Last Friday night, Animal
Planet rolled out the season premiere of its high energy show "Jockeys" to critical and industry acclaim. http://nypostguide.com/seven/08212009/tv/jockeys_is_unexpected_trifecta_of_realit_185524.htm
The pace is fast and
the story lines are well written. All in all, it's a great show and a
gift to racing from a marketing and promotional perspective.
With all of this fanfare,
it's little wonder that Animal Planet was able to boast double digit ratings
gains, second season (so far) vs. the first season. Obviously the general
public likes what they are seeing. Give the execs at Discovery Channel -
owner of Animal Planet Network- credit. This is not their usual cup of
tea. All you have to do is take a quick glance at the message boards www.animal.discovery.com/tv/jockeys
on Animal Planet's web site to see that some of their viewers think the show is
too much about the humans and not enough about the animals. This is new
territory for them, and they are doing a good job.
I'm delighted that
Animal Planet has taken the time to learn our sport and teach it to the viewer
in a factual, straightforward manner. The NTRA has been actively involved
in the process almost from the beginning. I personally spent
several hours talking to them on camera about the business of racing. NTRA
staff worked with Animal Planet producers to promote the series to racing and
sports media. This week, our PR team helped coordinate an interview with
Jockeys star Chantal Sutherland that will appear on the E! Entertainment
Make no mistake,
Jockeys is reality TV, and like other shows of this genre it contains a measure
of sensationalism. Many criticized season one of the show for playing the
"danger and death" card too frequently. Unfortunately we were reminded again
late yesterday of just how real the potential for danger is with the news of
young Michael Straight's serious injury at Arlington Park. Every day, in
every race, riders like Michael put the dangers and their worries aside in
order to guide 1,200-lb. Thoroughbreds around the track at high speeds in close
quarters. They do this largely because they love what they are doing. But when
things go wrong, the results can be heartbreaking.
"Jockeys" does not
sidestep the difficult issues that affect the sport, including injury, death,
the use of race day medication (Lasix), or the ways some jockeys reduce to make
weight. They discuss the issues but give a balanced, respectful view that
reflects the sometimes complicated world of horseracing.
"manufacturing" reality a la "Survivor" or "Dancing with the Stars", the
producers of "Jockeys" provide more of an unvarnished look at our
business. Take Corey Nakatani. He is an intensely competitive guy
in real life. Not surprisingly, he is presented to the viewers as the
"bad boy" of the jockey colony at Santa Anita. We see some pretty tough
images of Corey that don't appear to have been staged. Nonetheless, he is
treated compassionately. The brief segment about Corey's connections to
Santa Anita through Japanese American grandparents who were forced to relocate
to a Japanese American internment camp on the backside of Santa Anita during
World War II (where they actually were forced to live in the stalls!) is
poignant. The scene of Corey viewing films with the stewards is an eye
opening look into the seriousness with which racing officials at Santa Anita
take their jobs. As with so many aspects of racing, the stewards meeting
involves the application of judgment and discretion to complicated facts and
circumstances. Animal Planet could easily have glossed over this
complexity and focused solely on Corey the troublemaker. But instead
they stay with the story and show how it is resolved in a responsible manner
with Corey rightly getting a stern warning.
and educational part of the first episode was the detailed explanation of the
claiming game. They insightfully describe it as a game of poker played
every day by owners and trainers. And I also find Jimmy "The Hat," the
show's resident gambler, very engaging. It's wonderfully clear how much he loves
the game and respects its intricacies.
What has pleased me
the most about "Jockeys" is the respect with which the producers treat our
human athletes - not to mention our industry as a whole. Europe idolizes
their winning riders. In Japan, jocks are like rock stars. Now, a
cable channel with no prior history in racing is exposing millions of American
viewers to our human stars.
history of promoting jockeys is spotty at best. The popularity of "Jockeys"
indicates that the industry should be doing more to promote its human stars.
Calvin Borel became a media darling following the Derby and Preakness. Joe
Talamo (Twitter) and Garrett Gomez (blogging) used social networking tools to
engage customers throughout the Triple Crown season. While there can be only
one Derby winning jockey every year, there are great stories within the riding
colony at virtually every racetrack across America.
Do you like the
Animal Planet show? If you haven't seen it, you can watch the second
episode this Friday night at 9 p.m. Eastern. A rerun of the first episode airs
at 8 p.m. Eastern that same evening. Watch it and tell me what you
think. Is there a marketing strategy we are missing?