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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Reports of my demise...

After reading his own obituary on June 2, 1897, Mark Twain uttered the famous quote, "Reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated." Over the past few days I have been mulling over the future of horse racing and where it stacks up against the mainstream sports and if there is any hope for it resurrecting itself in the near term. I had almost resolved myself (midsentence confession: after doing a google search for a Twain picture, I was pleasantly surprised by pictures of Shania popping up in back to our regularly scheduled sentence) to the fact that we are forever to be a tier two sport and that's that.

I was also thinking about the woeful ratings garnered by the most recent Breeders Cup reported by They're in the Gate and that they were dreadful in comparison with other "championships" in other sports. I did a little digging and was actually amazed at what I found. We're not all that bad when it comes to the Classics (especially the Kentucky Derby) when comparing television ratings to the other major sporting events. I obtained the overnight Nielsen ratings for several events that we all know and follow and compared them to the Triple Crown races and the BC. Here's a sampling of the results:

A couple of notable items stuck out above. This year's Belmont obviously had a Triple Crown at stake, thus the increased ratings over Rags to Riches 2007 victory over Curlin. The last Belmont Stakes with a TC possibility (Smarty Jones - 2004) had a 13.1 rating, so the ratings, were somewhat unfavorable compared to that year.

Regardless, the KD and Belmont obtained higher ratings than this year's final round of the Masters (which included Tiger Woods), the French Open Final (which featured Nadal/Federer), count 'em 3 BCS January 08 Bowl games (Orange, Fiesta and Sugar), the 2007 NBA Finals (on average) and the 2008 Final Four Saturday (average of the two semifinal games). That's quite impressive in my book. The Derby ended up behind the Daytona 500 (NASCAR's premiere event), but the Belmont topped it.

Of course, one can hypothesize that interest in horse racing wanes dramatically after the Triple Crown (based on the Breeders Cup numbers), but all the same, racing's majors rank right up there with some pretty big events. What is somewhat odd to me is the lower ratings generated by the Preakness, especially since we had a pretty big name in Big Brown who decimated the Derby field from post 20, as quite a compelling storyline. I still say if they spread out the races to generate more hype, ratings would also increase.

The other thing that drives popularity and ratings is the star factor. Golf, hockey, tennis, etc. all have athletes that compete year in and year out. Racing is faced with only a handful that come back after their 3yo campaigns to race as an older horse (many are geldings). This leads to less of a chance for the star factor. It's definitely important. Tiger drives golf ratings. His absence since the US Open has had a tremendous downward impact on PGA ratings. The final round of The Tour Championship (1.8) in September was down 45% from a 3.3 for last year's event, which Tiger Woods won. I will bet dollars to donuts that if Brown had run in the Classic, the numbers would have improved greatly as he was the drawing card this year, but unfortunately we'll never know.

So, it's not as bad as we may think it is. There's always hope....


Keith - Triple Dead Heat said...

Nice work digging up the's nice to be able to put our sport in perspective.

I'm a little sensitive that horse racing seems to be part of the "fringe" athletics in North America...but at least we know that with the right horse/race the audience is still there. It's just frustrating that the audience needs incentive to watch/come out and play.

As a side note - I watched our Bills throw away a perfectly winnable game. Are they playing for 2009 and getting Edwards some valuable experience? Or have they just left him as starter for too long?

I can't tell anymore.

EquiSpace said...

Keith: Thanks, I was thinking the same thing regarding second tier "fringe" television.

Regarding the much time do you have....Edwards was basically Belichecked...remember he's only a second year QB with less than 20 career starts. See you at the Toronto game??

SaratogaSpa said...

The K. Derby is king as far as ratings. It is a brand name and will garner the ratings no matter who is racing. The Breeders Cup, although big to serious fans, means little to casual fans-as the ratings reflect.

Agree with you on the Star Factor. Golf '08 is an example. The PGA ratings dove after Tiger went down. The NBA experienced a similiar dive after "Mike" (no last name needed) retired. Now with new fan friendly stars, ie Lebron James, etc, the rates are climbing.


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