Monday, December 14, 2009

Golfers and Horses

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.


Anonymous said...

Horse racing's biggest publicity comes from the sports media eagerly feasting on breakdowns, alledged cheating and any hit pieces produced by PETA, the latter which they lap up and repost with glee. If the thoroughbred and quarter horse racing industries aligned themselves with other livestock industries in outing the immense skeletons in the closet of the PETA type organizations, it would be a nice payback and educational to both racing insiders and the casual fan. If others got to read the top animal rights lawyers conferencing together and declaring that animal welfare standards just get in the way of animals obtaining their own legal "personhood", it would expose the futility of trying to satisfy them at all. Does anyone care that PETA does not grant animals one specific right? That is the very right to life. And I'm not talking about the mass euthanizations they bestowed upon the animals in their care, I'm talking about their actual ideology, from their Munchausen By Proxy leader and on down. I wish that sites like the Bloodhorse, instead of running story after story of racehorses saved from slaughter to help the industry (???), ran some Scarey Animal Law stories. Like how these groups are being pushed in legislation that would allow them to gain access to oversee farms in California. And for anyone who doesn't know it, the Humane Society Of The United States is just the saner looking, cleaned up version of PETA. Equally well funded, equally pushing vegan living, more subtley pushing less animal use, especially in entertainment. Entertainment including horse racing. If the Bloodhorse won't open the eyes of the blind in the industry who don't see that the animal rights machine just keeps coming, maybe some new or smaller sites will pick up the slack and do the job. Maybe some blogger will get down and dirty and expose the end game of the animal lovers war against for total animal liberation, and the unknowing animal welfarists who help them. Pull The Pocket, this was an attempt to tie in offense publicity, taken to the public to expose those who would destroy racing in a heartbeat, as better publicity than racing is drawing on it's own. Or, the industry should hire the Center For Consumer Freedom to take it to PETA and these groups on ours and other livestock industries behalf. On our own we will never placate them. Media like Claire Novack will probably not report if the racehorse Sam P. has any successes in his comeback. Larry Borstein (name may be off, a California reporter) doesn't look like he's running anything remotely positive about Lava Man's comeback anytime soon. There are too many of the PETA poisoned mindset within our ranks to give the well cared for, rejuvinated older horses their due. Reality is being changed from use of livestock to "we owe our livestock". More articles like Jason Shandler's latest piece on Lava Man are greatly needed. Veterinary medicine owes a boat load of gratitude to the racing industry, how many lives of other species will be improved with our advancements? The media running pieces demanding retirement and even re-retirements of our older stars would deprive us of opportunities for these advances. Somehow that doesn't sound like compassion for animals at all, does it?

Done rambling. Space limitations require this post to be continued . . .

Anonymous said...

Anonymous post from above continued . . .

Tiger Woods? Sad, perfect example of negative publicity generating more publicity than all of the positive stuff we can muster. High profile stars in racing? The racing media could gin up more excitement for up and coming stars with some actually passionate writing about them. Maybe they can take some of the space they have been using to push bad trainers, greedy owners and any isolated incidences of real or made up racehorse abuse. More spotlights on more racehorses are needed, in my opinion. How can we love and follow horses we know nothing about? The mares and fillies hold the key for horses campaigned past age three. Isn't this obvious to all? When will the media start hyping the Triple Tiara like the Triple Crown? Using that actual name and headline. No Triple Tiara Trail for our fillies? What deprivation of more fun for the racing public. The media steers us, they can't push the highlight for three year old fillies? As the colts leave us at the tender age of three, these fillies may still be with us at age four or five. The stars that stay with us. The elusive horses to keep the public's interest. Can the new blogger media pick up the slack and start pushing the Triple Tiara now? Maybe the official media will get the hint. Maybe Steve Haskins can start a school for race horse journalists to spread the love and fun of the sport, not more ammo for those who want to see it end for good. An Australian journalist wrote a piece blaming the US racing media for the lack of enthusiasm in the sport. I am waiting for someone to prove him wrong.

Anonymous said...

100 bucks to anyone who read the above comment

Steve Munday said...

Anon - you owe me a hundred bucks.

Dig the stream of consciousness; for a minute there I thought I was back in college reading "Naked Lunch."

Nonetheless, you made some good points. The crazy PETA crowd will never be appeased no matter what the racing industry says or does. But it'd be nice if we didn't make their job so dang easy.

Re the PTP article: A topical issue to consider given Tiger's problems and Zenyatta's retirement.

i think star-power is necessary for any sport to reach mainstream popularity. W/ or w/out Tiger Woods, there will still be a core mkt of golf fans. Tiger just increased the mkt exponentially.

Likewise, there will always be a core group of horseplayers w/ or w/out star horses. But star horses give racing a chance to break into the mainstream and create new fans. Some of those fans will become casual bettors, and some of those may eventually become serious bettors, so on and so forth.

That said, the racing industry shouldn't be praying for the second coming of Secretariat. Because any new fans drawn to racing will experience the same issues that frustrate its core customers. And few will likely become serious bettors.

A better strategy will be to make racing the best it can be (via improved customer service, lower takeout, improved equine and jockey safety, uniform med. rules and enforcement, etc.) And when that next big horse comes along. they can properly capitalize.

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