There is no question that horse racing faces the dilemma of attracting new fans.
However, a very big question facing the industry is how to not only attract those fans, but get them to stick around.
To find the answer, we must look at what this sport has to offer that can not be obtained elsewhere. To gain some context, let us examine what other growing niche sports bring to the table…
Mixed Martial Arts: Lightly-officiated one-on-one combat, Charismatic figures, Clothing with crudely drawn skulls and wings.
Poker: The sense of “I could do that”, Opportunity for fame, fortune and recognition on ESPN without possessing any actual athletic ability.
NASCAR: Identification – names, brands, numbers, colors – There are a lot of things for people to latch on to; more so than any other sport.
So what does horse racing offer that these wildly successful pseudo-sports do not?
This question occupied my thoughts for a few days. Then, while listening to my iPod during one of my many snow-shoveling adventures, I found the answer.
During his superb podcast, Ted Grevelis of Owning Racehorses discussed his racing partnerships and how the sport offers the unique aspect of ownership.
“This is something you can’t do anyplace else,” Grevelis said during his Dec. 24 podcast. “You can’t go to a Twins game and walk away an owner, but you can do that in racing.”
This led me to daydream about owning my own racehorse, which was quickly deflated by the cold realization that ventures like that require money – quite a bit of it. I wouldn’t doubt there are many others in my position.
Then, I remembered there are ways around this.
Every year around Triple Crown season, West Point Thoroughbreds holds a contest on ESPN’s website where the winner receives a small share in one of the syndicate’s two-year-olds for a year.
This is a fantastic idea.
To those outside of the industry, horse racing can appear to be an exclusionary game for Middle Eastern royalty, old money and other privileged folks with wads of cash to burn. Giving the average person a little slice of the action through contests like West Point’s is a great way to remove that stigma and introduce new people to the ownership side of the sport.
More racing operations need to consider this option.
Holding contests of this nature provides positive exposure for the organization conducting it. The benefits are twofold. First, the stable/syndicate/etc. gains the attention of everyone who registers for the prize they offer. Even if an entrant does not take the big prize, he or she may consider doing business with that group somewhere down the road when the money is available. Second, the contest holder gains the good PR that comes with a new owner’s positive experience. The winner’s local paper will probably write a glowing story featuring the stable. Furthermore the winner would likely tell his or her friends and bring them to the track to see the horse, which could create even more racing fans and potential future investors.
The share doesn’t have to be significant. In West Point’s contest, the winner gets a five percent stake in the horse being offered. It’s not enough to have a say in the horse’s campaign, but it allows the winner to come along for what could be a wild ride and hopefully pick up a few checks along the way. Even if the winner does not become a repeat customer with the stable, he or she will probably be good for some additional handle, which will pay back in purse money.
Not a bad return on investment for what amounts to the hair on a horse’s mane.
If the horse’s manager does not want to risk a long-term garnishing of profits, the terms of the contest could limit the duration of the prize to a year (as is the case with the West Point contest) or a particular meet. From there, the prize winner could have the option of buying his or her share for the rest of the horse’s career, or the share could be kept or re-sold by the horse’s manager. Perhaps the share could be put into a contest for the following year or meet to bring in another new fan.
Contests offering stakes in racing prospects offer positive exposure for the organization holding them and for the industry itself. When thinking of ways to promote the industry to new audiences, this method is worthy of further consideration.
Charismatic figures? Attainability? Identification?
Yeah, we’ve got that.
It’s just a matter of getting it to the fans.