Like most meme's with such a dire conclusion, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. As I noted before, I feel racing is never going to be dead, because somewhere, somehow a man or woman will want to race a horse against someones to see who is faster. Arguing that something is "dead" or "not dead" is strawmanism (and I am pretty sure I just made that word up). It's all a matter of degree.
I think most would say Rodeo is a dying sport. It's not on TV much, revenues are down. But it is not "dead"; it is just a whole lot smaller than it was.
Take a look at this article about Rodeo in 2012: "Rodeo Attendance, Revenue Up 25%".
- "Rodeos in general are up all across the nation," Roberts said. "Not
to brag or anything, but I think Deadwood's is up just because we have a
darn good rodeo. People want to come and figure out how the heck we
keep on winning. They keep coming to see how we do it.
Pat said that the sheer numbers of contestants entered up in this year's Days of '76 Rodeo were up to 698 from 613 last year.
"We had a very successful Days and the cowboys loved it. They absolutely love our rodeo," Pat said. "It's the setting, the stock, the committee. It's our largest ever and a lot has to do with the added money we do. The word's out that the Deadwood rodeo is the place to be.”
Racing, like rodeo, will always have good days, but it is getting smaller. According to wikipedia, in 1939 Rodeo's attracted twice as many spectators as auto racing and baseball combined. Now, despite that glowing press release, or big attendance at the Calgary Stampede, it's generally a footnote.
In 1948 it was estimated that betting volume nationwide on horse racing (including bookmakers) was about $10B. If we would have simply stagnated (i.e. grew at the rate of inflation) that number today would be about $100 billion. Instead we'll come in at around $11 billion.
TV viewership (or radio for before TV was invented), per capita, shows similar trends, as thorotrends has delved into many times. Even on big days our present is a shadow of our past.
Racing is not "dead". It will likely never be "dead". As a business (primarily driven by betting) it's simply probably about 15% to 25% the size it was 50 or 60 years ago.
Related: Real Clear Sports "Top Ten Diminished Sporting Events"
Related: Thorotrends, Looking at Kentucky Derby Viewers