01/30/2014 1:50PM

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

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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.