01/30/2014 2:50PM

Guest commentary: Jockey Club Tour on Fox bringing racing to mainstream


By Jason Wilson

“Create a televised series of racing, with innovative production and a rooting interest.”

Those 13 words constituted the first of nine recommendations issued by the management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. when it completed a comprehensive economic study of Thoroughbred racing for The Jockey Club in the summer of 2011.

The McKinsey team noted that television historically played an important role in the development of new racing fans and that getting more Thoroughbred racing on TV could raise awareness, generate fan engagement, and improve perception of the sport.

There were other recommendations in “Driving Sustainable Growth for Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding,” but television is the most visible of our initiatives.

In 2012 and 2013, The Jockey Club underwrote the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, featuring 3-year-olds on the Triple Crown trail, which aired on NBC and NBC Sports Network.

In 2014, we will be funding The Jockey Club Tour on Fox. It starts next Sunday with the $500,000 Donn Handicap (5-6:30 p.m. Eastern), the first major race of the year for older racehorses, and continues with eight other telecasts featuring several of North America’s most prestigious races for older horses as well as the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

All telecasts will air on Fox Sports 1.

For those unfamiliar with the new network, Fox Sports 1 is a multi-sport channel that launched last August in approximately 90 million homes and boasts nearly 5,000 hours of live events, news, and original programming annually.

We are confident this series will meet the objectives of raising awareness, generating fan engagement, and improving perception of the sport, and we are using many tools to ensure its success.

One of them is the America’s Best Racing promotional bus tour, which will once again visit some of racing’s key events and invite influential people in those communities to experience a day of racing. Our six brand ambassadors will be strategically based in four major regions, promoting the sport throughout the year, with special emphasis around those events that are nationally televised.

The telecasts will be heavily promoted on the America’s Best Racing and Fox Sports platforms.

Like other professional sports, we strive to make our events available on as many high-profile networks as possible, and in that vein, we have been collaborating with other racing organizations and several racetracks as they develop their televised racing series concepts.

With a keen understanding that established network schedules often dictate availability for new programming, we are immensely grateful to each of our track partners for their enthusiastic cooperation in making their races available in the Fox series. They have sometimes amended race times and dates in an effort to try something new, and they should be commended for doing so.

Some have questioned or criticized the makeup of the series – for instance, the inclusion of the Blue Grass Stakes or the Saratoga Special Stakes, neither of which are races for older horses – but that misses the point.

The real goal here, and with all that we are doing with respect to our marketing and promotional efforts, is to ensure that racing stays engaged with the mainstream. With the continued cooperation of racetracks, horsemen, and media companies, and any other organizations that have a vested interest in revitalizing our sport, we can achieve that goal.

The nine telecasts will focus on major racing events at each of the tracks. The production will entail a fast-paced mix of behind-the-scenes features, gambling insights, and pageantry surrounding the event, and we aim to appeal to both newcomers and longtime fans of Thoroughbred racing.

The Jockey Club Tour on Fox represents the next step in an evolution that will see more racing on national television and the creation of a more permanent presentation of the sport to a mainstream audience. The arrangement with Fox is a multi-year deal, and we will continue to explore the addition of other races in future years.

If we are to reverse the negative trends cited in the McKinsey study, we certainly need a steady national television presence for our sport.
We hope you will watch the entire series and encourage others to do the same.

Fox Sports 1 series
Feb. 9: Donn Handicap, Gulfstream Park, 5-6:30 p.m.
March 29: Dubai World Cup, Meydan, 1-2:30 p.m.
April 12: Blue Grass Stakes, Keeneland, 4:30-6 p.m.
May 11: Man o’ War Stakes, Belmont Park, 4:30-6 p.m.
July 6: United Nations Stakes, Monmouth Park, 5-6:30 p.m.
July 20: Eddie Read Stakes, Del Mar; Coaching Club American Oaks, Saratoga; 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Aug. 10: Saratoga Special, Saratoga, 5-6:30 p.m.
Aug. 17: Sword Dancer, Saratoga, 5-6:30 p.m.
Sept. 14: Woodbine Mile, Woodbine, 5-6:30 p.m.
(all times Eastern)

Jason Wilson is the vice president of business development for The Jockey Club and oversees the organization’s wide array of new fan development initiatives, including television strategy and programming.

scootbabe More than 1 year ago
If racing is dying how come 15000 to 30,000 people show up at del mar during the 7 weeks that they race? They charge 9 dollar beers and 10 dollar admissions. Oh yea 8-20 bucks to park as well. They seem to be able to operate on what they make in 7 weeks for a whole year. They dont ever rent out the grandstand or the track. So how can this be? They have history just like all the great tracks.... So what is it??? because they have captured not only the old, but the youth. you walk around and you see a ton of young people. Good looking people all around tend to make the scummy people wash away. Plus people in southern california have pretty nice bankrolls to spend. Del mar has made racing a novelty and a treat to go. Maybe its the location, but the same horses race at santa anita and hollywood whom race at del mar. Get more of this on TV in HD and on commercials, and maybe other tracks will follow. People always want to try to go somewhere that they feel is exclusive and hip. Not somewhere that is dingy and dirty (aqueduct, hawthorne, calder, fair grounds, santa anita, golden gate, belmont, saratoga to name a few). Other Places like Arlington, canterbury, gulfstream, lone star, keeneland, all beautiful facilities and never truly have issues with fan support and daily crowds.
mikey More than 1 year ago
HERE WE GO AGAIN!........ take a clue from the Japanese. 1. Breed great thoroughbreds that show their world class abllity by being competitive in their triple crown races. 2. After competing and/or winning their triple crown races, they still raced past their 3 year old season where these great thoroughbreds attract more fans and are in their mainstream headlines. 3. To generate national fever, they send their horses all over the world to compete in the world's most prestigious races. Arc, Melbourne Cup, Dubai World, Hongkong etc etc Talk about generating interest and publicity. No one wants to admit it but Japan is breeding the best thoroughbreds in the world as a group. Their last HOTY is a great sprinter yet they concentrate their breeding for their triple crown and the classic distances. That is what we use to do. Breed for our triple crown and produced the world's greatest thoroughbred. Now it's just sprinters and milers. that barely race and 9 panels is max Our industry is fast circling. No it will probably never die but it will be less than a niche sport because we gotten away what this industry is all about. Showcasing great thoroughbreds.
Lenny Mamola More than 1 year ago
It is part of the answer..Anything you do helps to some degree..But remember this is a small audience network...Get back on the front page of the sports section newspapers...Get some Movie Stars to attend the races on a weekend and advertise the hell out of it...and let them be available to the public with prices for a Hot Dog and beer 50 cents or so >> Be innovative on pricing not greedy when you see attendance drop from 80,000 Saturdays to maybe 8000 today whats not to see your going backwards...One of the best things you can do is set up handicapping stands and give the newbies some insight of how to read the racing form...do it every race with good handicappers...Get festival days going make it a carnival of ideas to get people to come to the track again the excitment is still there but the education and publicity are gone..how about giving every person a free $2.00 bet with admission on a particular day (Might Work)..just an idea but there are alot of Ideas to be had you need to implement them you could hold a Justin Beiber concert... ( or somebody ......... there are a lot of high class owners and trainers that know people get in touch with them and have that concert)... concert thru out the day or space it thru out the day to keep everyone there and have good admission prices not $50-100 a ticket Keep it cheap this is not a concert to make Money it's to get the people to the track again.. let some of the entertainers that love racing help out .... you have the seating for it now as the stands are empty and then people have a 2 for one show....I am talking Southern Cal Santa Anita the showcase of american racing...THINK !!!!
Ian King More than 1 year ago
We're missing some of the key summer boutique races showcasing a picnic (basket) like atmosphere akin to tailgating, where family and friends play the ponies simply having fun. We also need to go back to ESPN have them create a show for Chris Lincoln targeting the same audience which wager on sports like football. Maybe we should feature the NHC in a similar manner to poker contest, they will realize there is serious money at stake here. We should also consider celebrity competitions bringing together sports, entertainment and public figures who own race horses, that way we may recruit some new players.
Jon Shonk More than 1 year ago
These races will be worth watching in HD if and only if they do not switch camera angles every three seconds. It is impossible to follow all the horses with this format. Use a split screen like simulcast feeds do and save the different camera angles for the post-race show.
Eddie More than 1 year ago
Having worked in satellite wagering for well over a decade and having gone "To the Track" for well over half a century has given me a unique perspective on the industry. 1) The power brokers in racing have lost touch and ignored the average Joe who has been supporting the game for years. 2) Horses retire too early and the public have not had a true champion to embrace in years. 3) Its too damn expensive to attend live meets. The grandstands are cavernous and many run down. It truly has become The Sport of Kings because one needs to be a king to afford it..............I'll stick to playing my pick sixes and watching online. If only someone who has some influence could get those races I watch online transmitted in High Definition, I'd be a happy camper!
mikey More than 1 year ago
I am in the same boat.Race tracks have beaten up the fans for years.Now that they have left they wonder where they are.They have plucked the golden goose for years.We need heros not 1 year wonders.Great post.
mikey More than 1 year ago
Showing races on tv is not the answer.Regular race fans can watch all they want on line.Race tracks need to do away with high food prices pay to get in and for a program or form.A lot of tracks let you in free but most still charge for parking.Bet 40$$ at a track and get nothing bet the same at a casino and get free drinks and maybe some food.With all the betting on line who needs to go to the track.The 20-30 group are playing poker where 40 bucks can get you into a tourney.I have played this game for over 50 years and have no answer of how to get new players.At the NTRA the average age of the players had to be 50-60 or more.At this rate racing has maybe 15 years before they hit a big big wall.Hope someone has a good idea.Races on t.v. is not the way.
Robert Cohen More than 1 year ago
This show completely misses the mark. Racing on television is already available if people want to seek it. On FS1 the only viewers will be those that are again actively seeking it. We need to put new eyeballs on racing and make it appeal to a wider audience. This is something that the show Horseplayers on Esq also fails at. You don't bring new blood into this game by focussing on the gambling aspect alone. My opinion is that show is again a poor representation to new fans as it consistently uses terminology that newbies just cannot understand or relate to. The key is relateable programming with relateable and engaging human beings with personality leading the way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jason, it's sort of a good start, sort of not. The Jockey Club can't do it alone. The optimal way to do this would be to make this a regular program, every Saturday at a regular time. If people knew that they could tune in EVERY Saturday from 4-5 to watch the "Race of the Week" then you could get a regular audience. But that would require cooperation from the tracks, who for the most part, don't seem to care. On this schedule there are 3, 4, 6 week breaks. How will casual fans keep up? I'll be watching, because I love horse racing in HD, but I fear the casual fan will not.
jim More than 1 year ago
Any addition to racing coverage in HD is worthwhile. Agree that a "race of the week" format would be ideal. Many years ago the race of the week was must see TV for me. I remember telling a young lady that I wished to date that she should watch the race on Saturday as I was giving her a free wager on a horse called Bee Bee Bee. This was a stake that he won prior to the his Preakness victory and he paid $42. She became a fun date for the entire Summer and a racing fan for life. JIMPEREGOY
Ian King More than 1 year ago
I do agree, thought the same, we need regularity or it will be watch randomly. The industry need a weekly program similar to what ESPN and Chris Lincoln once delivered. But a revise version in feature racing schedule time, they could also seek to have ESPN show weekend stakes, similar to other sporting highlights. It takes only a few seconds from the 1/4 pole to the wire, clips like thoroughbred digest, seemingly reserve for races like the Kentucky derby.