Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Big Push for Televising Racing

Open a story on a racing website and you'll probably read about one of racings new marketing pushes - television. The industry is hopeful that new coverage on channels like Versus might do the job.

The Jockey Club is spending $10M over 5 years on this new initiative.

On the surface it makes sense. We have a neat sport, and if we put in on television, someone new in the mass market might watch it and become a fan. That narrative resonates.

Unfortunately I'm not convinced this spend will give back the needed, or expected revenue. I know a lot of you aren't convinced, either.

If rodeo is on television Saturday, do we watch it because it's on?

The pentathalon?

Beach volleyball?


What about amateur boxing?

Did anyone watch the CFL when it was on NBC during the NFL strike in the 1980's?

All those events or sports are on television, or were on television, and have been for many years; some of them are shown many more hours a week than racing ever will be on network TV. They are not, and probably never will be, major league sports, or gain market share (in fact many of them have lost more market share than racing has).

The only time many of us do watch them - more than likely - is when the event is bigger than the sport. For the month of the Olympics we're suckers for swimming, curling or snowboarding. I am a huge cycling fan for two weeks a year when the Tour De France rolls around like I am sure many of you are.

We in racing have similar with the Kentucky Derby. It doesn't matter if the field has four superstars or a field of twenty future 30 claimers - people will watch it and people will attend it.

So why the focus on television, and putting our tracks and races out there as is? Well, a consulting firm said so, but I think it's more than that. I think it comes down to the participants' love of the sport, the love of the mass market, and the thought that we have to do something. 
  • "We love racing and if we could only show it to the masses, they would love it too. Even if one person watches and becomes a fan it's a success"
It sounds good and it's easy to rally around.

Not all agree. Seth Godin writes, extolling the virtues of not being married to old-school push marketing:

"Mass is dying. The tide has turned, and mass as the engine of our culture is gone forever."

According to Godin, and its a theme in other new marketing literature as well, we can't just "put something on" and hope this mass market finds it. It is not the way it works anymore. TV advertising in many ways is even being kicked to the curb.

I believe racing is built to market itself in the 21st century. It is not mass, in a non-mass, niche world. It has active participants of all flavors, "tribes", a multivariable fan base, a double pronged market (the fan and the horseplayer/gambler), loud and proud fans on social media and elsewhere, a foothold with the over 55 demographic with plenty of time and money on their hands, events that almost everyone knows, and much more.

It is not like football or baseball, because those sports' do not make money when we play them. Racing makes money when we play it (e.g. when we buy a horse or bet a horse).

Until we figure out our unique market and its place in the world, spending scarce funds on the conduit of television, in my opinion, is putting the cart before the horse. We need to find a way to present racing that sticks with new viewers, and gets them to participate in the racing conversation, in some way, with us. In my opinion, then and only then will we have a chance at success.

I love to watch racing on television. It's on the big screen, it's in HD, there are neat interviews and features. Don't get me wrong, I am happy it's going to be on over the next several years. I am simply not comfortable with a "put it on TV and hope" policy.

That may have worked at one time, but it rarely works now.


Anonymous said...

The Seabiscuit movie, Secretariat movie, Zenyatta, triple crown winner etc etc etc etc ......

TV is the new story to get people excited. I also don't think it will work, unless the sport finds a new way to show racing on television.


Deltalady said...

I personally love watching horse racing online! Many tracks are beginning to send their signals out in HD (Keeneland). The primary reason I prefer watching racing online is I can control my own environment! I can keep open multiple venues, some have the 'cards', race replays, availability of world-wide racing (Australia, UK, Japan, etc.) and others have better commentators. For a couple of extra bucks I can even get extra bandwidth to ensure a smoother watching experience. And, I don't wager! I just love watching and keeping up with the races.

I do understand the attraction of the big-screen TV-HD venue, as well, but overall, I am delighted with being able to watch the races wherever in the world they are running! This seems to be a "quiet revolution", as several services are giving free previews: DRF has been offering free live streaming for different racing meets, along with a recent preview period by HRTV online which included the Breeders Cup. Some racing meets are more suited to a general tv audience (the Triple Crown races, e.g.), the Saratoga meet, Keeneland, etc. So, I say, more power to the Jockey Club for getting directly involved. Quit complaining! It doesn't hurt to experiment....if one thing doesn't work, try something else. As Nike's ad says, "Just do it!"

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see the % of viewers who would've watched it online if it wasn't televised. I suspect most of the viewership is cannibalized.

That Blog Guy said...

Racing would do better off being broadcast on the Internet ratherthan the traditional media outlets.

Nancy said...

CalRacing streams many California races on line. I do not have a betting account. Kabletown (TWC) does not even offer horse racing TV where I live in Raleigh, NC & I am not in satellite site-range. I am always searching the internet for live streaming. I miss going to the track. I go to CA & Churchill Downs (Breeder's Cup) once a year. I would DEFINITELY watch horse racing on TV.

Anonymous said...

Once again racing is 10-15 years behind trends. The medium by which people consume media changed with the internet. We have netflix, hulu, etc and a potential game changer with the apple tv. Cable networks are starting to look like a relic of the past. All the major sports leagues allow for online and mobile viewing of their games, provided you pay a fee. Of course, you need a centralized organization / league structure to allow for that, which racing lacks.

Anonymous said...

One more thing... look up Neulion, they seem to be the company that all sports leagues are going to for their online streaming. Surely some of that $10 million could have been spent on a feasibility study with them??

(I have no affiliation with Neulion)

Pull the Pocket said...

Nice link anon.

Interesting company, and (one might think) surely a good fit.


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