The headlines in sport, unless you are living under a rock, have been filled with Tiger Woods. TV networks, the PGA Tour itself and every associated with the future of golf are hand-wringing about him taking time off, and his problems in general. "When Woods missed eight months to recover from knee surgery, television ratings for the tour dropped 50 percent."
As well, several endorsements that not only promote Tiger Woods, but the game of golf too, have gone by the wayside.
I think this is provides and interesting comparison to the marketing of horses. Often times we'll hear that horses should not retire early, because as soon as they are known to the general public, they are gone, and it hurts racing. I believe this is true to an extent, but to believe it makes a huge difference depends on the supposition that revenues are gained or lost because of the horses. Being a gambling game I doubt at all this it true. Until purses are increased or decreased based on the sale of Somebeachsomewhere or Rachel Alexandra t-shirts, or we are selling our major races for millions upon millions to TV networks, that is a huge leap of logic. And of course bettors would rather bet a deep field with a lot of possibles. The Kentucky Oaks this year, or Somebeach's races last year? Not a chance. A field without a standout star brings more revenue for their race than one with a standout.
So what good can a racehorse do for us, if anything? I think it is solely based on the casual fan. The NFL has plenty of funnels to the casual fan - office pools, community outreach, United Way work, and several other avenues. These help them brand themselves and get into the fabric of society, and maybe grab some fans and goodwill along the margins.
Racehorses racing for a long time can help us in exactly that same way, I believe. For example, we all know the government controls the purse strings in many areas. Without slots, racing would be down by more than half this decade. The public, through their knowledge as casual sports fans of our most diligent competitors, can be pushed on our side to help protect that revenue stream. As well, horses who have raced for years can be used to show the care they receive, show they are treated, and can be an ambassador for the sport. This helps with PETA types or others who simply want racing to end. "I saw that horse race for years and saw features about the care they receive" comment from a stay at home mom is some solid ammo against those types.
The PGA Tour is a shadow of itself without Tiger Woods. Without Zenyatta we are essentially the same game, but on the fringes I think we lose some things that we can't see or touch - horses speak to casual fans in a way we can not, and we are a better game if they are around longer to do just that.