New TV Deal: Fox Series Should Benefit Racing

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Getting FOX Sports involved with horse racing is a good thing. The last time this happened was 1999, when the National Thoroughbred Racing Association launched a five-race series on the network called “NTRA Champions on Fox.” The network brought creativity and enthusiasm to its coverage of a sport that was in need of an infusion of fresh blood in how it was portrayed on the airwaves. That venture ended after only a couple of years. It was fun while it lasted.

The television landscape has changed immensely since then.

ESPN used to be the only full-time sports network. It added to the flagship; there is now ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN whatever.

Then along came the NBC Sports Network, the CBS Sports Network, and most recently, FOX Sports 1 and FOX Sports 2. There are almost more sports networks than there are sports.

The explosion of sports networks has created great opportunities for sports seeking television exposure, horse racing being one of them. But exposure comes at a cost — literally. You have to pay your way on, which is what The Jockey Club has done with its “The Jockey Club Tour on FOX” series that launches Feb. 9 with the Grade 1 Donn Handicap from Gulfstream Park. It’s part of a financial commitment from The Jockey Club, along with the America’s Best Racing grass roots promotion of the sport to a younger crowd.

As Steven Crist pointed out recently in Daily Racing Form, the new series on FOX is not a reincarnation of the long-lamented American Championship Racing Series, which was a structured series of races for older horses beginning in winter and ending in late summer. But it wasn’t intended to be ACRS, the sequel. Getting the kind of cooperation among tracks AND horsemen to participate in that kind of series today is virtually impossible.

“The Jockey Club Tour on FOX” is a series of Saturday and Sunday afternoon programs that will give some exposure to the sport from some of the continent’s (and the world’s) best horseracing venues, including Meydan in Dubai, Keeneland in Kentucky, Belmont Park and Saratoga in New York, Monmouth Park in New Jersey, and Woodbine in Canada. It’s not going to bring us millions of new fans, but it might make us a bit more relevant in the busy sports landscape.

David Nathanson, the general manager and COO of FOX Sports 1 and 2, knows a bit about televising horse racing. He served as president of TVG from 2005-2009, so it won’t be surprising to see some familiar faces on the FOX Sports telecasts of horse racing from that network.

It also won’t be surprising to see gambling discussed during “The Jockey Club Tour on FOX” broadcasts. That was a major hurdle when the Disney Co.-owned ESPN covered horse racing. There was little talk of odds, exotic bets, payoff, etc. I’m betting you’ll see some changes in that regard on FOX.

It would have been nice to have races like the Santa Anita Handicap or the Arlington Million on the series, but getting the proper date didn’t work for the former and the latter was tied to a commitment to WGN television for at least another year.

This new series doesn’t mean there won’t be additional horse racing on television throughout the year. The New York Racing Association and Breeders’ Cup are believed to be in negotiations to get some major races on NBC Sports in the second half of the year. And that’s a good thing, too.

When it comes to showcasing horse racing on television, the more networks the merrier.

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  • Glimmerglass

    The more (airing) the merrier should be the general takeaway.

    Racing outside of TVG & HRTV will have NBC’ coverage – including an expected continuation of ‘Summer at Saratoga’ – MSG+, this Fox Sports (nee Speed Channel) added coverage, as well as WGN nationally with the Illinois Derby/Arlington Million, and other limited coverage like Prime Ticket partnered with TVG.

    If the outcome isn’t the quantity of races we’d like to see, hopefully the focus will be quality in not only the races themselves but the production quality. Fingers crossed that Fox will bring on on-air talent that can deliver the goods.

  • Richard C

    It can only lead to potential avenues that can spark additional TV coverage on the FOX Sports/FOX platforms. The best Reality TV still comes from live sporting events and this deal is at a moment in time as FOX has a long-term vision to tackle ESPN/ABC Sports.

  • Boknows

    Amen! I look forward to Picture Quality improvement and getting the races out to more people who hopefully will become fans and get the passion that we fans have for the sport! I think it is a Great move by the industry! It is Truly one of the Greatest Sports in our country and throughout the World! A Sport with a Great Story…

  • paul

    The dubai races will be on “tape” delay which doesn’t work in 2014. Still love the extra HD horse racing.

  • Tinky

    Let’s see if the are smart enough to not burden viewers with the overuse of disorienting cuts during races that have often plauged other networks.

  • Sal Carcia

    I am looking forward to the series. I am glad that the JC is following through on the McKinsey recommendations.

    I wanted to mention when this subject came up last time, that I wish horseracing would stream a better quality signal for the online live feed. It would work nicely with products like Apple TV. It seems to be a missed opportunity.

  • Lefty_Orioles_Fan

    I would like to see this be successful. Horse Racing needs to expand the fan base for sure!
    Also, I would like to see racing overall improve. Maybe have qualifying times for some races.
    I know all tracks are different and yada, yada, yada. I am just tired of seeing the winner like 6 or 7 seconds off the track record. That’s terrible, especially if they are veteran horses. I mean you don’t see this with track and field. So why do we see it with horse racing? While this could be a bad analogy it’s the way I feel about it.

    • betterthannothing

      “Maybe have qualifying times for some races. I know all tracks are
      different and yada, yada, yada. I am just tired of seeing the winner
      like 6 or 7 seconds off the track record. That’s terrible, especially if
      they are veteran horses.”

      Lefty: the obsession with speed destroys enough horses already. No need to add to the craze. Neither the horses or the public want to experience the consequence. Too much secrecy and too many variables anyway.

    • David Juffet

      The winner runs as fast as he has to to win and saves something for tomorrow. Any jockey will tell you that. Your comparing apples and pears, forget it.

  • GC

    ESPN broadcasts hours of players making huge bets at the poker table. I don’t think Disney was the reason ESPN overlooked the most important part of the racing game.

  • Anton Chigurh

    Horse Racing more than any other sport aside from golf maybe benefits from HD. It’s hard to believe TVG and HRTV haven’t gotten this done yet.

    • Gayle Lazur

      Have to remember that TVG and HRTV only carry the feed from the tracks except maybe when they are on site. So the TRACKS have to upgrade to HD equipment and put their signal out that way. When FOX or ESPN or NBC broadcast they bring all their own HD equipment which is why those broadcasts are in HD. Since TVG and HRTV aren’t on site for most of the racing they cover, they can only broadcast the signal they receive from the tracks. They would love to have all races in HD but until the tracks make the investment there is not much they can do.

      • Anton Chigurh

        Keeneland, Churchill (and the rest of the Churchill tracks I think) do broadcast in HD.

        • Gayle Lazur

          I know Keenland does but since TVG can’t get the majority of the CDI tracks, it is hard to know. But for the most part, the tracks are not sending out an HD signal so even if HRTV or TVG are in HD, they can’t send out what is not in HD. Just going to be a slow process as all change seems to be in racing to get this changed. Requires investment of money to do and that is something tracks seem to be leery of doing these days.

          • Anton Chigurh

            The rest of the world moves forward and we’re stuck in the mud.

  • Ladyofthelake

    Horse racing badly needs more TV coverage to make people aware that the KY Derby is not the only race that exists. Let’s just hope the coverage on Fox will be more like the fun & interesting stuff on HRTV and less like the uptight looking guys in suits chattering on ESPN, which has become nothing more than a sports news channel.

  • David Juffet

    Any coverage is better then no coverage at all fan base wise. I’ll most likely still watch HRTV.

  • horse

    Have the Network bring back Kenny Mayne to horse race broadcasting. He adds an acute perception and an appealing sense of humor to any telecast. And unlike some unanimated broadcasters, he truly has an admiration for the equine athletes.

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