Horse Racing Improves Ways to Attract Fans

Melissa Bauer-Herzog@mbauerherzogCorrespondent IAugust 22, 2012

Horse Racing Improves Ways to Attract Fans

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    In a world that gives the casual sports fan many different options on what to watch every week, horse racing is putting in extra effort to make a successful comeback. Over the past few years, racing has moved into the new age by embracing social media and finding new ways to bring fans into the sport in innovative ways.

    But what exactly is racing doing to attract a new crowd to an unpopular sport? Let’s take a look.

Racing 101

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    The New York Racing Association and fan development group, America’s Best Racing, are currently providing an education experience for fans at Saratoga Race Course to educate fans on wagering. Named “Racing 101”, the program gives fans a hands-on tutorial on how to bet on the horses from professional handicappers.

    The program doesn’t only provide lessons in a closed environment, they accompany fans to the paddock to show what fans should look for in real horses when betting, and take them to the window to help them place bets.

    Another feature to this is the availability of jockeys and trainers to fans that want to ask questions of those in the industry.

Fan Poll

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    The weekly NTRA Thoroughbred Poll is officially voted on by the media to show who they think are the best 10 horses every week. As the Eclipse Awards are voted on by the media, this gives fans a chance to see who is in the forefront of the voters' minds every week.

    However, fans can now have a voice in a poll on their top horses as well. The Fan Poll gives fans a chance to vote on the media’s top 25 horses and see where they line up with the press. The Poll also allows the voter to see what other fans are thinking.

    At this time, the fan vote does not count for the official poll but it is a chance for fans to let their opinion be known to the horse racing public.

Television Coverage

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    In the past few years, the Jockey Club has worked on improving television coverage for the sport. In addition to having racing channels such as TVG and HRTV, main markets such as NBC and ABC have taken a front seat in major racing coverage as well.

    But to make this coverage even better for fans, the sport worked with different producers for feedback on how to improve in the coming years.

    “Under their guidance, we produced a four week Road to the Kentucky Derby this year through the NBC Sports Group that garnered 1.6 million viewers,” Vice President of Business Development Jason Wilson said. “We chose our races wisely as they accounted for 60% of the Kentucky Derby field, and eight of the top nine finishers. As a result, mainstream viewers were already introduced to the most promising 3-year-olds prior to their big day, and televising the prep races set the stage for a successful Triple Crown series.”

    The television coverage is not only based around the Triple Crown, as other big races are also getting their chance on mainstream channels such as the Saratoga Summer series, which the NBC Sports Network is featuring this summer.

Social Media

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    For the avid fans of social media out there, horse racing has come to a town near you.

    From the racing media, to trainers to farms and owners, the last internet craze has been embraced by the industry.

    Even better, fans can get responses back from these personalities when they tweet or Facebook them and, at times, have an influence on what is going on.

    Tracks have also gotten in on the fun as Portland Meadows recently had a contest where fans had to Instagram pictures of horses the track placed around town. It was also announced on August 21 that Saratoga would be having a "Social Media" day on August 26 as well, with prizes for those that use the sites for racing.

    The overall social media movement isn’t really an organized move, as much as the industry wanting to be connected to their fans. But it may be the most powerful movement out there, as fans now know that they can interact with the superstars of the sport in a casual setting.

Kentucky Derby Point System

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    While this move has been very controversial, the Kentucky Derby has made strides to make the Triple Crown Trail more fan friendly.  The previous system that allowed three-year-olds into the Kentucky Derby by graded stakes earnings has been changed to a point system with 36 races giving horses a chance at a Derby spot.

    The point system allows fans to easily find out which races count towards the Kentucky Derby, so they can tune in to the races that will make an impact on the Derby field.  

    In addition to making the schedule easy to follow, the new system also allows fans to have a better look at the horses in a more competitive arena, as they will be forced to face each other before the race.