The horse racing industry may have seen better days, but its biggest days are still huge events in the United States. The Kentucky Derby and the other Triple Crown races attract both massive crowds and huge television audiences, turning them into national events. Other major race days like the Breeders Cup are also subject to national television coverage.
But if you watch these races, you’ll only get a limited look at the driving force behind them. Horse racing exists primarily because there are crowds willing to bet on the races, of course, and even broadcast networks don’t ignore this entirely. Watch the coverage of any race, and you’ll get the basic odds on each horse winning the race, and there may even be mentions of the payouts after the race ends. But you won’t hear anything about the complex bets offered to gamblers at the track, or how one would go about making those bets.
Betting on a Niche Market
Fox Sports 1 is seeking to change that. The brand new cable sports network – launched by the FOX Sports Media Group as a potential challenger to ESPN – has announced that they’ve signed a multi-year deal with The Jockey Club to air several graded stakes races each year, starting in 2014. That will mean up to ten racing broadcasts each year, broadcasts that The Jockey Club hopes will introduce casual race fans to wagering on the sport.
“Our partnership with The Jockey Club highlights the elements that make horse racing fun: the power and grace of the Thoroughbred, the challenging puzzle of handicapping, and the social aspect of a day at the races,” said FOX Sports executive vice-president of production and executive producer John Entz.
The move seems to be a reaction to the decline in betting at tracks and off-track sites throughout the United States. Many industry experts believe that the complexity of horse racing – particularly when compared to lotteries and other casual betting options – has been keeping potential punters away.
Handicapping for Viewers
But Fox Sports 1 is apparently planning to make the intricate analysis that goes into handicapping a race a part of their coverage.
“We’re orienting our broadcasts not for people with no familiarity with the sport, but for people who have some understanding and appreciation of it, to draw them deeper into it,” said Mike Mulvihill, FOX Sports Media Group’s senior vice-president of programming and research. “We’re going to balance entertainment and education, teaching people the finer points of the game and how to handicap.”
There’s still at least six months before the first broadcasts, so there are no details on exactly what this will mean. However, Mulvihill said that he also anticipates the broadcasts will talk more about the past performances of horses to give viewers a little more insight into how that information translates into handicapping a race.
Other issues need more research to ensure they don’t violate any laws. For instance, Fox Sports 1 may be able to talk more about how viewers at home can place legal bets on the races they are showing – but exactly how much they can say is still up for debate.
The first broadcast in the new series will take place on Sunday, February 9, 2014 with coverage of Grade 1 races from Gulfstream Park in Florida.