I don’t know the first thing about cars.
Prior to a halftime speech comparing our team to pistons in an engine, my JV football coach asked how many of us were “car guys.” I was the only one on the team that didn’t raise my hand.
Despite this lack of knowledge, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the recently concluded Barrett-Jackson classic car auction on the Speed Channel. With high-stakes drama, colorful characters, feel-good stories, fan interaction and prognosticators who were informative without getting too deep into the nuts and bolts, the broadcast managed to get me to care about a subject that I normally wouldn’t give a second look.
Of all the ways I have seen discussed to increase awareness to the sport of horse racing, I have seen very little mention of the sales ring. After a year where auctions were down across the board and the sport continued to struggle to find a television image and attract new fans, perhaps racing could pick up a thing or two from Barrett-Jackson.
What does Barrett-Jackson have that one of the big yearling or two-year-old sales at Keeneland, Saratoga or Ocala doesn’t?
Both have the kind of high-dollar drama that makes things normally enjoyable only to the players highly watchable (see: Poker). People love to watch others play with ridiculous amounts of money and decide who amongst themselves has the guts to spend the most. The kind of money Sheikh Mohammed, Michael Tabor and Ahmed Zayat blow at these things make the high bidders at Barrett-Jackson look like second-class citizens.
Just look at The Green Monkey. Even if he never did amount to anything, his record-breaking purchase would have made compelling television.
Because an auction wouldn’t be fun to watch if all we saw was the ring, the broadcast would need some feature segments. First, get someone who knows their stuff to single out some horses who look like they could go for a price; siblings and foals of big-name horses, first-croppers, horses with killer conformation, etc. Then, have that person bring the horse out before the sale and show the audience exactly why the entry should draw the high bids. Obviously, there would be profile pieces of high-profile, and otherwise interesting, consigners and buyers as well. Perhaps a “where are they now” of successful alumni would be fun, too.
Not to goad too much from the Barrett-Jackson production, but the fantasy bidding feature added a level of interactivity that made the broadcast even more enjoyable. Even though I did not participate in the contest to text or submit online my prediction for a specific lot in hopes of winning an HDTV, it was fun to guess how much the cars would go for with the others watching with me. Getting the viewers involved in the broadcast could help keep them from wandering to other channels if things get slow.
Some could argue that a big draw of the Barrett-Jackson auction is the sense of history surrounding the cars being offered. It is not hard to generate interest in a car when it was owned by JFK or driven in a NASCAR event. In comparison, the horses are relatively unknown commodities who come from similar backgrounds, look the same and have done little of note to separate themselves from the rest aside from having famous parents.
That is why this project would have to market toward the future. While the cars will probably spend the rest of their days collecting dust in museums, the horses offered in these sales will someday be your wiseguy pick in the Kentucky Derby, an Eclipse Award winner or even just the horse that clinches your superfecta in the nightcap at Turfway Park. Either way, this is a chance for viewers to say they saw that horse way back when. Just look at the buzz that surrounds the NFL Draft for players who more than likely will be out of the league in four years or less. There is a market for potential, and these sales are teeming with it.
The big question mark in this equation is figuring out which channel would air the auctions. TVG or HRTV would be the obvious choices, but giving the sales the attention they would deserve means cutting into the networks’ precious racing coverage, which means they aren’t making money through account wagering. Probably too hard a sell. The only other channel that immediately comes to mind is RFD TV and their viewership and production values are not at a level to make an undertaking like this successful. For this to work it has to look slick, and I don’t see that channel pulling it off.
Honestly, I am not sure where a program of this caliber would best fit. Then again, I just came up with this idea last night. We’ll worry about that little matter when we get one of the major sales on board.
So that’s my plan. Sure, it’s probably an incredible longshot, but it sure would be fun to see, wouldn’t it?