The Largest Problem Facing Racing - It Ain't the Papers

Let's try and have a good debate, at least one better than the one tonight

Every sport has image problems.  The NBA had the Jailblazers, the NFL still has the Bengals, MLB battles drugs, and the NHL is well, if you've heard of it, it's the hockey league.  Many in our industry point to the NHL as another sport going through rough times.  Like horse racing, paper coverage is dwindling, it gets low ratings, and its season is said to be too long.  It's horse racing but on Ice!  Well, no not exactly. 

Ice Hockey's image battle is with irrelevancy.  Talk to a hockey fan about teams South of of the 40th latitude (approx Denver), and even they think those teams are pointless.  The Stanley Cup needs big market teams to do any business at all in the post season, and while VS. gives the NHL a singular "marquis" platform the channel isn't also known as the "World Wide Leader."  Is hockey relevant in the US?  Who knows?  That's the problem. 

Horse racing's major battle isn't with irrelevancy.  For example, the Kentucky Derby is still a draw on TV, and some see it rebounding.   It's always listed as a top must-see-before-you-die event, and participants (horses and jockeys) are listed among top 100 athletes all the time.  So, America knows the Derby.  The Derby will always be relevant. 

Kentucky Derby 2008 Chart


The major image problem with horse racing is gambling.  Yep, the thing that keeps us in business is also the same thing putting us out of business.  I'll just cut straight to the examples:

At home tonight you'll probably catch an "Only Vegas" commercial.  What are they selling?  I'll say it's not gambling.  It's everything but gambling if you've seen the ones I've seen.  It's only when you get to Vegas that you see signs for the "Loosest Slots in Town" and "Players Rewards."

The NFL has different categories for injuries: Questionable, Probable, Out, and records who does and does not practice throughout the week.  Does that help the fan more or the gambler more? 

How many people know someone who isn't the biggest fan of gambling, and has a negative opinion of you going to the track on the weekend?  How many of those people who chastise us also participate in fantasy football, are in a March Madness bracket, join a survivor pool.  They don't even realize they're gambling.  How many of those people ask us to put $2 on the nose of some horse in the Derby. 

Ok, so go ahead have at me.  I don't want to hear arguments about how the Asians, Norwegians, South Africans, or Australians do it.  I see this as a cultural problem, and those cultures are vastly different than ours. 

I'm also NOT against marketing gambling.  Look at the Vegas example.  They market the gambling once you're there.  That sounds about right.  How many of you have been on a track tour?  Where's the first place you go?  I doubt it's the window to learn the parlance of betting.  You have to give people a sporting hook. 

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