The Curious Case of Horse Racing Television

This past week everyone began to digest the merger of TVG and HRTV. Instead of two separate channels on two US cable systems, there will be two channels on one. There are proclamations this is good for the sport, bad for the sport, or indifferent for the sport.

TV and racing is a very curious marriage. Racing on television is not football, or hockey or baseball. Those leagues sign deals with networks, and some of them run into the billions of dollars. In a quid pro quo, the network gets viewers, sells advertising, and the leagues get revenue and exposure.

Racing on the other hand - barring the Triple Crown races - pays networks to show their races. It's not because racing is too small, because rodeo, pro bowling, the WSOP and countless other small sports with only a few hundred thousand viewers or fewer, get paid for programming. It's just because racing is a gambling game, and having to show the product to everyone at all times, is a staple for the main revenue driver of the business (gambling dollars).

I think this was no more apparent than yesterday. TVG had a split screen up on their network with two races going off near the same time. On one side of the screen was Gulfstream: There were nice trees, happy people, sunshine, a great setting and a stakes race with high quality horseflesh. On the other side of the split screen was Aqueduct. It was snowy, dark and a short field of cheap claimers was ready to go.

That's tantamount to having an NFL Wild Card Game on one side of the screen, and the Mississippi Pop Warner regional final on the other.

Real sports don't function like that and the reason horse racing does this, of course, is because of gambling dollars. That grainy Big A race had well over a half a million dollars bet on it, while the GP race didn't have appreciably more.

TV deals or mergers with TVG and HRTV seem to cause a lot of chatter, but in the big picture, does anyone really care? The billions of dollars bet on horse racing are done so through many conduits. Those will be bet whether there's one network, two networks, four networks or no networks. For those seemingly impossible to land "millenials", well they cut the cord long ago. For others, like your 64 year old prime racing demo fellow, he's at the simo-center chatting with his buddies and doesn't much care one way or another. In a business with so many issues, a merger between horse racing channels seems to be big news, but in the grand scheme of things, I just can't see it meaning much.

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