When Hollywood Park in Inglewood, California closed forever last December, it left a hole in the Southern California racing calendar. Hollywood’s racing schedule typically ran from April to mid-July, when Thoroughbred racing headed south to Del Mar for the boutique summer meet, then resumed in November and December.
And while Del Mar is known for its “turf meets the surf” fashionable summer vibe, it didn’t hesitate to step in and take a shot at autumn racing.
“We were happy to raise our hands and say, ‘We’ll take November,’” said Craig Dado, Del Mar’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer.
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This new meet at Del Mar by all accounts has been an unqualified success and shows that Del Mar should be able to host the Breeders’ Cup in 2017 as planned. That said, however, as much as the locals may not want to have lights installed at Del Mar, if Del Mar wants to retain the 2017 BC it was recently awarded, they may have to due to the distinct possibility that starting as early as the 2016 BC at Santa Anita (and even next year’s BC at Keeneland), whoever hosts the BC will have to have lights installed and if so at the request of Comcast, the parent company of NBC-Universal due to in that case Comcast wanting the Breeders’ cup telecast to run to 11:00 PM Eastern Time when “The Millennials” (which cover the entire 18-34 year old age group that ad buyers crave) are much more likely to watch.
What track operators may not realize is that the rules have changed with sports broadcasting. Although the new contract between Comcast and BC Ltd. doesn’t cover the BC going to 11:00 PM ET and it’s unlikely NBC would do it next year because of the BC dates being the same as Games 3 & 4 of the World Series (as Comcast would not want to upset Major League Baseball by putting the BC opposite WS games due to their having local broadcast rights to about 10 MLB teams), if Comcast decides they want the BC to go to 11:00 PM ET (even next year at Keeneland), then a track like Santa Anita or Del Mar would be required to install lights or risk losing the BC to a track that can race at night.
There are two precedents that allow Comcast to dictate such terms:
1. An Alabama-LSU football game moved to prime time in 2011 even thought it was a violation of CBS’s deal with the Southeastern Conference (SEC), which had to violate their deal with ESPN to make that happen.
2. The Big 10 in 2014 having to rescind a long-time ban on November night football games in the conference, most likely on orders from both Disney (parent of ABC and ESPN) and FOX (which operates the Big 10 Network) even though there are contract rules that specifically forbid such and actually came up in 2006-’07 when the Big 10 I believed barred Disney from moving two games between Ohio State and Michigan (one in each year) to prime time when both were in national title contention as I believe Disney wanted them in prime time because it could have helped them win the “November Sweeps.”
This is something people in Horse Racing have failed to realize. That, and especially with The Millennials being such that have grown up with the championships in the “big four” sports being exclusively at night may force this sport to go into prime time even if their core audience and traditionalists and others are kicking and screaming.