Updated on 03/08/2012 2:31PM

Jockey Club to launch promotional website

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The Jockey Club plans to launch a website on Sunday that will serve as a promotional tool for racing and eventually incorporate fan-oriented information from a site operated by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, officials for the organizations said on Thursday.

At its Sunday launch, the website, followhorseracing.com, will feature a promotional video, a schedule of upcoming horseracing television broadcasts, and a sweepstakes contest. Then, on April 4, the site will be upgraded to include a variety of editorial content and horseracing data, including leaderboards. Beginning on that date, visitors to the NTRA’s site, NTRA.com, will be redirected to followhorseracing.com , the officials said.

The launch of the website is part of a five-year, $10 million effort by the Jockey Club to implement the recommendations of a report the organization commissioned from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company last year. Among a handful of other recommendations, the report said that racing should enhance its online presence and launch marketing initiatives tied to social networks and free-to-play games that would teach prospective fans how to handicap. The launch was announced as part of a progress report released Thursday by the Jockey Club.

Jason Wilson, the Jockey Club’s vice president of business development, said on Thursday that the organization decided to launch the new site after a review of NTRA.com was conducted last year. The NTRA site serves as one of horseracing’s top portals for racing fans, but it also contains a large amount of other information about industry issues and the NTRA’s programs that “muddled” the sport’s fan outreach efforts, Wilson said.

“It’s got a lot going on, and it’s trying to appeal to a lot of different constituencies,” said Wilson. “It serves a lot of masters, and in doing so, a lot of the message to racing fans wasn’t focused.”

Wilson said that the new site will seek to collaborate with racetracks in promoting racing and engaging customers. The Jockey Club co-owns a racing data company, Equibase, in partnership with a racetrack trade group, the Thoroughbred Racing Associations.

The NTRA.com site will continue to operate, but it will no longer be expected to take a leading role in providing information to racing fans, officials said. 

Keith Chamblin, the NTRA’s senior vice president of marketing and industry relations, said the NTRA recognized that the industry needed a “one-stop shop” in its effort to retain and create fans and that the NTRA supported the launch of the new site.

“It’s not enough to be the number one horseracing site,” Chamblin said. “It we really want to make a difference, if we want to move the needle, we have to have one of the most popular sports sites, period. Hopefully [the new Jockey Club] site will be more engaging to fans and will allow a broader number of racetracks and racing groups to participate in that mission.”

The website launch points to a further diminishment of the role played by the NTRA in marketing racing. Formed in the late 1990s, the NTRA was envisioned to be a type of league office for racing that would coordinate national marketing initiatives, but its funding and power have gradually eroded. Chamblin said that the organization will continue to serve as racing’s federal lobbying arm and that its current programs, such as the Safety and Integrity Alliance and its coordination and promotion of the National Handicapping Championship, would not be affected.  

The progress report released Thursday said that the new promotional effort will be closely tied to the Jockey Club’s funding this spring of television broadcasts of prep races to the Triple Crown. Late last year, the Jockey Club reached an agreement with NBC to broadcast six Triple Crown prep races on the network’s family of channels. NBC has the television rights to the three races of the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup.

The progress report said that a “soft launch” of the free-to-play website would take place in the middle of March. In addition, “prominent personalities are being engaged to compete in a celebrity league” for the free-to-play site, the report said.

The social-network game is expected to launch in May, the progress report said. The game is being developed by Lloyd Melnick, the executive producer of a Facebook game called “Gardens of Time,” the Jockey Club said.