Breeders' Cup and the Non-National Pick 6

Dan posted a neat link from 1984 on the interwebs yesterday. It is an SI piece that looked at the inaugural Breeders' Cup on NBC and it lamented the television coverage. The fact that it did not explain the horses and races as well as it should've generally stuck in the writers craw. The piece went on to present a rather ominous future for the event, in terms of television ratings.

I guess some of it, at least, became true.

I am certainly not here to beat up on the Breeders' Cup - I think most of the criticisms of the BC are weak. It's a spectacular event, it draws betting and a crowd to the live venue.  3.1 million people watched the Classic in 2010 because of Zenyatta, and if she was in the Jockey Club Gold Cup against Blame and others instead, it would've not even been televised. It's a brand that has been built, and it is a big brand.

The Breeders' Cup - how the races are explained, shown or on what network - has never been, in my opinion, the problem. It's more about racing than it is the event.

8 races or ten, or twelve, are not like the Derby, where one race with a rich history can drive betting volume. The BC's edge has always been the whole event. You, me, the fencepost and anyone else who loves betting horses will bet; and we'll do it for hours straight. For others who are more casual viewers (the ones who watch on TV), they're stuck in the same system that befalls racing at every turn. The inability to quickly become a customer.

If we turn back the clock, let's think of what the BC ratings would've been with a national pick 6; a powerball for horse racing, not unlike what the "Equilottery" has spoken about. In a country like Sweden, with the GDP of an Ontario or Pennsylvania, tens of millions can be bet on their national pick 7. That bet can be bet virtually anywhere. No SSN, approvals, state restrictions, advertising restrictions, no credit card checks, sending in a check, signing up for a "PIN" service and all the rest. You go in, you choose seven numbers, or you give the machine 50 Swedish bucks, and it spits out a bet. You're in the game.

The Breeders' Cup would look very different with a national (or 43 state, where some form of horse racing is legal) pick 6 than it does today. Over 30 years this type of bet might've grown to $50 or $100 million in handle alone. With a carryover from Friday to Saturday, every betting syndicate in the world would be betting millions into it*, driving it even higher and higher. And with a pick 6 like that - for one day, probably with a carry - it's where 30% takeouts can make sense, adding money to the industry.

Casual fans - say some of the 15 million who watch the Derby - don't dislike horse racing. Casual bettors, now playing poker, don't dislike betting it either. This market just does not pay attention to events-other-than-the-Derby because they have no skin in the game.

On a Sunday a casual NFL fan opens his or her fantasy team, his office pool sheet, and participates. Participating in a Breeders' Cup is not like that. It's always needed a national pick 6 - easy to find, easy to bet, easy to consume the product. Racing has never reached that point for myriad reasons, and I believe it's the most important reason that the even has been held back. If a consumer can't consume your product, he or she will not watch. How an event they are not able to participate in is explained on TV, is pretty irrelevant.

If I were the BC or the NTRA or Jockey Club, I would be worried less about TV ratings, and more about working towards legislating a nationally bet pick 6. 

Have a nice weekend everyone.

* - To understand the increases in betting volume massive pools and massive carryovers generate read Gambling Wizards for the section on Hong Kong race bettor, the late Alan Woods. When the "triple trio" carried over, he would bet several million into it. A national pick 6 pool, with a big carry and casual money into Saturday's races would likely generate many, many millions in handle. 


Tinky said...

One problem with your perspective is that unless such a pick-6 were designed to pay down to, say, four of six, the likelihood of the casual and/or neophyte fan actually winning would be remote.

Such fans, or potential fans, have opportunities to play lotteries virtually every day of the week, so I fail to see how a near-hopeless chance of winning big on a BC pick-6 would be very appealing.

In contrast, NFL (or NBA, MLB, etc.) fans often have relatively good chances of winning something in their pools or leagues.

In my view, emphasizing a much less expensive and manageable pick four would have made more sense.

Eric Poteck said...

Although I am a big believer in the potential of a national horseracing lottery, I question if that in itself will help convert the uninitiated to wager on races.
If the industry was truly committed to using the Breeders Cup to grow the wagering component of the game, they would address one of the newbie’s top complaints, the‘time between races’. To expect people who are casual or non racing fans to indur eight, 40-50 minute gaps between races or invest a total of 5 ¾ hours for roughly 13 minutes of racing action is just not realistic (last year there was 65 minutes between the Turf Mile and the Classic), nor does it make for a compelling TV experience.
How riveting would it be if the races were held at two tracks every 20 minutes? Eliminate the first day and run 12 races within 3 hours and 40minutes (roughly the same time as a NFL game) and it could be non-stop crazy action. Such a simple change may be enough to change the TV experience and to convert the uninitiated.


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