Fading newspaper turf writers bad for racing’s key demo
I had the opportunity to speak to some stewards recently at the Racing Officials Accreditation Program at the University of Louisville. The subject, not surprisingly, was “racing media” and the relationship between officials and journalists.
The truth is, there is not that much racing media left, at least from the traditional standpoint of the daily newspaper. In fact, horse racing hardly exists in many American newspapers that used to employ one or more full-time racing writers and handicappers. Feature stories, outside of the Triple Crown, are few and far between, and many papers in racing cities have stopped publishing handicapping selections, entries, and results.
Unless I'm mistaken, there are only three daily newspapers left that have a full-time racing writer: the Louisville Courier-Journal, New York Post, and New York Daily News. There are still quite a few papers that have someone covering horse racing regularly – including the Lexington Herald-Leader and New York Times – but many have had to cut out racing coverage and lay off racing writers when forced to make economic cuts in newsprint and staff.
Many press boxes that not so long ago were a beehive of activity are now pretty much empty, with the exception of a track publicist and an Equibase chart crew. When local newspapers or television crews do show up, it's often to cover a “bad news” story and the people involved might know very little about the sport.
I've spent the better part of the last week in South Florida, where subscribers to the Palm Beach Post wouldn't know horse racing exists. It didn't used to be that way. And while there are plenty of online media options to get horse racing information, the people who read a printed daily newspaper are from the same aging or retired demographic that racetracks traditionally have relied upon to fill many of their seats.
We often get caught up urging the horse racing industry to attract more younger people to the sport. Those are the people who are more likely to learn about racing by reading blogs or seeing the occasional story at espn.com or other sports website.
But aging Baby Boomers and retirees are the low-hanging fruit for racing marketers. They are likely to have more familiarity with racing and also to have more time on their hands to spend an afternoon or evening at the track. This demographic still relies on newspapers for much of their news and information. The disappearing or nearly extinct horse racing coverage in so many papers today makes it an increasing challenge to reach them.