03/30/2017 3:25PM

Giwner: Is it worth pursuing live racing on TV?


When Keith Gisser emailed me that he was going to write about racing being on TV, it served as a good reminder that I was planning to put forth some thoughts on this topic. I’m not against live racing broadcast to the masses via cable, satellite or even network television, but I have some reservations.

The Meadowlands recently concluded a run of five one-hour Thursday night broadcasts on local sports network SNY. Viewers were treated to the final three races on the card accompanied by multiple on-air personalities to guide them through the card. 

All in all, there was a good flow to the broadcast, but to appeal to a general audience there needs to be less focus on racing and more human and equine interaction. Some ideas that immediately pop into my head are:

►         Post parades should be done by the hosts instead of the track announcer. The announcer must follow a certain format since the races are being simulcast via ADWs, etc. The hosts could provide insight into the horses as they parade; notes on equipment; how the horses look; tidbits of personal information; etc.

►         More driver and trainer interviews. We need to see/hear more from the people and horses in the paddock. One of the biggest issues in the sport is negative perception of what goes on behind the scenes and the more time spent in the paddock, the better.

►         How about placing a microphone on a different driver during each night so we can get some sound bites of what is going on during the races?

In no way is the above meant to criticize the job that was done but more to provide an outside view of how it perhaps could be even better.

Looking at the issue from another viewpoint, perhaps the thinking that live harness racing needs to be on TV is flawed. On its own, is the product a viable entertainment viewing option for the general public? Sadly, I would think not.

For me, we would be better off using funds to produce custom videos for the internet or even 30-minute segments for TV on the various human and equine stars in the sport. Wouldn’t a 30-minute special on Wiggle It Jiggleit, maybe highlighting his race day activities and his potential ascent to the top of the harness world, attract at least a few non-racing folks? How about a driver roundtable where they discuss strategy and other general topics?

In many ways, what Ryan Macedonio has done with his Trotcast broadcasts, asking oddball type questions of the various participants in harness racing, is something that could truly appeal to an outside audience.

What if we had a match race where both drivers wear Go Pro cameras? We could have a split screen with shots of both driver cameras and a pan shot. Wouldn’t that make for good YouTube entertainment to a general audience if the drivers trash-talked a bit? Honestly, it doesn’t even have to be a real race. Think of it as putting on a show like the WWE, or whatever the top wrestling organization is nowadays (I haven’t watched since the WWF in the 1980s).

One of the more entertaining harness videos I’ve seen is of Herve Filion talking about the races as he is driving in them. This video was shot back in 1988. Now 30 years later, surely technology has improved to the point where we can have audio and video from the drivers in action, live. Or at least take the footage and use it to create commercials for the sport for various mediums to attract a wider audience.

It seems to me that we just need to try something different. I love harness racing, so it is easy to convince me to watch a race. The sooner we realize that just because we have racing on TV doesn’t mean that people are going to watch it, the better chance we’ll have at moving forward as an industry.

Odds and ends…

I sure hope The Meadowlands names a race in honor of Sam McKee. After some thought on this end, the U.S. Pacing Championship seems like a perfect fit to become the Sam McKee Memorial. It is a race on the biggest day in the sport (Hambletonian Day), with the fastest pacers in the sport, for a man who announced the fastest race in the history of the sport. Works for my logic.

I wasn’t at all surprised to see Darlinonthebeach and Pure Country on the list of eligibles to the Graduate series for 4-year-olds this year. With Betting Line retired to stud duty and no other standouts from 2016 on colt side, it seems like a very smart decision.

What did surprise me a bit is Pure Country also being nominated to the U.S. Pacing Championship and William Haughton Memorial. It is one thing for a 4-year-old filly to beat her male peers but another to expect a win versus Wiggle It Jiggleit and older foes. Though, to my points above, wouldn’t it make for a nice story to put together a segment on?

If you haven’t tried out the new harness racing game for Apple or Android products, you’re missing out. Off And Pacing allows users to breed horses, manage their own stable and watch them race. The game is still in beta mode but should be launched in the coming weeks. You can get in on the action by emailing Ryan@thefarmventures.com or finding them on Twitter @AndPacing. I’ll have much more on the game as it nears an official launch.