Breeders Cup Television Coverage - Is that it?

By Robert Marks, They’re in the Gate

After coming into it's partnership with the Breeders Cup starting in 2006 the Disney owned ESPN/ESPN/ABC Channels promised us the world in it's coverage and promotion of the event including coverage leading up to the Breeders Cup. Now entering its 3rd year of coverage on the Cable network, I feel like an underfed kid at the dinner table, fed some leftovers instead of the 5 course meal I was promised.

ESPN2 will begin coverage of racing Friday Oct. 24 from 3:30-6:30 p.m. EDT and feature five Breeders' Cup Championship races. The Friday card is an all fillies and Mare card complete with a very unpopular decision to rename the Distaff the "Ladies Classic'. 

On Saturday Oct. 25, ABC will air 4 races between 1-3:30 p.m. EDT before switching to ESPN from 3:30-7 p.m. This will be the 3rd year of ESPN coverage since taking over the coverage from NBC.

The 2007 Saturday telecast drew a .75 national rating, up slightly from 2006's .7 number. The .75 translates to approximately 1.05-million viewers.

Last years Friday card drew an anemic .3 rating. The ratings results of the last two years on ESPN represent a roughly 50% decline in viewers from 2005, the last year that NBC aired the Breeders' Cup.

Moving to a cable network, the Breeders' Cup figured to have a falloff in viewership, although not as steep as it has been in the 1st two years of coverage thus far.

When the ESPN deal was announced we were promised By Breeders Cup President Greg Avioli that the promotion during the run-up to the event would be "unparalleled" and that ESPN and "would expose millions of sports fans to the Breeders' Cup brand."

After televising a few "Win and Your In" programs during August, ESPN had No live TV coverage during the entire month of September. That ESPN/ABC, home of the Breeders Cup, can go the entire month of September without putting on even one hour of Saturday racing is atrocious. Let me not even bother to list the Grade 1 races that we had in the month of September that could have been on the ESPN network. ESPN finally had a racing card on Saturday October 4th.

The promotion of the Breeders Cup during the October 4th card centered mostly on the potential Curlin - Big Brown(since retired) BC Classic matchup. This would have been a perfect opportunity to do a short feature on the dazzling undefeated filly Zenyatta. Why not promote this great horse, generating interest and also drawing attention to the Friday card, which most casual racing fans are not even aware exists.

On the Bloodhorse Talkin' Horses chat, Greg Land, Breeders Cup Chief Marketing officer said "the move to an all filly and mare schedule on Friday was a racing decision not a marketing decision. We believe that the fillies and mares deserve a Championship day of their own and that fans will enjoy two near equal days of Championship racing."

Huh??? Does that quote make any sense to you?  The fillies and mares deserve to be buried on a weekday afternoon card that will be seen by very, very few people??

It just seems like The Breeders Cup is doing everything possible to disenfranchise loyal fans and their broadcast partners, ESPN/ABC, are doing the same by barely promoting the event, in effect pushing the fans to the ground after the Breeders Cup gang punches us in the gut. In 2006 ESPN floated the idea of showing a race during Halftime of an ESPN October 2007 Monday Night Football Game. What happened to the idea????....nothing of course.  Maybe you could have done that this year with Casino Drive in his allowance race. Expose the product-especially to new eyeballs already watching your existing programs such as football etc.

If the powers that be insist on giving the fillies and mares a day of their own, why not tinker with the time a bit and try prime time coverage Friday Night.  You can do a 6:30-9:30 pm Friday Television card with the renamed Distaff going off in prime time around 9:15 pm (6:15 pm at Santa Anita). Now you are exposing great fillies and mares such as Zenyatta, Ginger Punch, Hystericalady, and others to a prime time audience; an audience certainly bigger than one would get on Friday afternoon. People can come home from work, eat dinner, settle in front of their TV sets and computer with their ADW account and bet and watch the race. This would also work out better for the overseas audience and increase the off track handle.

Now more than ever, competition for the consumer's sports and entertainment budget dollars will be fierce. If the Breeders Cup intends to build itself as a 2 day showcase of racings best, they must learn to truly market and use their broadcast partner to promote and showcase the product.  ESPN and its sister channels  has the programming hours to broadcast weekly programs throughout August and September leading up to the Breeders Cup and cross promote during their other big time sporting events, but thus far they have  treated horse racing like the unwanted step child.


Robert Marks blogs at They’re in the Gate

Recent Posts

Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance

Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance RSS Feed

More Blogs