Friday, March 7, 2008

Where Oh Where

Here we go again! Another big weekend in racing especially for KY. Derby preps. Once again fans are left scrambling to find a way to see them. We can meticulously plan the day to be near an off track facility as post time nears, or we can spend all day there! However, to many fans off-track facilities are not available. Most of us have other obligations, familial and otherwise that preclude such time consuming maneuvers. The industry continues to show short sightedness and neglect for its fans. Many of us subscribe to TVG or HRTV. The lucky ones get both. I always wondered why the signals cost a subscriber one dime? TVG and HRTV want you to watch their signal otherwise you wouldn't wager through their service. So why the fee? Because the cable provider has determined that it has to be packaged with other channels that have a cost? It would seem that these networks should be packaged with the most basic of services. Everyone should ask this question of their provider. I will contact both networks to find out if they charge a price for their signal to a cable provider and post the answer in the future. Regardless, for most of us there is little or no choice. Perhaps ESPN, ABC or NBC will carry a race that may supplement one's available network. But, this can also be a rub to those whose network is superseded by these 'major networks' because they can not watch the race live on their preferred outlet. The powers that be haven't figured out that fans just want to see the races! Listening to the insight of those who have spent their life in the game can be both interesting and informative, in moderation. But, to a non-fan all the talk is off putting. Yet, on the major networks we are continually subjected to pontification to the point of mummification.

These gadflies hurt the industry because they frustrate the fan and put off the would-be fan. The races are the energy and allure. Let's face it, horse racing is not something someone will just put on and watch if they haven't had some contact with the game. In my experience it is those of us who love the game that try to bring it to others. But, with the common perception of the horse racing fan as a degenerate gambler, just try to get a friend to go to an OTB to watch a race or two. If one wasn't seriously interested in racing it couldn't be found on TV. In NY we have Fox NY that shows the replay of the NY circuit at the end of the day and a recap show once a week, but you have to know where and when to look. The racing entities are so concerned that they would lose a dollar to a competitor that they would rather lose fans than nurture new ones. Whether it be NYRA, Magna, Churchill or a betting service they would rather deny us the product than risk losing a dime.

I can enumerate a million pet peeves about how our great sport is being marginalized but my point is this: if a fan as passionate as I am about racing has to jump hurdles just to watch the best races how can we attract new fans? Here are my suggestions: 1) Make the races available! This means make the signals available as they were in Kentucky ( when I worked there) on basic systems. 2) Promote the sport- and not just in trade publications, but where everyone may see an add and get curious. 3) Don't worry so much about the betting dollar because without fans there will be none and with the shortsightedness of the industry that is a real possibility for the future. Couple that mindset with government's idea that VLT's can produce as much with much less of an investment and disaster looms (blog to come). One of the problems with racing is that the powers that be don't care about a fan unless they wager. The truth is this: even the most hardcore fans don't always watch because they wager, we just love the racing!

Follow these simple suggestions and this is what will happen: Racing fans will get to see the races they want to see. The promotion, exposure and long time fans will work as a lobby to baptize many new fans. Even if not all of those new fans spend dollars - and not everyone needs to wager to enjoy - it will still be better promotion for the industry. And here's how I see the promotion working: "Watch the most exciting two hours in sports this weekend! Three o'clock to five (EST) on RTV (Racing television). And this is how this weekend will unfold. Race fans everywhere, eager to watch, will have family and friends over. They will enjoy a day of visiting, food and drink. At 3 o'clock they turn on RTV. They do their own pontificating about their beliefs. This true passion eventually ignites a passion in at least one friend or family member and then... the racing ! At 3:06 The New Orleans Handicap ;3:36 the Mervin Muniz ; 4:21 The Toboggan ; 4:48 The Louisiana Derby, and delayed one minute The Gotham Stakes at 4:51. Of course in a perfect world the industry would work together to insure the race times would work out more uniformly through the two hours. California may have to start a bit earlier and/or the Eastern tracks a bit later but then we could fit in The Richter Scale, The Santa Anita Oaks and get to see if Coast Guard is the real deal in the El Camino! But they are so worried that if a big race is carded early no one will watch or perhaps more correctly, wager on, any of the other races. We can't watch them anyway, they are no where to be found! Isn't it reasonable to assume that the excitement of a championship race would be enough to create interest? Have they no faith in the product? Do they really think that if the Whitney or The Florida Derby was the third race on a card everyone would leave after that? Has racing become a game marketed solely to bettors? What happens when they are gone? I prefer to think of what could and should be. Two full hours of almost non-stop great racing! Racing is more suited to creating these big days more often than any other sport. How better to promote a sport? WOW! What a ride!

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