Nearly as important as post-Derby racing coverage is post-Derby media coverage. Equidaily has devoted a whole section to links to media commentary, and no shortage of mainstream and Internet racing writers (including this one) have dropped an opinion about what they saw on television on Saturday afternoon.
I thought about writing my usual scathing coverage of what passes for a racing broadcast; fortunately, Lisa Grimm at Superfecta beat me to it, leaving me to wander elsewhere in my musings. And I began to think: “What would my perfect racing telecast look like?”
Let’s face it: broadcasting a day of racing is no easy task. At least Super Bowl insanity leads to a couple of hours of actual sporting event; even with the Derby undercard, you’ve got a maximum of about thirty minutes of horses running, thirty minutes out of eight or so hours of coverage. I’m glad that it’s not my job to fill it.
Peter Rotondo is Vice President of Media and Entertainment for the Breeders’ Cup; prior to that he worked in a similar capacity for the NTRA, so he’s put in more than a decade of thinking about how to broadcast Big Race Days to the masses, working primarily as a liaison to ESPN.
“ESPN covers racing for the general sports fan, as a sporting event. While there’s some celebrity stuff on ESPN broadcasts, that element of the day isn’t over-sold. It’s part of the event, but ESPN comes to cover a sporting event.
“NBC gears its coverage to the casual event viewer. NBC coverage isn’t geared towards the odds, to gambling—the focus is on the event, which goes beyond the racing. NBC’s trying to broaden the audience, to show that there’s more to the Kentucky Derby than those two minutes.”
So once again, racing has to deal with a dual identity: as event and as game. It has to reach two audiences simultaneously: casual fans to broaden the audience; serious horse enthusiasts and gamblers to maintain its core and keep the sport solvent.
I’m someone who can happily spend twelve hours a day at the track, but I’d rather watch the Devils win the Cup than watch multiple hours of racing on television. (OK, maybe not.) But perhaps there’s an alternative to the “more is more,” marathon model of broadcasting racing? Through the year, we occasionally get a nicely packaged hour or so of racing television: two or three high quality races from the same or different tracks, a little analysis, a short feature or two. 90 minutes, we’re done.
“For a variety of reasons, it’s tough to broadcast that,” Rotondo said. He recalled examples of such shows, observing that a national Pick 3 or Pick 4 bet would often accompany such programming and said, “In a perfect world, you’d have a 90-minute show from multiple tracks. But it’s tough for that to happen.”
Yes, the content of national racing broadcasts is tough to take. But perhaps the length of the broadcasts is as much to blame as the desire to cast a wide audience net and to appeal to the “Real Housewives” and E! TV crowd. A shorter broadcast means that we’d lose some of the undercard races, but while a lot of people talked to me this week about watching the Derby, not a single one of them turned on the television in early afternoon and turned it off at 7 pm.
I don’t envy those whose job it is to try to captivate a widely disparate audience for the amount of time it takes to fly from New York to London, and it’s pretty easy to bash them for the product that they put out—I’ve certainly done it enough. I spent part of my day playing TV producer, envisioning what I’d like to see on a Big Racing Broadcast. What does your Perfect Racing TV look like?