If manufacturers want to stay in business, they don’t pro-duce what they want; they produce what consumers want. Television networks try to act in exactly the same manner. Why else would ESPN need a bracketologist to tell us for weeks who might make the NCAA tournament—and who is or is not a “bubble” team—when we could just wait until the “Selection Sunday” show (on CBS) and find out for ourselves?
Why are fewer horse races nationally televised today? Viewers are telling ESPN that horse racing ranks low on their “must see” list of sports.
ESPN’s slogan is “The Worldwide Leader in Sports,” but now ESPN does not just deliver sports; ESPN is sports.
ESPN decides for us what is sport and what is not, and what we will be able to watch.
Apparently, it is more important to find out who is the world’s strongest man than who is the world’s best Thoroughbred.
I remember a time when a young teen would wait for a sports show not called SportsCenter, the introduction to which was: “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport…the thrill of victory…and the agony of defeat…the human drama of athletic competition…This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports!”
Thanks to YouTube, part of my “Selection Sunday” was spent not only watching the introduction to Wide World of Sports, but also a replay of the 1973 Wood Memorial (gr. I), a race run about 6 1⁄2 years before ESPN came into existence.
As for Wide World’s introduction, it reminds us all of the true agony of defeat, time and time again watching ski jumper Vinko Bogataj’s signature 1970 crash.
As for the Wood, it was a reminder to a handicapper 36 years later of lessons learned that day—that pace can make the race (Angle Light) and that even champions (Secretariat) get beat.
Watching Angle Light beat Secretariat—who finished third behind Sham—served as a tiny consolation during a lamentable weekend in which none of the four major preps for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) was televised other than on HRTV or TVG. This came a day after ESPN announced it was dropping coverage of the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), which will be shown instead on Bravo.
Of note in the decision to cancel the Oaks was this quote from ESPN spokesman Mark Mandel: “We have an emphasis this year on Saturday’s programming versus a weekday afternoon. So that played into it here.”
This is the same network that televises the Breeders’ Cup, which has expanded to two days including a Friday, which the last time we looked, was a weekday afternoon. We’ll save that topic for another conversation.
The highest-rated televised race each year is the Kentucky Derby, which produced an 8.8 last year on NBC. Looking at a 25-year history of the Derby shows a rating of 18.9 in 1975, and 13 straight years (and 15 of 16) with a rating of 10.1 or higher on ABC.
Last year’s Preakness Stakes (gr. I) rating was 4.7, and the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) posted an 8.2 rating, thanks to Big Brown’s Triple Crown attempt.
For the week of March 2, the latest available from Neilsen Media Research, American Idol ranked first and second, the Tuesday show on FOX drawing a 13.8 rating and the Wednesday show a 13.1.
(The granddaddy rating of them all is the Super Bowl, which this year on FOX posted a rating of 42.0.)
Lower interest in racing can be attributed to several things, among them more choices today for viewers and the fact many core fans are watching on HRTV or TVG, or at a simulcast or off-track betting facility. While HRTV and TVG serve racing’s core, they do little to help cultivate new racing fans. It’s doubtful other, smaller cable networks will either.
The last time I can remember tuning into Bravo to watch sports was...well...never.