Hand Cupped - by Dan Liebman

I watched parts of the Indianapolis 500 May 25. But I wonder how much less of it I would have viewed had the first 75 laps been on one network and the last 125 laps on another.

Just a small inconvenience? I don’t know. I might have just tuned out because of the silliness of making me—or is it asking me or expecting me—to do such a thing.

If you decide to watch the Saturday portion of the 25th Breeders’ Cup World Championships—formerly Breeders’ Cup, formerly Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships—this year from Santa Anita, you will have to do just such a thing. If you tune in on Friday, a third network comes into play.

You can argue an event with extremely low ratings should try anything new. Well, its organizers are.

So, on Friday, Oct. 24, five races for female horses—formerly distaffers—will be aired on ESPN2. The following day, the first 2 1⁄2 hours will be shown on ABC before the action switches to ESPN for another 3 1⁄2 hours.

(The Walt Disney Co. owns ABC as well as 80% of the ESPN family of companies.)

The Breeders’ Cup switched networks two years ago after a long run with NBC, apparently in an attempt to woo younger viewers, more of whom are attracted to ESPN programming. So far, that effort has been unsuccessful. The 2006 and ’07

ratings were nearly identical, last year’s 0.75 rating equating to roughly 1.05 million viewers.

The Friday card has been strengthened, in the view of some, but with poor previous ratings on Saturday, it is hard to imagine many new viewers tuning in on a Friday afternoon.

The Breeders’ Cup has made many announcements since last year’s event was held at Monmouth Park: last December that there would be three new races in 2008; in mid-February that Santa Anita would play host again in 2009; and later that month, that Friday would consist of five races for females and the Distaff (gr. I) would be re-named the Ladies’ Classic.

It became apparent a deal could not be worked out with Churchill Downs to play host in 2009, but waiting just a few weeks would have allowed Belmont Park to have been considered once the New York Racing Association was awarded a new franchise agreement.

As for the addition of new races, this writer must be among the minority who preferred the old model of the Breeders’ Cup, when a larger slice of the organization’s funds went to stakes races around the country throughout the year. More nominators and more horsemen were rewarded by pumping up stakes, many at small racetracks, where the odds of coming up with a horse good enough to compete in a championship race are high.

Now, with branding playing a larger role, Breeders’ Cup officials have opted to create more races to make the championship event stretch over two days. In 2008, we will be introduced to the Turf Sprint, Juvenile Fillies Turf, and Dirt Marathon. This comes on the heels of the first two-day Breeders’ Cup in 2007, when the Juvenile Turf, Dirt Mile, and Filly & Mare Sprint were run for the first time. This year’s two days will feature 14 races worth a record $25.5 million.

Many in the industry have criticized the grouping of the five races solely for fillies and mares on the Friday card, and the change from the distinctive name Distaff to Ladies’ Classic, akin to changing the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) to Ladies’ Derby. If both days are of equal importance, why have the fillies and mares competing when fewer people are watching?

While several announcements have been made, there has been no word yet on race sponsorships for this year. Interestingly, a check of the Breeders’ Cup Web site does not show Dodge as a corporate partner, meaning it may have powered its last Classic (gr. I).

Though celebrating its 25th anniversary, Breeders’ Cup 2008 will contain many firsts. Only time will tell if the new  features make a difference.

21 Comments

Leave a Comment:

grogane

As one of the "younger viewers" you wrote about (29 years old), I would follow the races to whatever channel they appear on, ESPN or not, but agree with you that the channel switching is a bit silly. However, since I've been watching races since I was probably 5 or 6 years old, and grew up right near Saratoga, the networks didn't have to try that hard to grab my attention. I love the idea of the extra coverage coming up this year.

With that said, I share your disappointment about shuffling all the filly and mare races to Friday. I also find the renaming to "Ladies Day" pretty offensive and demeaning- it makes me feel like I am preparing myself to walk into a seedy bar for cheap beer or something. It's also a strange bit of anthropomorphism. I can't understand what they were thinking.

I'm trying to remain open minded to the new races, and am actually excited about the Dirt Marathon, but I don't think I'll be able to get used to the Distaff on Friday afternoon. Plus, it's going to be a lot harder to corral my husband to sit through NINE hours of coverage over two days instead of the typical five or six on Saturday :)

03 Jun 2008 10:43 AM
"Reb's Policy"

Dan,

Your article is spot on.

It is indeed a pain trying to remember which network at which hour is showing what you wish to see. Combine that with the ill-advised renaming of the Distaff and you have a gaffe of stultifying proportions.

The "Ladies Classic" moniker is, to me, a dumbing down of the event to attract viewers with a gimmick that was played out in the 1970's. What's next? The "Kotex Baby-Girls Turf." "Virginia Slims Soon-2-B-Broodmare Mile." The slogan possibilities simply make the mind reel.(Oh wait... no cigarette $$$, lest we forget the Marlboro Cup.)

I enjoy the extra events -- what racing aficionado would not -- but some of them are relative non-starters when it comes to end of the year accolades. We simply do not have that many Eclipse categories, nor do I think we should reward such specialization.

I applaud the Breeders’ Cup officials for trying to strengthen the event. I think a few wily old backstretch types on the board instead of folks who never set foot in a stall, let alone a horsepile, would help them get a grip on marketing techniques.

Thanks for the article and for giving us the opportunity to sound off.

"Reb"

03 Jun 2008 12:16 PM
Race

No you are not the only one  who preferred the old model of the Breeders’ Cup.

I am so disgusted with what they are doing with the BC I am not going to watch it or bet any of the races. This will be the first year I have not went to it or bet it since the

BC races started.

03 Jun 2008 1:46 PM
Sharon

Dan, you've hit the nail on the head...if all things are equal???  With ticket prices definitively UNequal ($600 at SA compared to $325 at Monmouth), this is one Breeders' Cup Nominator who will NOT be going to the cup.  And don't get me started on the "Women's issues" focus on "Ladies Day."  I could just puke.

03 Jun 2008 4:01 PM
biggreg64

Between the Breeder's Cup people and ESPN people, they are doing everything they can to mess this up.  The two days, the F&M day, and the three networks.  If it is not broke don't fix it.  The glory days are over.

03 Jun 2008 6:02 PM
Bill

I agree with this article completely.  The Ladies' Day moniker is offensive.  As for it being run over two days, the ratings will be down just by the simple fact that it is a Friday and not a weekend day.  The problem with the horse industry in general is that they just don't get it when it comes to marketing the sport.  As for Dodge not being a sponsor anymore, it was just a matter of time before that happened.  I, for one, was not surprized to see that.

03 Jun 2008 6:14 PM
Lord Carson

The Breeders' Cup to me was doomed from the time it left network television. What an asinine move.

Now we have all these ridiculous new races spread over two days. It's ludicrous. I'm afraid the event has now become so watered down it has lost its appeal.

03 Jun 2008 6:23 PM
Norma Jean

I agree, the BC has lost it's appeal. The idiot big-wigs seem to forget that we lowly fans work for a living. We, at least I'll speak for myself, have to save the money we bet. We or I, must allow my money to become "disposable," in order to bet it. And... it's hard enough to get Derby Day, Preakness and Belmont days off, let alone the Friday as well. As far as the network switching goes, who cares, they will do whatever they want to do,as they always do. I usually don't stay home for the BIG races anyway. I either go to Philly Park, Monmouth or OTB for the day. This year I'm so damned tired, I'll be at home, evidently with the remote in my hand.

I only hope & Pray that all involved cross the line in good health!!  

03 Jun 2008 11:05 PM
Mary

One more comment in opposition to the "Ladies Day". It looks like I'll be taking Friday off to watch the girls run. Good luck in attracting new viewers.

04 Jun 2008 9:09 AM
Country Folk

Moving to ESPN to catch the "young" also meant that they cut out everyone who does not have cable or satellite feed. Out in the country (did it occur to them that "horse folk" live in the country?) there is no cable. No cable. No possibility of cable. Satellite is an option, but ESPN requires buying a premium package. An expensive premium package. Much of America, youth included, lives out in the country. Why are we ignored?

04 Jun 2008 9:21 AM
needler in Virginia

You have said it for us once AGAIN, Dan. The Friday thing really makes me crazy....are they TRYING to lose viewers? The "ladiesl" thing" drives me right over the edge, so (like Sharon...see above) I won't go there. But will someone PLEASE explain to me why the BC is trying to be just a short meeting? It used to be VERY special. Now it's a lot of races split over two days, one of which is SO UN-viewer friendly it's comic. And they "say" they are trying to attract a younger audience?? The ones we should aim for are probably still in school when the Friday races start!

The BC used to about the best of the best of the best. Early nominations, wins, performance....all those things mattered. Now? Nope, just another race day at Santa Anita, which seems to the new HOME of the BC.......that is if they can get the track fixed in time!

Nope, I'm gonna have to find something else to do that weekend, and I've seen every single BC broadcast since the days when a win meant something. We waited all year to see that "special" horse run -- the Arc winner, or the 2000 Guineas winner, the match up between the Eclipse award winners, etc. I am NOT saying the special horses won't show up; I AM saying the unique quality of the BC itself is being cheapened and altered.

As a final complaint...and I can REALLY complain.... while not totally ignorant, I AM a bit remote challenged, and when the BC wanders the ether from here to there and back again, I could easily miss a race trying to find the damn channel!

Actually, I'll shut up now as you said it better!

Cheers to all.

04 Jun 2008 11:54 AM
Josh

So we are forced to channel surf while trying to watch the Breeders Cup on a questionable surface that has plagued Santa Anita for a while now.  I was going to make the trip to LA for the BC, but not with the ridiculous new ticket prices.  No thanks.  Maybe they will even cut out the Turf while rambling on about the Classic participants as they did for the Derby and the big grass race before it.  I am 27 years old and I hear Nascar calling....The NTRA and Breeders Cup have managed to push a former assistant trainer/owner/excercise rider away from a sport he once lived for.  What else can racing do to separate itself from its potential fan base?

04 Jun 2008 5:35 PM
merrywriter

I like the moniker Ladies Derby or Ladies Classic, it tells it like it is.

Being somewhat of a newbie, not young but the up and coming retired Boomer with time on my hands [the group y'all should be wooing], I found it difficult to find where to understand the working vocab. of horse racing.   I had no clue what a distaff was and I still don't understand how all the allowance vs claiming races work.  THIS IS THE REASON WHY YOU ARE NOT ATTRACTING NEW VIEWERS/FANS.  Nobody's explaining the basics and it very much needs to be done and should be done on Derby day and at the Belmont.

So don't gripe about attracting more fans,young or old, until you're ready to speak a language that can be understood.  Remember even newspapers have had to dummy down from and average of 5th grade to about 3rd.

04 Jun 2008 6:04 PM
Don't Waste Your Energy Here

Folks horseracing will not attract anymore new fans, especially the younger ones, in the next century if we do not repackage or repromote it as a Sport of Kings. Making all these ugly changes to the TV broadcasting schedule and wasting horsemen hard earned money to expand the series into another non-weekend day will not improve the rating nor the number of new fans.  

Face the fact that while Breeders' Cup Championship day is still one of the world's most important race meetings, keep it simple and return to the 'traditional' format as in the past, 8 championship races, host in one single day and goes back to the 5 hours continuous broadcast in one single TV station, not 2, not 3, not 4 or how much number these brilliants came up with.  

Or before this great series become 'cheap' in front of the world, why don't BC company really, seriously MOVE to horseracing countries like England, Hong Kong, Dubai, Japan to list a few that really care and love their racing.  

I am sick of being treated as a degenerated gambler by these 'new generation of fans that BC trying to lure', I love racing and I love all Breeders' Cup races and its sponsor races.

Give It Up, don't waste your energy on attracting new fans, there are plenty of hard working horsemen pumping their hard earned money into this scheme, why don't you think of KEEPING & PLEASING the existing loyals rather than KOWTOWING to people who spits on you.

04 Jun 2008 10:20 PM
needler in Virginia

merrywriter, I'm a Boomer, on the leading edge, but a Boomer still. While I agree PARTIALLY with your argument, it must be said that ALL sports, endeavors, undertakings and new ventures have "new" language to learn. If you're REALLY interested, there are tons of sources for help, definitions and information..... among them wikipedia, the Blood-Horse site, along with millions of blogs and fan sites with answers to almost any question you may have. If you really care about watching racing, you can read about it, e-mail a question to any of several major sources or flat out ASK someone you know. Crying "foul" because you don't know what "distaff" means is grossly unfair; try understanding a "double play" or a "balk" if you don't know baseball. Hell, I still have no idea what some of the more exotic bets are, and I've been going to Saratoga for years!

To be fair, you DO have a point that educating new fans is a good idea; I agree, but changing the language of the game to accommodate the new fan makes no sense. Why doesn't the new fan learn the language and join in the fun??

Cheers.

04 Jun 2008 11:21 PM
elizabeth

No offense, Dan, but wishing for the good old days is silly. The Breeders' Cup ratings went down year after year on NBC.    The Breeders' Cup should be applauded for trying something new.

And you can use your remote and change the channel when they switch from ABC to ESPN. It's really not that hard.

05 Jun 2008 7:47 AM
craftylord

Dan, thank you for the opportunity to voice an opinion on your blog.  First of all, I'd like everyone to know that I LOVE HORSE RACING.  Since I have a passion for this sport, I'd like to see it thrive.  Let me share my thoughts on how this can be accomplished...IN THIS AGE!

I respect the purists & traditionalists of the sport but they have to understand that change is necessary or you fail to survive.  There are aspects of the sport, and the game, that should remain the same but there is plenty that needs to be added to "connect" to the modern day "new" fan.  What those additions should be can be disputed and greatly discussed but additions are needed.  Even the great 'ol traditional game of Poker was tweaked for the enjoyment of the viewing fans.  Personally, what is so exciting about watching people play a card game?  You can say the fact it's a tournament and there's competition with a hint of drama, engages the viewers' attention.  But why can't those same attributes be expanded and exploited in horse racing?  Why not incorporate a handicapping competition with the actual races?  Horse racing is a sport where gambling meets athleticism...why not sell it in that manner?  Have we forgotten how competitive  we are in this country?  People will watch anything that gets their attention and KEEPS their attention.  But it has to SATISFY one or more of our innate drives to the point of REWARD and/or THRILL!  Simple as that.  The distribution or medium of that thrill is not of great concern.  But you can bet people will seek it if its rewards and/or thrills are IMMEDIATE!

The sport needs to add new technologies, interactive platforms and competition, sport heroes and icons, APPAREL, recreational value and attraction...but most importantly, it needs a single governing body that rules on industry wide decisions and seeks to promote the sport for its participating members AND GENERATES A PROFIT FOR ALL PARTICIPANTS!  It all comes down to money but the product has to have or add value to the fan(the consumer) in return for the fans' money.  If you GIVE the fans what they seek, they will PAY for it!  Simple as that.  

05 Jun 2008 7:09 PM
Dianne

Thoroughbred racing is suffering not because of the lack of new "young" fans but due to the lack of racing champions to follow and cheer for for more than one short season.  We already know that Big Brown will only race twice more after the Belmont and then will be gone from the racing scene.  Fans pull for a "team"  that they know will be playing a game next week and for several more weeks and then into next year.  The rush to the breeding shed has taken away some of our most talented runners and we don't have any continuity for the racing fan.  

05 Jun 2008 9:07 PM
merrywriter

This is for your vet writer.  In human medicine a person has to be weaned off of steroids.  Is that not the case for horses?  IE Big Brown: if he was getting an injection every month, shouldn't he have been weaned off 3/4 injection one month, 1/2 the next, and 1/4 the last.  What are  the symptoms if a horse is not wean off?  For humans it is decrased immune system, increased blood glucose, irritability, headache, fatigue, decreased blood pressure.  Steroids help adapt to stress and maybe it was that deficiency where he hadn't hasd the chance to fully turn of his adrenals to produce his own steroids that made Big Brown irritable or not want to go at the Belmont.

08 Jun 2008 2:45 PM
I won't be there

Friday?

a day people are working for a living.

The ticket prices are how much?

09 Jun 2008 12:11 AM
J McM

I agree with 'Country Folk',   racing would have more fans if more people could see the races, and horses raced at 4 and 5.  They have to be sound, and that should have as much importance or more than just speed at 2 and 3. I too live in a rural area where horses that race live, however many people that do love horses don't have access to ESPN so the existing fan base can't watch.  The return of champions as older horses should be heavily promoted as much as 3 year olds (preferrable more so we can have one with many fans)on regular  TV.  Think of 'Seabiscuit'.   You can't get a fan base for somthing shown 3 times like the Triple Crown.

15 Jun 2008 12:31 PM

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