01/26/2011 3:56PM

Racing: America's 13th Favorite Sport


A Harris Poll released this week provided the bad news everyone in the American racing industry knows is true but is unwilling to admit. It showed that only 1 percent of Americans listed horse racing as their favorite sport, putting the so-called Sport of Kings in a tie for thirteenth place with boxing.

When compared to the 1985 Harris Poll asking the same question, the figures are revealing. Back then, 5 percent of Americans listed racing as their favorite sport, putting it in a tie with auto racing as the nation's sixth most popular sport.

Auto racing, led by the popularity of NASCAR, sits in fourth place at 7 percent in the latest poll. The 1985 twain at which the two racing games met is a thing of the past, auto racing's fortunes having boomed since then while horse racing's have plummeted.

The reason is obvious. NASCAR events are seen with a certain frequency on network television, while the Thoroughbred sport manages just a large handful of programs on the four major networks annually. Even in the last ten or twenty years during which cable networks have cut into the networks market share, presenting your sporting product on ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox has remained the key element in making yourself known to America's sports mad public.

Not surprisingly, professional football was named the most popular sport by 31 percent of the respondents, up from 24 percent in 1985 but down from a peak of 35 percent in 2009. Those high numbers are a reflection of the NFL's strength with CBS, NBC and Fox. Baseball came second in 2010 at 17 percent, down from 23 percent in '85 but up a point from 2009. Third in the latest poll was college football at 12 percent, up from 10 percent in '85. After auto racing in fourth came professional basketball at 6 percent, the same as '85; hockey at 5 percent, up form 2 percent in '85; and then soccer and college basketball at 4 percent, followed by golf, track & field, bowling and tennis, all at 2 percent.

Along with the NFL, Major League baseball and NCAA football are seen regularly throughout their respective seasons on the four major networks. This not only keeps them in the public view, it commands the attention of the print media and their offshoots on the internet. It also insures that when sports like pro football, baseball and college football do appear on cable networks, there is a readymade, network-created fanbase willing and eager to follow them.

We cannot expect to have many people watching our championship event on any form of television when so few races are televised by networks during the course of the year. How many people would tune into the Super Bowl each year if only a dozen or so NFL games appeared on network TV each year? About as many, perhaps, as watched this year's Breeders' Cup, which is hardly any at all.

That network television remains the key to a sports popularity was confirmed by this latest Harris Poll. It is all bad news for horse racing, whose leaders appear to be mystified when it comes to marketing our product to the networks.

And even when we do land a spot on the networks, like we do with the Triple Crown races, we shoot ourselves in the foot, showing just a single race on programs that last between 1 1/2 and 2 hours. This is especially frustrating as there are so many Grade 1 races on the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes undercards that deserve national exposure.

Recent ratings reveal that there is a market for good racing in America. The 2009 Kentucky Derby was viewed by an estimated 16.4 million people. Last year's Beeders' Cup Classic on cable was seen by 4.9 million viewers, many of them attracted by Zenyatta, but the rest of the Saturday card had a much lower rating.

By comparison, the Kentucky Derby figures look good next to the 2010 Epsom Derby, which was seen by just 1.9 million British viewers, even keeping in mind that the population of the United States is five times that of Great Britain. On the other hand, the Grand National Steeplechase, perhaps the greatest sporting spectacle in the world, was seen on TV by 7.6 million viewers last April. That would translate into about 38 million viewers in America.

And that is about the figure we should be drawing for races like the Triple Crown and the Breeders' Cup. It will never happen, however, until we get our game onto the networks on a weekly basis, which is what they have in Britain on either the BBC or Channel 4. The failure of those responsible for marketing racing on a national basis in America is of near criminal proportions. When bowling is named by twice as many Americans as their favorite sport, horse racing is in big trouble indeed.

Perplexed Punter More than 1 year ago
Why is the Grand National watched by so many people in the UK? Because every man, woman and child can have a bet on the outcome and then watch the race. Plain and simple. The same thing goes for the Melbourne Cup in Australia. The Kentucky Derby and the other Triple Crown/Breeders' Cup races will not get a larger viewership until people can easily and legally place a bet on the race. Having to travel to a simulcast location miles away or having to open an offshore Internet account to bet is not a receipe for success. All the bookies in the US want to take is sports action, hence football and baseball being first and second in viewership. I'll be in the US for the first Saturday in June and am already trying to figure out where to have a bet on the Belmont. But there is no end to the number of locations in the UK and Ireland to place a wager. (You are absolutely right, Punter. It is almost too easy to get a bet down in Britain and ireland. In America, thanks to the the Puritans who hightailed it out of England to set up camp in the New World, gambling was a big no-no for centuries. It is still taboo in many regions, especially New England and the South. It would be nice if we had legalized gambling throughout the U.S. with pari-mutuel wagering on racing and bookmaking on other sports events, but the power of individual states- the same that keeps racing jurisdictions in America at each other's throat- mitigates against that. (AS)
Henry B More than 1 year ago
The trouble with horse racing is that it is not a player friendly activity. The take out is way too high. After all why would anyone want to get $75 worth of action for every $100 bet. Then they have a horse race like that last race on Friday's breeders cup where the favorite in the race was sick. They sent her to the post and the bettors money was destroyed. That situation does not inspire confidence in horse racing. Then there is the lack of information. How about the foreign grass horses that have a PP line that consists of where the horse finishes. It then proceeds to pay $30. Or the horse that is coming off a layoff. They do not disclose the cause of the layoff. I am a life long horse player (50 years) I am sick of giving my money away. (Points well taken, Henry B, but the Daily racing Form's foreign pp lines include a running line comment in almost all instances (Brazil excluded) that provides just as much data as a point-of-call line in the domestic lines.) AS
ManuelB More than 1 year ago
As usual, a very interesting article, Alan. I'd like to make a couple of points: 1. Comparing horse racing to the other sports on TV is not fair. The other sports are basically cartels that have tight control on who gets to be part. Horse racing is totally disorganized. I'd prefer it if it were better organized but that doesn't look like it's going to happen in the near future. 2. You make a few comparisons to Britain. I'd like to see if there is any data on the role of horse racing in jurisdictions where it is thriving: Japan, Hong Kong 3. One of the major problems for horse racing is how it defines itself: is it a "sport" or a "gambling game". Depending on how one answers that question, you'd get very different answers from the participants in the industry and from the general public. That is, are we comparing horse racing to NFL or to casinos? Keep up the good work. By the way, referring to an old column of yours on Auteuil racetrack in Paris, that's where I'm headed for a couple of months. I'm really looking forward to it. (Auteuil opens on Sunday, March 6 and there is racing every Sunday through the rest of the month and then on Saturday, April 2 at which point Wednesday meetings begin as well. Longchamp opens on Tuesday, April 4 with the first Sunday meeting on April 10. Have fun!) AS
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
Alan, As usual, you are spot on. What is even more troubling, though, is that the 1985 Harris poll just about coincides with the first Arlington Million and the creation of the Breeders' Cup...events that were touted, at the time, as going to rejuvenate the sport. However, since that time the Breeders' Cup and NTRA have spent an unprecedented amount of money marketing horse racing into the ground. Those in charge should be ashamed of themselves...if they were running any other business they would have been fired a long time ago. Robin (We are on the same page, Robin, something like toward the end of War and Peace, while the lords of racing are still stumbling through the table of contents of Racing for Dummies.) AS
yuwipi More than 1 year ago
I'm actually stunned that the number is 1%. At first I thought leaving the word "near" out of your criminal proportions sentence would be justified. Maybe that would be a little harsh, but just a little. When I think back to my introduction to thoroughbred racing in the mid-70's and compare that time to today's game it is a sobering comparison. As a fan I don't feel I have an iota of input into anything that goes on. The people who administer/run this game are operating in a brutally competitive climate, but they are failing to lead racing in the proper direction. Maybe the sport just doesn't have enough Christians to feed to the lions to sate the American sporting public. I don't know, but I don't think the future's so bright we're gonna need shades.
Dan Needham More than 1 year ago
Alan, The 1% who favor horse racing is actually, I believe, 1% of sports fans (defined as following one or more sports). So the percentage of all Americans who favor horse racing is likely closer to 0.5% or 0.6%. Not that your observations and conclusions would be any different of course. It's interesting as I've been looking into similar survey results of late. In these online Harris Interactive polls the respondent is presented with a list of options from which to choose including "horse racing". By comparison the Pew Center conducted a large sample survey over the phone in 2006 asking the same question. With interviewing via phone of course the response is entirely open-ended and no list of options is presented. This Pew survey revealed that only 0.13% of all adults favor horse racing. If you are interested I discussed these observations in this article: http://goo.gl/qk2y Another thought I would add is that the emergence and power of ESPN to present the world of sports to sports fans has paralleled horse racing's decline and played at least some role in a generation if not more being denied exposure to this great sport.
jacob1181 More than 1 year ago
What I find most astonishing is that track & field and bowling beat out horse racing....that is very sad. I would think that a better question to poll people on would be what is your 2nd and 3rd favorite sport. That would at least give some sort of building block to base the future on. For instance, I love horse racing, it has consumed a good portion of my life for the past 10+ years. However, if you asked me straight up what my "favorite sport" is, I would probably rattle off football without even thinking. Why? A couple of reasons; #1 is a little thing called Fantasy Football. It makes the sport more exciting and gives you a reason to pay attention on a national level, week in and week out. #2 would be socialization. None of my buddies like coming over, sitting down with a beer and watching the freaking Preakness. They want to watch the Steelers and the Ravens beat the crap out of each other. So here I am, a HUGE horse racing fan, a bigger fan than anyone I know personally or hang around with daily, and I wouldn't even characterize it as my favorite sport. However, if you asked the same Americans in that pole what their 2nd and 3rd favorite sports were, I would think that things like horse racing would take a huge jump from 1st to 2nd, and from 2nd to 3rd. For instance, people either really like baseball, or they really hate it. The same goes with hockey and NASCAR for that matter. If you polled those 31 percent that said football was their favorite sport, I would almost be willing to bet that they would claim that something other than baseball or hockey is #2 and #3. 17 percent may say baseball is #1, but I bet no more than 5 percent would say it's #2. That's a pretty large gap. However, only 1 percent said horse racing was #1, but I bet horse racing jumps to 3 or 4 or maybe even 5 percent as people's #2 and #3 favorite.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
I started following racing horsing in earnest in 2009. Until then, I was a casual observer, who checked in only to watch the Triple Crown and Breeder's Cup. Not sure how I got hooked. But I did. I now bet occasionally. But I mostly like to handicap for fun and see how I would have done. In any event, I find it's somewhat hard to follow horse racing. DRF basically has a stranglehold on coverage. And my cable provider doesn't have HRTV or TVG. For live racing, I'm stuck watching the occasional network broadcast or NTRA Live Feed. So infrequently. The local satellite facility features a slice of humanity I'd rather not be around. And while I watch video replays, it's not the same. In any event, I think a weekly program on one of the networks would help. This program should be sponsored by DRF and feature DRF people, like Watchmaker. You guys already do this online with Weekend Warrior. So why not put someone on TV once a week. The program should actually show a race. And should recap what happened in the previous week and what is coming up in future weeks. You could tie free pps to whatever races are on the show. Indeed, while I know you make your money off past performances, it would be nice for the casual fan to have access to major stakes pps ahead of the race. I'm not asking for access to every race in the country. Just major weekend stakes. It would allow me to take a little more interest in the races.
Jerry Ray More than 1 year ago
I love this article by Alan as he is correct.I wish that there was a lot of Horse Racing on TV around.I moved here from Saratoga,Ny a year ago and the only thing that I miss down here is the horses.There was a little more showing in Ny where the local channels carried all the races in the summer when Saratoga ran plus you got to see a lot of the Stake races around the country.Down here you are lucky if you get to see them at all.It's a shame when I have to go on line to get the results of races leading up to Triple Crown and Breeder's Cup contenders.
Jerry Ray More than 1 year ago
My 2 favorite sports are Horse Racing and Baseballbut I'm more into racing as I have been following Horses since 1956 when I was in high school and introduced to one of the greatest trainers at that time.I followed baseball since 1958 as I di-heart Baltimore Oriole fan.I even had season passes in 1963 & 1964 while living in Charles Town,W Virginia.I exercised and worked with the horses at varius tracks in the area (some which no longer exist.I don't follow baseball much anymore as the players are way over paid and ruining it.It sure is a shame when men are paid more for playing a game than the President makes running the Country? (I sympathize with you, Jerry. My first experience of racing was watching Bold Ruler win the 1957 Flamingo Stakes on Win Elliott's weekly Saturday TV show in New York. Back then there were only three major professional sports: baseball, horse racing and boxing. The NFL and NBA were small potatoes. While those two leagues have kept pace with the times, racing has been oblivious to societal changes. In large part, we can thank our witless upper classes, the same people that have always run racing, for that.) AS
Dunbar More than 1 year ago
Good article. IMO, the reason horseracing has slid off the public's radar is the lack of continuity and star power. Every sport on the list has stars that last for more than the 1-3 years that most of horseracing's stars compete, with the exception of college team sports. And the stars in every sport on the list compete more times in a year than racing's stars. The trend to race good horses less and less frequently and retire them as soon as possible has made horseracing unfeasible as a TV spectator sport. I don't think there's a sport on the list that would be on TV if its best teams/players competed just 5-6 times a year and then retired after 2-3 years of competition. --Dunbar
Steven More than 1 year ago
In other countries, they will switch coverage from say soccer, during a commercial break or time out or intermission, and show an important race, and then switch back to the featured sport. That might be a more reasonable and affordable approach to getting racing back on TV, because there is no way racing will get a full 5 hour slot on a racing day such as Super Saturday (Jockey Club Gold Cup) at Belmont Park in October ever again. The travers wasnt even featured on network TV this past year.
Vanessa Gall More than 1 year ago
I so agree with your viewpoint about the television media and the poor coverage of horse racing. I think that they are trying to bring interest to the sport by airing the stories that surround the horses that are running in the big races. However, it should never be done at the expense of airing other graded races that are also running on that day. For instance, on Belmont day, Gio Ponti was running in the race before the Belmont and the race was never aired on television that I can recall. Gio Ponti was a dual Eclipse award winner in 2009 for heaven's sake!! It is the media's duty to bring these facts to the attention of the viewing public so that they can become familar with the older handicap horses that are running. Unfortunately, our viewpoints are generally swayed by what the media finds important. I wish the media would start covering all the races and shorten up the human interest stories a little. I don't know if that will save our sport, but something else needs to be instituted to help revive our sport with coverage on the stars of racing, namely, the horses. (The TV networks might be surprised to discover that the point of view you express (with which I wholeheartedly concur) is that of a woman. In all sports they seem to think that women viewers prefer the soppy stories about trainers' dead aunts, the illnesses suffered by the second baseman's wife, or how a skier spends her summer vacation. It was that sort of thing that soured me on NBC's coverage of the Sydney Olympic Games a few years ago. But then, in London for the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, I discovered the BBC's Olympic coverage: wall-to-wall sport with only the occasional interview or break in the main studio for an update. They showed the complete runnings of the two 10,000-meter heats, and it was during those runnings that one discovered the sporting personalities of the runners. On NBC they might have showed the last lap of each heat and then had a feature on how some African runner practices in the bush, dodging hyenas all the while. Later, in Paris for the Arc, I was pleasantlt surprised by similar French coverage of the Games on Sky sport. In England and France I could hardly tear myself away form the TV. In America, I was repelled by NBC's coverage.) AS
Rich Chialastri More than 1 year ago
I think the poll as asking what is the favorite sport is not a fair poll. I love horse racing and it is not my favorite sport. I first think the poll should ask what is your top 5 sports or something like that. I also think horse racing is not marketed correctly. NO ONE new is going to show up on a thursday at Belmont. But Horse Racing is the one sport that it is legal in 48 states to bet. It also is bet on the internet and in most casinos now outside of Nevada the horse book if there is one is in the poker room. The marketing should be for 21 to 49 year old makes how easy it is on the computer how much fun it is to study and pick winners. I would also market against lotteries. With the new wagering a player that plays a daily pick three or four at the local store can play a trifecta or a super or a pick three or pick four for the same price. Plus get more enjoyment than watching ping pong balls for 5 seconds. Plus the 20 percent take will seem like nothing based on what the states take out of lotteries. Even a pick 6 can be played as well. Finally if you hit at the track you do get paid right away (with a tax form but that is another story) if you hit the lottery for more than $750.00 you have to WAIT two to four weeks to get a check ... Horse racing needs to reinvent itself period. Everything is in place for it to do just that. But the people who should be doing the reinventing think 45000 people will show up at the track tomorrow. That will never happen but can you get 450000 new viewers on TVG or on line yes you can.
Martin More than 1 year ago
While it is true the know-nothing general sports media types have no use for horse racing because of a myriad of reasons, I wouldn't overreact to this poll. The question was what is your favorite sport, not what sports do you follow or like. If I had been asked to participate in the poll, I would not have included horse racing as my favorite sport even though I love it and love going to the New York tracks and Monmouth Park. As a hockey and baseball fan, I can enjoy those sports on an almost nightly basis for more than six months a year, which gives me something to root for year round. The best of horse racing--the Triple Crown, Breeders Cup, Saratoga and a number of other days on the calendar are so great but fleeting. On the same token, if I would be asked what my favorite sporting event, without a doubt I would answer the Kentucky Derby.
Tendai James More than 1 year ago
Excellent article, yet sad at the same time. I grew up in the seventies in NY watching Muhammad Ali, Seattle Slew, Affirmed and the Knicks. My father took me to OTB afterschool so I'm still getting over the fact that OTB is gone. Some reasons why boxing and racing have fallen to the wayside has got to be the negative press (performance drugs, scandals, terrible TV contracts) and less than stellar long- term planning from the governing bodies of these sports. Boxing, baseball and horse racing were the three top sports in the fifties. I mean am I the only one left who remembers ABC Wide World of Sports where you could watch a championship fight and Seattle Slew on the same broadcast. Boxing went pay-per-view and horse racing became triple crown or nothing. Don't let it be a year where the horse doesn't win the first two legs of the event because the Belmont Stakes becomes an afterthought to ESPN once a horse wins the Preakness that didn't win the Derby. Now that I've complained, here is a SUGGESTION to the governing bodies of horse racing. I bet if you do a survey of everyday Americans and ask them when do they watch sports the least during the year or get bored with sports programming, I'm willing to bet they will say between the NBA playoffs and NFL preseason. I think it is safe to say no one is watching baseball at home until October. Move the Breeder's Cup to this gap in time and ESPN and the national networks will have to play it and for less money because no one is watching TV during this gap in the summer. The Travers are too late in the summer and would probably benefit by being moved to Labor Day or earlier to the Fourth of July ( I personally think that's too early but if you don't have a choice). The idea is to get people watching your sport during gaps in programming and the holidays. Everyone is watching football on Thanksgiving Day and the NBA on Christmas Day. Horse racing has got to start doing it’s homework if it wants to catch America's imagination again. Remember, the World Series use to be played in the summer until MLB took a chance on playing with the schedule and the next thing you know you got people nicknamed Mr. October. Babe Ruth would probably laugh at Reggie Jackson’s moniker, but the sport benefitted.
hialeah More than 1 year ago
Have to agree with your points Alan. One of the problems here is that those that relish horse racing also like to bet. As a result, they go to a simulcast facility to watch and wager which does not get reflected in any sort of TV rating system. If the betting participant is at the wagering establishment, then it follows that the TV at home is NOT on the race being televised. So the races get low ratings and get dropped by the network. And the Internet wagering companies can't get there act together either. Some tracks appear on a TVG and others on a Twin Spires or other site and the feeling is that IF you can't watch and wager "LIVE" with relative ease why bother? I believe you have hit on a cord which needs to be addressed, as the sport of horse racing - except on "special days" - is witnessed by but a comfortable few. And the numbers are dwindling.
Mike La Rosa More than 1 year ago
First look at the lack of response to this article. The silence is deafening. Nobody cares, all that horse racing has become in most eyes is another gambling outlet. The sport itself was lost somewhere along the line many years ago. Trifectas, Superfectas, Pick Four, Pick Six is the name of the game. That's fine because that is part of the lure that is why we go. However this does little to promote the sport to those who don't attend and does nothing in bringing in a new younger fan base. The industry itself is to blame, they just don't get it and are basically too arrogant and steadfast in their long running traditions to attempt to change anything. As long as the tracks are still making money, as long as the breeders still show a profit, all of which is becoming harder as the years pass, things will not change. The industry for some inexplicable reason just cannot grasp a concept of luring new fans to witness racing . I've tried many times through the years to offer suggestions to industry leaders on creating a reason to attract fans to view live racing and make them aware of one of the greatest sports that they the people who don't attend races are missing. I've written letters to Churchill Downs, the NTRA, the Daily Racing Form and to numerous track presidents throughout the country. I offered these suggestions as coming from your average racing fan. Do you know how many of those letters were answered? The answer is zero. Not one letter was answered, that's a damn shame. Not even a thank you or a we'll consider from someone in the industry, no nothing came back. (You are absolutely right about promoting racing as a sport. Sadly, racetracks and most other racing bodies in America, as well as the racing press, see racing soley as a venue for betting. It is certainly that, but it is so much more: a great equine sport with a rich history, and a social occassion which no other sport can match. It is also a less expensive venture than any major professional or college sport. And from a breeding point-of-view, it is viewed in Kentucky (from the American perspective) solely as a business. American breeders in Kentucky are much more concerned with how much a yearling will bring at auction than with what the horse will eventually accomplish on the track. It is the opposite in Europe, Asia and the Arab world, and in those areas of Kentucky where the Maktoums, Abdullahs and Magniers hold sway.) AS As an average fan how does that make me feel. Well it says the industry just doesn't care, it won't even answer a fans letter. How is an industry so removed and seperated from its fan base ever expect to move forward and grow? It cannot and will not. In my letters years ago I warned of continued decline and one that would see attendance percentages fall as the average racing fan ages, but what do I know as just an average racing fan. Here's a hint to all the leaders of this industry: Promote horse racing as a sport first. Promote the horses themselves. Promote the rivalries of those horses. Promote the jockeys and the competition amongst them, rider versus rider. This is what draws the interest. This is what will attract new fans to a sport. They need to know what they are coming for. This is what needs to be promoted on television comercials, on movie screens in theatres like baseball and basketball are now promoting their sport. If you promote it as a sport, WHICH IT IS, don't lose that concept! You will attract interest and fans. Then the rest will come easy because once you have their attention and interest then unlike other sports the fans can participate and they will make a bet because of the interest in the outcome. Now what are the odds that this industry can actually understand that concept? Racing fans do you have an opinion?
C. Elgin More than 1 year ago
Thank you for your commentary, Alan. It is really sad to reflect upon the state of horse racing here in the United States. It's depressing. For those of us who love the game and love the horses, it is a true shame to see the downward spiral in popularity. The folks in charge don't seem to "get it". Racing's elite seems to be caught up in their own ivory tower. They are so enamored of their clique that they end up hurting the game instead of helping to widen the audience and make it more popular. The fans, small time owners, honest hard-working trainers all pay the price for the hubris at the top echelons of the industry. It's disgraceful that NASCAR has gained in popularity while horseracing has clearly declined. Too many chefs in the kitchen....too many elitist, out of touch, industry leaders. Too much high dollar purse distribution for a tiny percentage of winners at the top makes for little incentive for "moderate" investment owners to actually have a chance to survive. Complete inabiltiy of the industry (including the writers) to reach and engage a broader audience. Complete inability of the industry to communicate the opportunity, the intellectual challenge, the joy of the gambling side of the game (of course, it's not helped if we have a populace who just plain prefers brainless button pushing or one-armed bandit pulls at the slots machine). Horseracing continues to be saddled with the perception of cheaters....we all know they are out there. Personally, I think there is more corruption on Wall Street in one hour than in all the racetracks across the country in an entire day.....but no one is doing a good job of changing those perceptions. Total inability of the industry to deal honorably with the noble animals after their racing careers are over -- creates a really awful perception to an audience whose views on animals has changed greatly over the past 40-50 years. I truly hope that something happens to turn things around for this grandest of games..... but we don't appear to have any hero to the rescue.
John H More than 1 year ago
This blog is painful to read but oh so true. Horse racing has no national organization with the teeth needed to get it up off the floor and back into the public's consciousness. Instead, a bunch of rich types own these fiefdoms and by golly, "I'll run them as I see fit. It's my money, isn't it?". Here are a "few" of many issues and solutions that only a dictator at the highest level can enforce over these guys. 1. Simplify, simplify, and third? Simplify! * Look at that antiquated tote board listing odds that are straight out of the days when people could actually do fractions in their heads. Today? You just lost everybody younger than baby boomers. Come on! Make ALL bets one dollar. Post every probable payoff on the board in terms of a dollar bet. For 7/2 odds, bet a dollar and get back $4.50. Instead of this, I have to calculate bet size times seven, divided by two, plus bet size. Easy for me but the younger generations? * Get rid of those payoff names that don't mean squat to a new generation. Win, Place, Show? Who knows what Place or Show really means to a newbie? Exotics? See any youngster who knows what a Superfecta is? 2. Reduce the takeout and breakage! * Ask Las Vegas what happened to the slot takeout when they dramatically reduced the takeouts. Churn baby, churn! Now they make more on slots than anything else. Reduce the takeout to 10 per cent maximum on all bets. Same goes for that 20 cent breakage. It simply adds to the takeout and reduces churn. Make it 10 cents or even a nickel. That's one of racing's dirty little secrets. Breakage boosts the takeout well above the advertised takout per cent. Run a computer analysis on it as I did. 3. Thoroughbred injuries and deaths. * Eliminate pain killing and performance enhancing drugs. Bute and Lasix quickly come to mind. Run thoroughbreds only on turf or synthetic surfaces. Don't cook the numbers. It's safer! 4. Advertise! * Make these new changes highly visible to the public. Glorify your racing stars and the superstars when they come along. Racing just missed its big chance with Zenyatta, relying instead on national media to "finally" pick up the story. First step in all of this? Get Congress involved to mandate it since the racing gods won't even consider it. And don't get me started on the futility of exchange betting.
Ryan More than 1 year ago
I agree with everything you have said Mr. Shuback. I believe the most relevant question becomes why is horse racing not on television more often? I cannot believe that it is simply because those in charge of marketing the sport on a mass scale are failing. There has to be something more fundamentally wrong and I believe it is quite obvious. What are the major differences between horse racing and the NFL? In the NFL, there is a set schedule and matchups of the best teams in the league every single weekend. Following that regular season, we get a fantastic playoff series of games where the best of the best square off. In the divisional and conference championships this year we had 3 games where teams were playing each other for the third time!! I hope that anyone reading this takes some time to read the last sentence again. In horse racing, we have a fragmented schedule that is designed in a way in which the best horses never have to face each other. There are plenty of races with 500k to 1000k purses for top echelon horses to race in while completely avoiding their counterparts. Affirmed and Alydar raced each other 10 times in their career. How many times did Zenyatta, RA, Blame, Curlin and Big Brown face each other? That is a snapshot of why horse racing was once popular and why it is no longer so. Sports today is driven by rivalry and fan discussion about who is the best. That discussion and rivalry needs to be fueled by on track meetings. The solution to this is to trim the major purses and all but force the best horses into a streamlined. We live in a world where the West Virginia Derby has the same purse as the Jockey Club Gold Cup. The sport has to get the best horses to run against each other consistently or it will die. Another idea would be to not give out major awards to owners/horses/"teams" that do nothing to help accomplish this. I am very sorry to say this, but a horse like Zenyatta does nothing to save the sport. Horses come and go. What saves the sport is excellent and consistent competition. Does anyone really believe its just a coincidence that the sport with the most parity and competition is the most popular? If you happen to read this Mr. Shuback, and if you agree with it, I really think this would deserve some of your and your colleagues' attention. Thanks and keep trying to save our endangered species here!
aikenite More than 1 year ago
It's a bit of a chicken or egg question isn't it? The reason NASCAR gets major network air time is the fact that it's the 4th most popular sport at 7%....not vice versa. The reason that horse racing is ignored is that ugly 1% figure. Television coverage doesn't create fan bases, it follows them. NASCAR is more popular because it has a cult of personality amongst the drivers. Racing's stars are prematurely sent to the breeding shed just as the public gets to know them. Zenyatta being a notable exception. (You couldn't be more wrong in your thinking. Before 1990 or so there was little of no TV coverage of NASCAR. When they got their product on TV, popularity followed. In the fifties, there was an average of one NFL game on TV per week and stadiums around the country were half empty. Around 1960, the networks came to all sports asking to increase coverage. The NFL, NBA, college football & basketball, golf and tennis agreed. Horse racing didn't, and you see the results of those decisions today.) AS
Dave Schwartz More than 1 year ago
This article makes excellent points. You have done an excellent job of pointing out the biggest problem racing has today - even bigger than the battles between customers and tracks. It was expanded broadcasting coverage a that took MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL and NASCAR to their popularity today. In addition, all of these sports benefited from the gigantic revenue stream created by add-on cable packages and pay-per view events. Racing really needs a new revenue stream such as would/could be provided by constant exposure. The biggest stumbling block to this today is that there is no single entity running things in racing. All these other sports are individual corporations which have a great deal of control over the teams. We need such a "parent" organization in racing. Under the current setup even if there was an opportunity, who would the networks negotiate with?
Myles More than 1 year ago
I believe a huge lift to the image of Horseracing, and a major help in attracting new fans would be broadcasting in HD and 5.1 surround sound. Watching my races now, on TVG, is like time traveling back to TV of the 1980's.....