Sunday, April 21, 2013

Television is Not Trending Racing's Way

Televising live racing is something that this industry is a big fan of. We want to see the sport on the tube and share it with others. It simply sounds like the right thing to do. Churchill, the Jockey Club and others have been paying to have racing televised, with the hopes it catches on with the masses that matter - a new viewing audience.

So far, it looks like things are not going overly well.

As we talked about two weeks ago, the ratings for the Florida Derby on the NBC Sports Network were mediocre at best, with just over 160,000 viewers. This, fresh off the Road to the Kentucky Derby preview show which only had 19,000 viewers. Two weeks ago the Wood Memorial garnered about the same number of viewers as the Florida Derby.

On the main NBC network, the Blue Grass received a 0.7 rating, which put it near the ratings for the Speed Golf Championships and a monster truck show the same day. In 2002, this same telecast (also against the Masters, with Woods in contention) drew a 1.3 rating for the race itself. In addition, just three years ago, on USA, Derby preps like the Lane's End were earning a 0.3 rating, or 420,000 viewers.

No matter what the network - USA, ESPN, NBCSN or the main networks - racing seems to be losing some momentum (this despite the Kentucky Derby ratings usually being pretty solid.)

Other than reading a few marketing books, and discussing things with some people who know a bit about it, television marketing is by no means my marketing genre.However, what I wrote a couple of years ago about television ad spend still stands, as my opinion, to the best of my ability.
  • 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.
For whatever reason, prep events do not seem to resonate. They're not the Kentucky Derby, which will be watched no matter who is in it, or who isn't, of course. But the fact that they are not even in the same zip code is troubling.

What can racing do to make these events more watched and deliver more return on ad spend? What strategy can be used to up viewership and get people excited to watch racing as a live event? The answer to that is above my pay grade, but I hope they experiment with something new next year, because what they've been doing doesn't seem to be building an audience.

Related: Follow-up post, with some comments from twitter.


Indulto said...

Has anybody checked to see whether the handle increased on the points-qualifying preps compared with, say, the previous 3 years?

Apparently, the field sizes as well as the viewers didn't increase appreciably with the live TV coverage supporting the new eligibility rules.

In my opinion, it's the win-or-place-and-you're-in aspect of the preps which minimizes the possibility of horses on the Derby trail facing each other multiple times, and thereby create rooting interests.

There should also be 4-5 one-hour shows starting the week following the AK Derby; each introducing 4-5 contenders and their connections, and showing replays of their prep races.

The pre-race portion on Derby day should feature traditional coverage like the Derby day finery of the connections and racing celebrities, and the trainer interviews on the way from the barn to the saddling area.

But it also needs a rundown of the Derby contenders by each major data venter, e.g, DRF, Bris, Ragozin, Thorograph, EQUIFORM, and JCapper -- a competition within the competition -- NOT the lame NBC analysts. Perhaps the vendor rundowns could be shown on a final 1-hour show in prime time.

Until novices get to see the variety of ways people (including professionals) make selections, and connect it with what happens on the track and in the pools, it’s hard to appreciate all the rewarding challenges involved in the game.

Anonymous said...

As long as horse racing and drugs are used in the same sentence and trainers go unpunished for repeated offenses, the game will continue to freefall into oblivion.

Anonymous said...

The sport isn't freefalling into oblivion. One reason why the year's preps didn't do better on TV is it's tough to find the NBC Sports Network. Unless you're looking for it you don't know it's on. If it was on NBC or ABC like it was for many years, people would stumble upon it and watch.

Also, more than ever, we in America have become a big event population. Super Bowl, the Derby, the Masters. The Belmont Stakes today, routinely outdraws the Belmont in the days of Secretariat and Affirmed.

No doubt racing has challenges and needs to court younger fans, but 35 years ago, when I first started to go to the track, people were saying that it needs to attract a younger audience or all the old fans will die off. Well, guess what. The older people from the 1970s have been replaced by the next generation of older people. The reason why: a)retired people have the time to go to the track and b)generally speaking they are the ones who have more disposable income.

Anonymous said...

And rightfully so!

Anonymous said...

Is it any wonder the horse racing programs are not watched? THEY ARE DEADLY BORING!! NBC needs fewer shots of tedious talking heads and more scenes of what is actually going on with the horses and their connections before and after their two minute run in the sun.

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