The realities of the Covid 19 crisis makes it pretty challenging to find anything resembling a bright side these days, but one has started to emerge for the horse racing industry.
Horse racing has become the only game in town for those looking for live sports action, albeit in limited fashion. While numerous tracks have postponed or cancelled events for the time being, a handful are still running without fans in attendance.
Those looking for a diversion are catching onto that. Kip Levin, president of FanDuel and CEO of TVG Network Betfair US, noted in recent comments, courtesy of BloodHorse, that live horse racing action is attracting eyeballs to the screen.
“Horse racing has become the only live sport in the U.S. I don’t have exact figures, but our ratings are up substantially. We’re simulcasting on NBC Sports Network in a partnership with NBC … TVG is carried in 45 million homes, NBC Sports is north of 80 million homes,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity for horse racing but not under the ideal circumstances we want. However, it is one where people are paying attention to racing that otherwise wouldn’t be paying attention to racing.”
NBC is the broadcast home for the major horse racing events such as the Kentucky Derby, which has been pushed back to September due to the pandemic response. In the absence of other live sports programming to fill the menu, NBCSN is turning to horse racing action.
TVG has a very loyal following among devout racing fans, but the current climate means they’re reaching an audience which may only tune in for the Triple Crown races. As Levin notes, TVG is adjusting its approach to broadcasting as a result.
“We are changing the way we talk about the sport, knowing that all of a sudden we have sports fans, that otherwise would probably be watching college basketball, who are watching horse racing for the first time. We are under the assumption our viewers are knowledgeable horse racing fans,” he added. “One of the things we’ve done really well is changing our tone to talk to more beginners. You are hearing talent talk in more analogies to other sports that people might be more familiar with.”
Naturally, many of those who are tuning in are also interested in betting in general and in search of an outlet in the absence of other sporting events. Levin notes that plenty of bets are coming in on the tracks that are still running, but overall volume is still taking a hit due to the lack of operating venues at the present time.
“It looks like about half of the new customers are coming in from retail, so they would have otherwise been at the track or a simulcast facility, or an OTB; the other half are people who would have likely been betting on sports,” Levin said. “The growth in the online business is not replacing the handle that has been lost across the spectrum, but I think when the world comes back to normal there is the potential that we have used this period of time to create some new horse racing fans that normally wouldn’t have been there.”
Among the tracks still running and attracting new fans is Fonner Park, a track in Nebraska which typically flies under the radar. That’s not the case at the moment, as the track is setting records for onsite handle.
The forecast for the coming weeks in terms of live sports remains very unclear. While there’s optimism that things will begin returning to normal in a few weeks, we’ll have to take a wait and see approach to see what develops.
In the meantime, there’s live horse racing action to help fill the time, even if it is in only a limited fashion. If that translates into additional regular fans of the sport moving forward, then that would be quite the bonus.