Contrary to what the attention of many sports fans focuses on, horse racing is much more than just the Kentucky Derby. Before the 20 horses step into the gate for the “most exciting two minutes in sports,” weeks of drama have unfolded in Thoroughbred racing for the owners, trainers, riders, and fans.
The Jockey Club and NTRA are campaigning a joint effort to bring America’s Best Racing to the fore front on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown in spring, along with the build-up to Thoroughbred racing’s two-day Breeders’ Cup championships in the fall.
Beginning with a television series broadcast by the NBC Sports Network over four Saturday’s leading up to the Kentucky Derby, this integrated initiative is designed to attract the next generation of horse racing fans with much of the marketing and promotion occurring via digital platforms.
Dating back to 1665, horse racing has a rich tradition in the United States that brings emotion and excitement that is at least on par with the games that dominate today’s headlines.
With American sports fans currently entrenched in the annual hoopla surrounding the March Madness of the NCAA basketball tournament, America’s Best Racing is looking to piggy back with the Twitter hash tag campaign #TheOtherMadness, where fans can create their own videos highlighting the madness of watching a big race, seeing their horse win, cashing a wager, etc.
It's a call to action for horse racing fans to engage in the effort and to help promote and market the sport they love to new fans.
“Social media is a big part of our strategy,” Jockey Club vice president of business development Jason Wilson told me in an interview. “Nascar and hockey have turbo-charged their marketing efforts via social media and it’s going to be very prevalent on our website, broadcasts, and games.”
These efforts are the results of a study conducted last year by McKinsey & Company to provide actionable items for an industry at a crossroads.
“We looked at where the industry is now and where it would be in 10 years if we didn’t do anything. We needed to improve our situation and turn around the 4% annual attrition rate of our fans into growth,” said Wilson, who owns degrees from Princeton, Columbia and UCLA.
Created in 1894, The Jockey Club has primarily served as the nation’s horse registry, while generating its funding by owning software companies; in partnership with the Thoroughbred Racing Associations of North America, The Jockey Club also owns Equibase, the Thoroughbred industry’s official database.
“Our board members took the recommendations and put money behind these initiatives,” said Wilson. “This puts us into a whole new business of helping to market the sport on a national basis.”
The initiative also implements a scheduling tool for tracks to coordinate start times, a website that serves as a central resource for horse owners, a free-to-play social media game entitled Major League Racing, concepts for television shows on A&E and Travel Channel, and continuing incentives and funding for other disciplines to use retired thoroughbreds in their activities.
“Having a national communications strategy that puts us into main stream media doesn’t work well at the track level, but we can elevate it by working with the tracks and perform that function over a broader network,” said Wilson.
Most racing jurisdictions around the world are governed from top to bottom by their Jockey Club, but American racing faces a different environment due to a fragmented industry with regulations differing in every state.
“Our focus is on things we can do on our own first,” said Wilson. “We can then provide broad-stroke guidance as to what the industry should be thinking about in regards to best practices in other areas, such as medication and wagering.”
As part of the re-launch of the NTRA website to www.followhorseracing.com, America’s Best Racing is conducting a sweepstakes contest for an “Ultimate Racing Weekend,” which includes a VIP Trip for 8 to the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park in November along with a $5,000 wagering voucher.
ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY COVERAGE (All Times ET)
Saturday, March 24, 2012, 5-6 p.m. (NBC Sports Network) - Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes and Bourbonette Oaks (Turfway Park)
Saturday, March 31, 2012, 5-6 p.m. (NBC Sports Network) - Florida Derby and Gulfstream Oaks (Gulfstream Park)
Saturday, April 7, 2012, 4:30-6 p.m. (NBC) - Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial (Aqueduct Racetrack) and Santa Anita Derby (Santa Anita Park)
Saturday, April 14, 2012, 6-7 p.m. ET (CNBC) - Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (Keeneland) and Arkansas Derby (Oaklawn Park)
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