12/08/2011 3:29PM

Jockey Club plans to launch sport-boosting programs in coming year


TUCSON, Ariz. – The Jockey Club expects to launch several of the initiatives in its five-year, $10 million project to attempt to reverse significant declines in racing’s popularity by early next year. The efforts will include a free-to-play handicapping site and social-network game, the organization’s vice president of business development, Jason Wilson, said on Thursday morning at the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing and Gaming.

The free-to-play handicapping site and social-network game should be available by February and April, respectively, Wilson said, amid the Jockey Club’s already-announced investment to fund the national-television broadcast of major prep races for the Triple Crown. All three initiatives were identified in a report commissioned by the Jockey Club earlier this year from McKinsey and Company as tactics the sport could use to make itself more relevant in the highly competitive market for the entertainment dollar.

In addition, the Jockey Club will also launch a website in the first quarter of 2012 called “Ownerview” that will consolidate information about owning racehorses, in response to survey results in the report in which both current and potential owners complained that they had a difficult time locating facts and advice about the business.

The report, which was unveiled at the Jockey Club’s Round Table on Matters Pertaining to Racing in August, painted a bleak picture for the future of Thoroughbred racing, citing downward trends in handle and interest in the sport. The report’s authors said that racing will continue to suffer from reduced interest unless the sport embraces a broader set of strategies to make itself more available to sports fans in general.

Wilson said that the Jockey Club’s investment in the initiatives should be viewed as a “long-term strategy” that may not pay immediate dividends, and he said that it would be “overly simplistic to boil it down to new television.” Of all the initiatives, the Jockey Club’s investment in the television programs is the most costly.

Also in the first quarter of 2012, the Jockey Club expects to launch modifications to its software for racing secretaries that will allow racetracks to avoid overlaps with other high-profile races such as graded stakes. The report said that handle on races is negatively affectted by current scheduling trends in which racetracks frequently run graded stakes within minutes of each other, limiting the amount of attention that horseplayers can devote to handicapping and betting the races.