Old School Embraces Night School

Call me old school, but I am among those who believe that the best way to create racing fans is through an on-track visit with friends or family to one of the many beautiful racetracks located throughout North America. To me, an on-track visit is the best way to soak in all of the positive attributes of horse racing—a unique combination of sports, gambling and entertainment, with the stars of the show some of the most beautiful and graceful animals in the world.

My views on fan education and development are beginning to change, however, now that I’ve seen data from the first half year of Night School—the first industry-wide, Web-based attempt to teach handicapping, Like everything else, or so it seems, the Internet and social media platforms are changing the way we engage with existing and target racing fans.

Night School is the brainchild of Horseplayernow.com co-owners Jeremy Plonk and Joe Kristufek. The 90-minute sessions, which air each Monday at 8:30 p.m. ET (they are also available on archive), are sponsored by the NTRA, AQHA, Keeneland and Daily Racing Form. Night School can be accessed on more than 20 industry Web sites, including NTRA.com.

Each week’s Night School class focuses on a different topic.  How to approach a day at the races, trainer intent, pick six strategies and ownership are just four of the areas covered to date.  Typically, Night School sessions are broken into pods that include a 30-minute panel discussion among the weekly guest analysts, a 30-minute question-and-answer session during which racing fans worldwide can ask the experts about the evening's subject matter, and a 30-minute "Jump Ball" segment where fans can discuss anything in the world of racing. Through 20 of the 40 Night School sessions, the results are impressive:

-       Total attendees (live and through taped archives): 40,405 (2,020 per session)

-       Live attendees: 22,830 (1,142 per session)

-       Reader submitted comments/questions: 10,703 (535 per session)

-       Video uploads: 180,000-estimated, including 42,010 on YouTube

Live guests have included Hall of Famers Jerry Bailey and Gary Stevens; Kentucky Derby winning trainer Graham Motion, DRF publisher Steven Crist, TV analysts and handicappers Randy Moss, Donna Barton Brothers, Jay Privman, Andy Serling, Jill Byrne, and a slew of other nationally recognized handicappers and industry participants.

Participating fans are equally diverse, hailing from 49 of the 50 states (all but Alaska), Canada and South America. Slightly more than one-third of registrants consider themselves to be long time fans. One-quarter are weekend horseplayers. Another 23% consider themselves to be newcomers or someone who is gaining interest in the sport and in handicapping.

As for the age of participants, 28% are 50-59, 24% are 60-plus, 23% are 40-49, 13% are 30-39, and 9% are 20-29. Clearly, Night School appeals to a broad cross-section of fans and potential fans.

Through the internet and social media, Night School has connected a broad cross section of racing fans in ways not possible only a few years ago. I still consider myself to be ‘Old School’ when I think about new fan development, but there can be no denying the reach and potential of programs like Night School. And using this year’s Preakness as a barometer, perhaps the ‘Old School’ approach and Night School approach can co-exist quite nicely. The Night School patrol, consisting of six members of the Horseplayernow.com team, set up camp in the midst of the mass of humanity that is the Preakness infield. Thousands of casual fans, including Kegasus, made their way through the Wagering 101 tent during the day. The result: Preakness infield mutuel handle rose nearly 11% from the 2010 figures.

Check out Night School and let me know your thoughts.

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