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?
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"
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.