure ou what their call letters mean.

09 Dec 2009 4:10 AM
Pasturelands

I agree.  Its all about "publicity"-- capitalize on it.

The reason horse-racing went down along with my grandfather and "Titanic" is because it continues to do what it has done for decades, WITHOUT any significant difference.

People like my grandfather "put up" with betting and handicapping because it is the ONLY WAY he knows to get quick money.  In the pre-war era, the better you are at betting, the richer you get.

But nowadays, people have jobs and investment portfolios, and they dont need to bet to get quick cash.  Technology is booming, and cars have taken the place of horses.  Nobody remembers the horse no more, except in ROMANCE NOVELS and DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS books. (By the way, I loved D&D!!)

But horse-racing is STILL as ARCHAIC as ever.  It direly needed a FACE-LIFT or an IMAGE-LIFT ten years ago.  But NO.  Nothing happened.

It should get revenues, NOT ONLY FROM betting and gambling. Betting is as ARCHAIC as World War II, and only the "hard-core" still do it.  Besides, if nobody "weans" horse-racing away from gambling, there will come a time when the ONLY WAY you will see horses is TO VISIT a CASINO.

The BEST way is to get LARGER revenues from SPONSORS, instead of from bets.  Take the Triple Crown, Kentucky Oaks, Haskell, Whitney, Travers, etc. and GO MAINSTREAM.  Develop shows tied to horse-racing with ANIMAL PLANET, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, etc.  Right now, Only JOCKEYS is showing on ANIMAL PLANET.  There should be MORE..

There should a reality show on RACE HORSES-- where fans can see their favorites going around in their daily life, munching grass, galloping on the track, or even taking a bath!!!  There should be horse fights too.. haha. I can imagine SummerBird and Mine That Bird fighting over carrots..LOL.

There could be horse TALENT COMPETITIONS ala American Idol.  Horses who can count, horses who can do a haute ecole, horses who can listen to music, horses who can dance, etc. are worth watching.  I'd definitely watch THAT over "Next best Groomer" on Animal Planet.

Or maybe, "Who would be the NEXT SECRETARIAT" theme reality-show, with maybe 10 prospective horses vying to win an award (ala America's Next Super Model).  The winner will get an award, and get a FREE berth at the Kentucky Derby.. or any BIG race.

NTRA should get together with sports channels like ESPN, and have deals that "insert" racing into their MAIN programs.  TVG is a great channel, but NOBODY I know has it.  For SPONSORS to sponsor anything, the sponsoree should at least be a KNOWN entity to the Masses.  The more popular horses become, the LARGER the payout from sponsors.  A win-win for all, including the viewers, like me!!

Go MAINSTREAM, and reach the masses.  Cater to the taste of the audiences in the 21st century post war era.  That is the only way for HORSE RACING to survive.  Also, put up MORE horse-shows, for Goodness sake!!! Remind people that horses are LOVELY ANIMALS that deserve their share of adulation, along with dogs and cats!!

Just my Two-cents worth of ideas..

09 Dec 2009 4:38 AM
Rowner

In one comment It would NOT WORK! Most people would just use it a a food or restroom break. I will say football is king but I think you would T-Off the football fans with continued HR breaks and the timing would always clash. I don't think the FB fans would like  the networks to break off as their team is going to score and then on the other side a lot of race fans are going to feel the same way when all they see is the final stretch. Also I just want to mention there are a lot of fan who can't get HR TV or TVG on their cable networks and it is not always offered on Sat. network except in the most expensive plans.

09 Dec 2009 7:16 AM
Slew

Puleeeeese!  I LIKE The inbetween,

the in depth stories on horses,

jockeys, and their connections.  I

absolutely NEED the post parade.

I have HRTV, get to see many races

now, and enjoy it best when there

is analysis of performances... and

I see the post parade.  

I love football too, and most of the audience stays glued to the tube for the innovative commercials....and the Super Bowl

remains an all day event at my house.  Animal Planet already has

a show called "Jockeys".  That's

a start.

Type in horse racing on you- tube...and the first thing that pops up are track catastrophies.????  

I'm looking for races...not accidents.  

This idea should rankle every horse racing fan. It tends to diminish the sport to the immediacy required by infants...

allowing TV to really be a "boob tube".  So sorry, but an encapsulated version of the race does in no way equate to a real track experience and is

therefore a terrible idea.  And

there are NO minor races in the

Breeders Cup.

09 Dec 2009 10:16 AM
Rowner

I wanted to make further comment on this, I believe that we haven't had good coverage of horse racing Kentucky Derby or otherwise since Wide World of Sports and Jim Mckay. Todays coverage is to much about betting and posting the odds 97 percent of the time. If your really serious about betting, your at your local OTB or at the track itself. Its the Human Interest stories that will attract new fans not 50 million updates on the odds. Also espn/abc should stop all those crazy camera angles it really hard to follow a race when they're zooming the camera in and out.

09 Dec 2009 10:31 AM
Lmaris

I'm with Leon.  You advocate cutting out everything that makes racing more than just the equine equivalent of a drag race.  Already the sire & dam information has been deleted from the post parade.  Dumbing it down further isn't going to increase the fan base.  Forcing the moderate fan to invest in premium cable or more just to watch racing will kill the sport on television.  

09 Dec 2009 11:39 AM
Bob C

CRob87 makes a very good point suggesting the races be ran at multiple tracks.  The BC card could begin at Belmont and keep moving westward as the afternoon progresses.  We could finish with the Classic at Santa Anita and complete the entire card within a more managable two or three hour timeframe.  More tracks would be involved every year instead of moving the entire program from one location to another every year or two.  Under that scenario the Breeders Cup would truly be a national event.

09 Dec 2009 1:07 PM
SteveStan

Bob, that's been suggested by some others on these blog comments. Why would we do that? Then it would just be another day of stakes races all over the country. It wouldn't boost attendance or on track handle to just have one race. Unless it's the magnitude of a Triple Crown race.

Bad idea. Just another Saturday with a stakes race at this track one at another etc. You wouldn't get 58-80,000 people to come out and watch one race, particularly a turf mile etc.

09 Dec 2009 2:33 PM
Medea

Ok: I vote with the More Features camp. I'm not going to watch horse racing between segments of some other sport.  I love horse racing!  I love the horses, the human interest, the personalities and the profiles. I love the Legends specials, the how-to and professional tips, the features on the horses after their track careers are over.  I want more Personality, More "Fluff", not less!  The more the better, and the more I'm watching.  

09 Dec 2009 3:15 PM
jamesb

What's wrong with putting the actual races between football?  As long as the coverage is going to be on TVG or HRTV I would be happy.

Some here are operating under the assumption that more human interest stories and more horse stories will get people more interested.  You are assuming people care in the first place.  They don't.  Haven't for a long time.

There is a big difference between what WE want to see, and what other people want to see.

09 Dec 2009 3:42 PM
JohnGalt1

One difference between other sports fans and us, is a football game or car race is available at one site or on TV.

Because of simulcasting, we can watch important races at all  tracks.  And we are.

Other than some of us betting on our computers, most are at the tracks betting.

That's the big difference between pro sports, Nascar, etc. and horseracing.

09 Dec 2009 4:46 PM
average joe

Pardo the caps !

TO ATTRACT FANS AND INCREASE TELEVISION RATINGS... THE BREEDERS CUP AND ALL THE 'WIN AND YOU'RE IN RACES' SHOULD BE BROADCAST ON FREE TV ... Racing needs to increase it's exposure to both fans and those that simply love horses !

Oh for the days when Jim macKay was alive and running tv sports.

09 Dec 2009 4:52 PM
CRob87

SteveStan:

It wouldn't just be 1 B.C. Race at 14 different tracks.   It would be more like 4-5-5 at 3 different Tracks, 1 for each Surface.

This years 2 day On-Track attendance at Santa Anita was only about 96,000.   So I also believe that "IF" it were held at 3 different Tracks then the Total On-Track attendance would surpass that number fairly easily every year (The biggest # being wherever the Classic would be held of course).   Simply because it would give 3 different Regions of people a better chance to see it Live each year instead of only 1 Region.

.

09 Dec 2009 5:08 PM
Horseguy

In the early 90's I suggested the multiple track scenario to the former head of the Breeders' Cup. Also suggesting that the turf races be run in Europe some years. I doubt it was given any thought. I would like to think that the combined attendance of 3 tracks having several championship races each along with a strong undercard would be far greater then the best year the Breeders' Cup has ever had. But unless the Breeders' Cup has changed its business model it maybe difficult to work out.  The way I understand it the Breeders' Cup basically leases the host track for the day. Which is why one looses their Clubhouse Box for the day when the Breeders' Cup comes to town.  Another scenario to consider would be to have two paddocks. If the next race was on turf the horses would be ready to go while the dirt track was being reworked. Yes, there would be some logistics to consider but none that could not be worked out. Yes, jockeys may not be able to ride races back to back. But there are plenty of good ones out there that could use the opportunity. Our steeplechase jocks switch silks on the run to their next mount.

09 Dec 2009 6:56 PM
SteveStan

Still lessens the event. Saratoga has several stakes races like that, sans the synthetics which are not a surface that very many want to run on. To those of us in racing it's just the same ol same ol if it were chandged up.

Watch next year at CD, bet the attendance will be over 130 for both days, at the least.

Tracks like Saratoga, Keeneland etc cannot hold that many people anyway. There's a lot more involved here than just drawing the locals to watch the horses. The logistics of planning an event like this would STILL be left to the biggest of the tracks that do this type of thing.

Usually on TC days there are a lot of Stakes races on the undercard and frankly, other than CD? They can't draw crowds.

This idea goes against EVERYTHING that the BC was designed for, the tracks really DON'T make any money off of it and the ones that really benefit from it are the 'regions' that it's held in, you get a bunch of locals and what does that do? With a regional BC? You'd also have trainers and owners that would have to go all over the place to run, costs are just too prohibitive now for anyone but the very richest in the game.

Then you run into the surface issue. The turf courses are certainly not equal and some people wouldn't want to run on certain courses, the synthetic tracks in Cal have no dirt so what now?

No, just ask around racing. People would rather have an event that really MEANS something.

09 Dec 2009 7:21 PM
CRob87

The only way to know for sure if anything will work or not is by Trial and Error.

So you try it 1 year at 3 different Tracks and "IF" the Ratings and Attendance are bad then you scrub it and go back to the old way.

The only real negative I see is for the Owners and Trainers who can't be in 2-3 different places on the same day.

As far as how the B.C. was originally designed ...

Well...I think we crossed that line when we went from 8 to 14 Races, from 1 to 2 Days and from 1 to 3 Networks (Or Channels anyways).

Change "IS" the Nature of Business.   You either Change or get left behind.   Which getting left behind is exactly what our Industry is experiencing from our unwillingness to change over the last 30 years or more.

09 Dec 2009 8:15 PM
KYFan

Because, change for the sake of change is never good.

Then what do you do when you've lost the core group of horsemen and also fans and just have the guys with the huge stables running at the big purses? We still have the occasional little guy running.

Once you venture down this road you can never go back.

The industry has changed a great deal in the last 30 years. The advent of the Breeders Cup was within that time frame, all types of exotic wagering, the dog and pony shows in giveaways etc.

You guys who want to change it and give it a shot, see what happens?

That is what has been a problem to a lot of tracks.

The change to two days? Almost to a person, the fans and horsemen alike have complained about that. The number of races? Like one trainer said who cares about some of those races? We've changed networks and that sure has turned to crap.

The only real negative? That is a real laugh. The guys who own these horses dang sure aren't going to pay the exhorbitant fees if they can't even watch their horse run so what they'll do is limit their runners to one specific track. The trainers? Those who build their programs around TC horses will run at the track that is most in line with that. Same with the turf runners, the synthetic specialists.

What happens then? The field size starts to suffer and you get the same undersubscribed races that happened in a few this year.

Then you get the negative folks who say things about a horse being a synthetic specialist etc, we've seen what that's done with all this fighting and bickering going on.

You know it's funny but those who want to make these wholesale changes are never directly affected by it and when it blows up, they move on and find some other cause or favorite sport.

09 Dec 2009 9:13 PM
Robin

I can't understand why over the last 8-10 yrs, horseracing has taken a back seat.  Sure we get the TC races, and a few of the Fall classics on ESPN.  But otherwise, unless you subscribe to TVG, or HRTV, you're limitted on the viewing of any race.  Unless, of course the race has a fatal breakdown or something else to marr the entertainment factor.  Even our local paper no longer carries any racing charts, or any info. I appreciate the BC coverage.  Would also like more behind the scenes stuff, but realize I'm grabbing at straws.

09 Dec 2009 9:34 PM
Pasturelands

To sandwich horse racing as Football intermission numbers is laughable, and irritating, especially for FB fans.  Confusing too, for horse fans.

Horse Racing SHOULD make-or-break it to ESPN.  Even just get a 1 hour or even 30-minute show on that sports channel will do wonders for the sport, believe me.  A lot of my friends have ESPN, but NONE have TVG (what's that?).  Snow surfing and Extreme sports are new, BUT they are on ESPN as a regular.  How come a 200-year old sport like horse racing is NOT there??

For horse racing to have NEW fans, the audience should know WE ARE ALIVE.  Get HR into Mainstream.  NTRA are you listening? *wink*  Just my suggestion...

10 Dec 2009 3:28 AM
kelso fan

I couldn't disagree more - the problem is that we have less exposure to horse racing these days and thus less opportunities for people to learn about horse racing and the personalities (including equine) who populate it. I would like to see more in-depth pieces about those personalities.  Sure, we can watch TVG and HRTV but they run many horse races without the time for commentary to allow people to get to know much about the sport and if you think the casual fan or current non-fan is going to spend time watching those channels you are sadly mistaken.  My non-horse friends lose interest very quickly.  When they see more in-depth info they get engaged.  Plus, many of us do not have satellite TV.  I remember getting cable just so I would have ESPN to watch the races that had moved over from network TV - now we don't even get to watch races like the Santa Anita Handicap and the Jockey Club Gold Cup much less all the racing leading up to our big races.  As for racing at the track, I don't know of any tracks that aren't simulcasting so the people that think 30 minutes is too long between races really arene't watching any of the other races.  For big race days, I may visit an OTB to do my betting but you can bet I am in front of my TV to watch the fluff for the races themselves.  And for races I am able to attend, I then come home and watch what I have recorded.

The person new to horse racing is not going to go on-line like I do to read horse racing news or watch races, nor are they going to pay attention to races that are shown without much explanation.

Please try arguing for more exposure on national free TV, more news on local print media and if you want to get rid of fluff how about eliminating the red carpet stuff on Derby Day.

10 Dec 2009 7:23 AM
Aikenite

Horse racing exists because of gambling.  Americans like to gamble.  Rarely does a televised racing event emphasize the most potentially appealing aspect of the game to novice viewers.  Particularly on Breeder's Cup day, there are always incredibly juicy payoffs on Tri's/Pik 3's, even exacta combinations.  We're lucky if we even get a mention of the payoffs after the fact, much less up front discussions from serious handicappers who could clue the public in on how they think about hitting the "big one."  The gambling angle is horribly under emphasized during racing broadcasts.  

10 Dec 2009 10:53 AM
DonW

The comments on Gary Fenton's suggestions are from people who  love horse racing, so it is not surprising that they are not in favor of changing the current format of the BC telecast. I love it too, but let's face it - the BC telecast is an utter failure at showcasing our sport to millions of non-racing fans. They simply don't watch it. We need them to support our sport or it will continue to decline. I like the idea of having many tracks, each hosting a BC race on the big day, and then having live coverage for only 3 races: The filly and mare dirt, the classic, and the turf. And run them in an hour and a half program, preferably at night. A racing show at night would not need to compete with most other sports in the fall and would also be watched by racing fans who had gone to their local track that day to see "their" BC race. The other races could be shown by videotape during the nighht program, to showcase these tracks and horses. Sure, having multiple tracks for BC races  creates a problem for jockeys, trainers, etc. But there are plenty of local jockeys around who would love to have a chance for a mount in a million dollar BC race.  

10 Dec 2009 11:04 AM
Sysonby

All these comments and only John Galt1 mentioned the fact that declining viewership has walked hand in hand with the expansion of simulcast and online and satellite viewership of racing.  When the BC came into being, I could either go to the BC or watch on TV.  The OTB parlor would take my bets but I couldn't watch it.  With the rise of interstate simulcast new opportunities for seeing the races have come into being. I'd rather go to a simulcast with my "racing friends" for the day than watch at home. Plus, while we are there, we can see/bet on races at other tracks as well.

I am a fan and a horseplayer. I too work in TV.  The fan in me likes to watch the races and I would do so even if I was not betting.  The horseplayer in me however gets fed up with the way network TV shows racing.  Some nice features are great but the networks generally decide on a "theme" and stick with it to the end. Barbaro's Derby was the "Olympic medalist who rescued children from a burning plane crash vs. the trainer in the wheelchair after a horrible motorcycle accident."  Had neither of them won, the networks would have been lost, as they were this year when they had no idea who Chip Woolley or Mine That Bird were.  

Tell the stories but cut a wider path.  By 6pm I don't want to have seen the same segment on Trainer A's battle with the bottle or Trainer B's 102 year old Dad 5 times each.

Kids put together wonderful little vignettes/videos about their favorites.  Search YouTube.  If they can do a nice 3 minute piece on Trainer X or Jockey Y, why is it so hard for ESPN?

It is a fine line trying to bring new fans into the game while satisfying the old hands. The dumbing down of the sport and ignoring odds makes me crazy. Most of the odds shown on the national telecasts are about 4-5 minutes old. I have never seen an exacta grid or a Pick 3 "will-pay."  The fact is that baseball and football don't talk to the viewers as if they are idiots.  The count is up to the second in baseball, the down and yardage are always on display in football.  If I don't know what a strike or a ball is and don't understand the yardage, I'll get it on my own after watching for a few minutes.  Just tell me what's happening.  Explain the really tricky stuff otherwise just let me watch.

Honestly, if you are only watching because the trainer of the favorite is in a wheelchair or the owner of a runner is 98 years old, you really are not that interested anyway.

10 Dec 2009 2:48 PM
Louie Dula

they need to STOP having the Breeders Cup races at Santa Anita all the time. no matter what anybody says... some trainers will never ship their horses there because of the surface.    it's time for it to come South and the PERFECT place for it to be held is beautiful HIALEAH PARK.  I can't think of a greater track to have it at.

10 Dec 2009 3:04 PM
mauk one

Gary's comments are great...Great for racing and great for the sport...We need to do things different or we're not going to be around much longer...I've been talking the same talk as Gary for the last ten or fifteen years but not many want to change....It's all about change, change, change... Keep up the good work Gary...

10 Dec 2009 3:12 PM
Karen in Indiana

I love it. Having the races going at two tracks on the same day has so many benefits - turf races at one track, dirt (or synthetic) at another; long enough between races to get something to eat or go to the bathroom, but not long enough to get bored; more jockeys would get an opportunity to ride; more local fans at the track. Since all the races could be run on one day as opposed to two, the televised time on Saturday could stay the same, but the viewers would get twice as much action. AND no missing the female races because they are on a work day. I don't see any down side to this.

10 Dec 2009 3:14 PM
Karen in Indiana

jamesb, I beg to differ. I love the stories and I care enough about the horses to go to Kentucky every year to see my favorites and to support horse rescue in my state. I don't watch races on TVG or HRTV that only show the numbers, horses have names. Are you listening Churchill Downs, Inc.?

10 Dec 2009 3:22 PM
Mary

I agree with Kelso Fan.  Back in the 50's and 60's we had "The Race of the Week" show in Cleveland, and I am sure, other cities. It ran at 5:00pm on CBS or ABC and featured seasonal stakes races from the east coast. Kelso, of course, was the star of many, as were Cicada, Jaipur, Ridan and a host of other wonderful horses. That show got me involved in racing, as it did many others. Win Elliot, Arnie Winick and Tommy Trotter gave you the inside scoop, plus owner and trainer interviews. Such insights !

Wish we could bring something like that back to stations more of us can watch. Here in Lancaster, Ohio, many of the sports stations are blocked due to local government determining they are gambling-oriented. Racing is racing, not to be included as a lesser-light adjunct to football and other sports plagued by a myriad of diva-players obsessed with "larger than the game" egos, and owners sinking in any number of mismanagement quagmires.

10 Dec 2009 3:29 PM
KYFan

Right DonW, I'm going to put a jock on a multi-million dollar race horse running for a million dollars or more who is a 'local' jock? All of those with that kind of experience will disappear real fast snatched up by the trainers who follow my thought process.

My owners don't want to have to choose which 'kid' to go watch at their 'soccer game' to translate to human terms.

Sysonby, the people watching FB, Baseball And NBA KNOW the players, have the 'fat head' stick ups, get the blurbs on these guys 100 times a day on ESPN. Heck we know which ones are having affairs, shot someone, got drunk, what cars they drive, what where and when they met their spouse or in this day and age 'baby mamas' we even know if they prefer briefs of boxers so don't tell me that people don't want to know.

They don't dumb down FB? Yes they only show the yellow line they need to get to for the next first down, they draw pictures they explain things ad nauseum about how it all works.

The fact that we're dealing with animals and the fact that people today are obsessed with celebrities, we need to play up our celebrities that we have in racing. We have some folks that have accomplished amazing things within and outside of the game.

Although I agree that ESPN in particular shows the same feature way too many times, we still may hook some people who, as some did in the old days, idolized some of these guys.

You're speaking as a gambler, sounds to me like, the kind of guy who should stick to the horse racing networks that focus on that primarily. Why? Because some people don't get the gambling angle. We need to present it as human interest, beautiful animals, interesting and accomplished people but not in the way that ESPN does it. Right about that part.

10 Dec 2009 6:39 PM
KYFan

Karen the down side to it is that it is UNBELIEVABLY expensive to televise two tracks extensively at the same time.  The coverage would suffer as they pick one or the other. One or two races? Not as big of crews or as much logisitcs. Since turf racing is not that big of a deal in the US to a lot of casual fans? They'll broadcast the dirt tracks.

The downside may not be apparent to those outside the game but it's a nightmare to those IN the game. Same as having it two years in a row on the same surface same locale.

The locals don't bring any money to the restaurants, hotels, car rental and all the tourist attractions. That is how you get some support from the locale it's being held at.

10 Dec 2009 6:47 PM
LavasLegend

"If it aint broke, don't fix it".

Too many races, over two days, Therein lies the problem. Period.

Mr. Fenton, with all due respect to your ideas, I have to agree with those posters here who have vehemently opposed them.

The BC never did need fixing. NOW it does, but as someone else mentioned, we have now done the "trial and error". Time to admit it was wrong.

To take away the post parades, the interviews, the fantastic stories that come along each year, to give it to us in rapid-fire succession, is stripping a very large piece of the glory that was and still is horse racing. Ironically enough, it is taking away the HORSES from the viewers.

Yes, horse racing often preaches only to the converted anymore. But take it away from us further...and I sense a mutiny ;-)

11 Dec 2009 12:10 PM
FSF

I find it laughable that this gentleman thinks "TV is King." As a 30 year old, I am just counting the minutes until "traditional" TV is finally broken down to a more pay-per-view type model where I can select the 5 channels I watch (ESPN, Food Network, PBS, Bravo, and Discovery Channel), add on a couple of channels that aren't currently offered here (specifically, HRTV and TVG) and scrap all the useless old dinosaur network channels. And I will continue to DVR the shows I want to see- including sports coverage- so that I can fast forward through your precious revenue generating commercials that I don't want to watch. If I could accomplish all of these goals by downloading the shows I like when I wanted to, via an Internet-ready TV (which I will purchase next time I need one), all the better, so that I can get away from the cable/TV business all together. This is the future of the TV experience. If someone from an industry that is about to go down in flames is offering suggestions to another industry in decline, I say run away, as fast at those four Thoroughbred legs can take you.

Someone else on here mentioned the 'golden days' of Wide World of Sports, with Jim McKay. Couldn't agree more. If the on air personalities had the same presence of Mr. McKay, instead of Kenny Maine shouting at me and Hank Goldberg looking like he was about to topple over in his seat, the focus could remain on the horses and the stories of "their people" not the raving of these "hosts." The best thing about watching the BC on DVR this year was fast forwarding through the "piggy bank" segments.

Finally, I am still disturbed by the fact that all racing coverage, but particularly BREEDER'S CUP coverage, no longer includes the runners' pedigrees. We lament that our stars go off the the breeding shed so early (a real problem discussed extensively on other blogs here), but as a kid, I always got a real kick out of seeing one of my favorite former racehorses show up as a sire or dam to a horse running that day- that horse became my instant choice for the race. So yes, we lose Zenyatta or Zensational to the shed this year, but how fun if in three years, we're rooting for own of their colts or fillies in a Breeder's Cup race. As it is now, unless one of the commentators thinks to mention pedigrees during the post parade, a casual fan would never make this connection. Putting it right up on the screen with the owner/breeder/record/earnings box in the Post Parade would help fans stay connected, albeit in a tangential way, to their former favorites.

Finally, I'm not the only one to mention this, but I think the biggest problem is just the general lack of coverage. As a kid almost every other Saturday racing was on in the afternoon. And others have pointed out that not even the Sunshine Millions races, which are used as the gold standard example in the original argument, still get air time. We have got to figure out a way to encourage networks other than TVG/HRTV to give us racing coverage. I've written to ESPN numerous times this year (always identifying myself as a 30-year old, well educated woman, as my marketing friends tell me that I'm in the demographic every TV exec wants), but I never hear any sort of reply, and I certainly haven't seen any increase in coverage. I would love to see these blogs used to organize mass write-in days leading up to big race that aren't being televised. How many people could we mobilize here?

11 Dec 2009 3:32 PM
DMN98

with all due respect to mr fenton and all of the posted comments,  all of you still dont get it.

attracting new fans does nothing for the game.  let me repeat that. NOTHING!!!!!! racing needs to attract new gamblers.

if you dont gamble ,  you are, in a sense, worthless to the game. 95% of revenue for tracks comes from people gambling. fans that go to the track and dont gamble, bring nothing to the equation. thats why racing has died.   the industry has forgotten how to take care of the gambler,  so the gambler has forgotten about racing

11 Dec 2009 9:55 PM
Terry

It would help if the BC broadcast was done better. The emphasis is all on betting and people. You don't even see all the horses for each race! TV viewers have no program and we aren't told anything about each entry, not even the sire and dam. Make the show about the HORSES and people will watch. The ones who just want to bet are all at the tracks & betting parlours, not watching on TV at home.

ESPN used to do a great job covering horse racing. Now it's dreadful. (Its coverage of Woodbine's International was appalling.) I think the BC television coverage should use the local experts instead of ESPN guys who know more and care more about football. If it's at Woodbine, let the Woodbine team host. If it's at Santa Anita, let their people host. The info would be a lot more detailed and interesting, I'm sure! And forget the stupid Hollywood celebrity interviews. Who cares what they think? (If they do....!)

I want to know the breeding of the horses. I want to see them in the walking ring before the race. I like to hear interviews with their trainers and owners and breeders, as long as the focus is on the horse they are running.

Make the show about the horses the way it used to be, and people will watch.

13 Dec 2009 1:15 AM
Terry

Re holding the BC at different tracks. The Standardbred people hold their Breeders' Crown at two alternating tracks. The 2009 races for 3 year olds and up were August 21 at the Meadowlands, and the races for 2 and 3 years olds were run at Woodbine on October 24. Myself, I like that split because the races are far enough apart in time that trainers don't have that problem of deciding which traqck to go to.

But in 2010 & 2011, they are changing to 12 races on one day at one track, then 12 races in one day at the other track the following year. And that will cause problems for viewers because in 2011 the Breeders' Cup and Breeders' Crown will be on the same day. That will mess up viewers even more!

I like the way they did it before. Half the BC races at one track one month, the other half at another track a different month. For the BC, you could have one track with dirt and turf, the other track with synthetic & turf, or some other combination to keep more people happy.

13 Dec 2009 1:34 AM
da3hoss

Smarie has a good point: not liking football to tune in and watch horse racing squeezed in.

I love football...Patriots football...if you're not playing my Patriots to heck with ya!

You can run all kinds of races in between the BC races...TVG and HRTV do it all the time, not need to be at two tracks to run a race every 15 minutes...you got tracks all over the continent running races you could show, livestream with TVG or HRTV on the network running the BC...

You can do stories of the horses that are running the next race, and show important races that led up to these horses being in this race...personality spotlights...my friends and family eat that stuff up on KD Day...ALL the horses, not just the TV personalities favorites...Mine That Bird a great example...the TV guys went on and on about POTN, FF, etc and when MTB won no one had a clue....

13 Dec 2009 1:31 PM
owner, breeder, trainer, fan

For the people who disagree, open your mind.  Doing the same thing and expecting different results has never worked in history.  I have worked in the industry, and 15 minutes between races is possible.  Meadowlands you all meet at the barn at the stretch and wait for the previous race to run.  Monmouth Park has a different path to the paddock, so it's possible there also.  What do we have to loose?  Somebody wake up, and try something new. Maybe sponsorship may be the new revenue to supplement purses. Not racinos.  

13 Dec 2009 8:09 PM
Downhomesunset

Some people might be sick of me by now-I am alays tooting harness racing's horn. But they have 10-15 race cards completed and it is still the 6th at the thoroughbred simulcast that started at the same time. Why? Tracks have 12-15 minutes between races. The only acceptions are championship cards, where they will add 5 minutes, or really bad weather where I have seen races go in as little as 8 minutes apart. I have always been perplexed with the difference between the two and it hasn't changed since I started going to the races in 1985.Those were the days when the tracks weren't ashamed to print attendance and handle in the papers....

14 Dec 2009 5:52 PM
Same Down Under

Gary's ideas have great merit, as does the fact that the great horses – not wizz-bang sideshows – bring fans to the game long term.

In Australia fans used to go nuts for one day cricket (about 6 hours all-up) as an alternative to 5-days of Test cricket. Now even 6 hours is too long and there's a new version called 20/20 which is 40% shorter still.

And that's the real point! People lead incredibly busy lives, most often where both parents work. More than a few hours of chill time is a luxury. Who goes to see a 6 hour movie or 6 hours of Broadway?

Cut the BC day back to 3 hours max, package it tightly and use TV to emotionally connect to an audience that is involved from go to whoa instead of having them change the channel to a hoolahoop contest after 20 minutes.

In Australia we have great crowds of young social wannabees at the big meets; most are only there for the drinks and the pretty young things and are not a long term solution.

Racing 101: it's about the horse and everybody loves a contest; foreplays fine – but it gets boring if it's drawn out too long. Set the scene, build it up and move to the climax. Next... and so on.

15 Dec 2009 4:23 AM
don miller / FL

I agree with most of the “TV is King” solutions, but one thing that wasn’t addressed and should be in the mix is HD. Many, many people already have or soon will get flat screens/HD. Watching a race on TVG in old fashioned SD is bla, on ESPN HD your eyeballs pop.

If TV is King, High Definition is the horse he rides in on.

15 Dec 2009 8:55 AM
YourHost

To Bloggers FSF,Meownuela,Laura,Leon,Slew,Pasturelands, Kelso Fan and others, your responses show an understanding of current problems that is not evident in Gary Fenton's article.  It was also confusing: is he talking about BC Racing Breaks during football games? Is he serious? Hey, I also want the 'fluff'.  If it's taking too long between BC races I'll make a Belmont or CD play.  Also, when did football start stopping the clock on an out of bounds play?

15 Dec 2009 3:52 PM

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