I think we can all agree that TVG is great for watching racing, but annoyed by the limited tracks it broadcasts from. By not showing races at Gulfstream Park, Fairgrounds, or Santa Anita, it really handicaps (pun intended) my ability to catch the winter/spring races I really want to watch. In case people are confused, I’m referring to the Derby prep races. The 2012 Kentucky Derby trail is part of what makes the sport fantastic. Watching the freshman we scouted the previous year blossom into real derby contenders is exciting and satisfying to almost any fan. As is finding the unpolished gems.
Fortunately for horse racing fans, NBC Sports is bringing us the “Road to the Kentucky Derby.” This is a weekly series that is set to debut this Saturday with the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes and the Bourbonette Oaks. Each Saturday after, it will air anther Kentucky Derby and Oaks preps all the way through the Bluegrass Stakes and Arkansas Derby.
I know I’m excited because I won’t have to scour the internet to try and find a live feed. However, I look at what NBC Sports is doing, and I hope they are doing it right. I see a great opportunity to increase the sport’s fan base. I guess it depends on how the races are presented to the general public, and knowing whom the real audience is. Given that NBC is airing the Kentucky Derby on May 5th, I would like to think that the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series is designed to pick up new viewers and culminate with the “Super Bowl” of horse racing in the USA.
In order to pick up new fans, and get them excited about Derby day, NBC needs to play into what the general TV watching public wants. Now, I’m no expert, but given the time of the prep races (Saturday afternoon), NBC will need to do some great advertising to pull in new viewers. Selling people only on the excitement of the races is only the tip of the iceberg, and honestly, I think would cause the whole ship to sink. What they should be selling are the stories of the horses and connections.
New viewers need to feel a relationship to the athletes they are watching. People love drama, and there is no other sport that can define the drama better than horse racing. Let’s look to last year’s derby trail and explore the stories that are truly captivating. The first, and foremost is Mucho Macho Man. Aside from being thought to be stillborn, his trainer received a heart transplant. Talk about a real comeback story.
What about Comma To The Top? This horse got his name because its southern slang for the word “apostrophe.” Mike Repole, who worked his entire life to live the American dream, became an inspiration to his family and community. Each horse and their connections have a story to tell, all of which can be used strategically to gain new fans and viewers.
I was at a Kentucky Derby party last year in San Francisco, and half of the people there were cheering for Pants on Fire knowing nothing other than his jockey, Rosie Naprovnik, was female. These stories cannot be held back until the 4 hour broadcast on derby day.
The sport needs to get new fans, and if NBC gives them a reason to watch, the rest will fall into place. Sometimes it only takes a snowball to start an avalanche. As we watch the commercials and other forms of advertising leading up the Triple Crown, just think to yourself how the sport would be different if Pants on Fire had won the Derby last year… Oh, and did they mention it’s legal to gamble on the races?
NBC can even play into connections that already have a fan base from television. Bobby Flay has many fans from his cooking shows and he owns several high caliber horses. Rob Dyrdek is a MTV personality and pro skateboarder, and was on the path to the Kentucky Oaks with Weemissfrankie before she got hurt. Sometimes, all it takes is name recognition. Any relationship “John or Jane American” can build with the horses, jockeys, or owners will grow the fan base.