By Paul Bergeron
Let the horse-betting app consolidation rumors begin. Sound the bugle that brings greater awareness- and perhaps popularity- to the Sport of Kings.
This week, FOX Sports and the New York Racing Association (NYRA) announced an expanded partnership agreement that establishes FOX Sports as the official wagering partner of NYRA Bets and a leading media provider for thoroughbred racing through the next decade.
The deal gives FOX Sports an option to acquire a 25% stake in NYRA Bets, a leading advance deposit wagering (ADW) platform launched in 2016 and available to customers in 30 states. The FOX Sports subsidiary will exercise this option by this summer, pending final regulatory approval.
The agreement guarantees more televised horse racing on FOX Sports – at least 700 hours of additional coverage from the New York-based Belmont and Saratoga race courses.
Long-time horse players and commentators recognize that such moves should lead to greater awareness and popularity in horse racing – outside of the most popular races each year such as the Triple Crown and Breeders Cup. It also invoked in them a bit of skepticism, as they hope the agreement plays out optimally.
Horse racing continues to battle within the exploding sports betting universe, which lately has flooded consumers with many more wagering opportunities and sports betting is approved in more and more states.
This heightened interest by networks also gives broadcasters a chance to expand the way they cover the sport. New fans and spikes in interest can lead to more money being bet on a single race, day or season.
“This merger can signal a growth with the industry – and it’s a growth that needs to happen,” said Sara Marie, a longtime horseplayer and co-host of “Triple Clowns,” a weekly show that airs on YouTube, iTunes and Spotify.
“The sport unfortunately struggles to get new fans. If FOX works with NYRA to increase exposure, that can only help the industry,” Marie said. “Yet, if proper moves are not taken, such as with marketing etc., then this merger will simply be just transactional.”
Marie said FOX and NYRA must use this merger to capitalize on a reach of programming and wagering and to get the sport in front of new fans.
“Wagering platforms are steadily becoming more available nationwide, and with FOX merging with NYRA Bets, this can help to maximize these bettors being exposed to wagering on horses. More exposure leads to increased handles.”
There is wonder if TVG and FOX Bet would merge (FOX Bet CEO Kip Levin could not be immediately reached for comment.)
Keep Those Sign-Up Promos Coming
A model that includes the partnership of horse racing, horse racing betting platforms and major broadcast media seems like a way to make horse racing profitable, said long-time, online horseplayer Mike Koblenz, Arlington, Va.
“So far, there hasn’t been much in the way of betting platform consolidation,” Koblenz said. “This is good for the player, because competition for horseplayers’ betting dollars keeps rewards and promotions being offered to players. But I doubt that it will take much time before they begin buying each other out, limiting choices to horseplayers.”
NYRA Bets’ Wagering Doubles
NYRA and FOX Sports began their collaboration during the first season of “Saratoga Live” during the 2016 summer meet at Saratoga Race Course. The show aired 80 hours of live coverage on FS2 and coincided with the national launch of NYRA Bets. Since then, total coverage has grown to more than 700 hours in 2020. The new deal extends through 2030.
The NYRA Bets wagering handle more than doubled in 2020 compared to 2019 – from $7.2 million in 2016 to over $225 million in 2020, according to a release. Wagering through national advanced deposit wagering (ADW) outlets increased 115 percent since 2016.
One primary complaint from fans watching races on TVG occurs when race tracks have similar post times, Marie said.
“TVG often transitions to races at the more popular tracks and televise their races live. Tracks, too, need to be flexible with their post times to help to ensure that races aren’t run simultaneously.”
Marie said another opportunity for these networks is bringing more entertainment options to the sport.
“Offer a horse racing news channel,” Marie said. “Do series’ such as ‘The Road to The Kentucky Derby’ and ‘The Road to the Breeders Cup.’ TVG recently aired a food episode related to horse racing with its host Todd Schrupp and it was great. He not only talked about the food around Keeneland Race Course, but he discussed the history and what it means for the sport.”
Koblenz suggested that FS1 broadcasts could have programs or segments where a handicapper explains their handicapping process.
FOX Sports became the national television home for NYRA’s Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course coverage in 2019. That same year, it began televising the Runhappy Travers to a national audience on the FOX broadcast network (FOX) for the first time in network history.
Following a successful presentation in 2019, the Travers returned to FOX in 2020. The new FOX Sports/NYRA agreement ensures that the Travers will air live on FOX through 2030. The agreement does not include the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival and the Belmont Stakes.