Bringing New Fans To Racing

I'll Have Another Preakness 615 X 400
Photo: Eclipse Spotswire

Horse racing is one of the most over-looked sports in the world. Although it gets it’s glory one day per year, on the first Saturday of May, that fails to draw leagues of new fans to the racing world. What is it that keeps Kentucky-Derby-Watchers from following the rest of the sport?
In order to answer this question, I flashback to my own experiences at small-town racetracks such as Indiana Downs and Hoosier Park. Those are the tracks that will never see a crowd of 100,000, will never fill their capacity, and will never have fans vying for a spot at the rail. I’m often one of those fans at the rail, along with about any other ten or twenty on any given day. Looking around, I can’t see why anybody wouldn’t want to come here. It’s not like our tracks are old, run down, or scary! However, that may just be the stereotype we are getting.
On television, in any sport or activity, the bad is far more broadly reported on than the good. If a horse breaks down or pulls up in a classic race, you can hear all about it on the next morning’s news. But if a hot walker for a small, 4-horse stable gets promoted to head groom, what other words go said other than ‘congratulations’ by the hot walker’s family? Why do we not hear of these things?
The media strives on the emotions of it’s viewers. Otherwise, how could they gain views if they reported on a man who gave $20 to charity? Rather, why not just report on the person who stole $20 from the same charity and gain sympathy from the viewers? It’s a win-win! 
Except that it’s not, not for racing. When a breakdown is reported on national television, millions of people see it. That, given the publicity and wide-spread view on the sport, gathers a very large public view on the sport that all horses break down and are harshly beaten to gain every ounce of speed out of them for human pleasures. However, everybody (well, almost everybody, I hope) knows that this is really not the case in any way that could possibly be imagined.
As some of you may know first handedly, parents will do almost anything to protect their children. If the parents are dragged to a local racetrack, and then see the whipping of the horses mid-stretch, we all know what they will most likely think. Oh no, poor horses! They are probably in so much pain! I am never taking my child to a race ever again! Such a horrible sport, I hope it gets banned! Okay, they may not all think to that degree, but some do. And those reputations spread, and they spread fast. 
Our sport is made up of the trainers and owners who run their horses at all tracks all year long. If horse racing stopped in a certain season like baseball or football, how many people would pay attention? We would have the Triple Crown season and then be done with. While this might not seem very relevant, just imagine it. How are those sports so popular when we go all year long?
So what can we do to prevent these stereotypes, these poorly informed thoughts? Ignorance just may be the key. Being informed when going to the races would help any first comers find their way around much easier. You know those signs at the zoo in front of each animal’s cage that describe which animal it is and how it came about at the zoo? Maybe tracks could try those. I’m not suggesting anything like major renovation, but a few explanations here and there would be nice. Like, in front of the paddock to explain saddling, by the grandstand to point out family friendly areas or places to bet (a map, basically), by the homestretch to explain whipping, and/or by the winners’ circle to explain why horses go there after winning. 
Most tracks have gift shops, correct? Maybe, if somebody took on the challenge, maybe if somebody wrote a ‘guide to this track’ booklet that could be sold regularly that explains every asset of the track, maybe that would help many people. Maybe, (no, I’m just kidding, I just used that word WAY too often.) Perhaps it would also bring in a profit for racetracks, and, let’s be honest: Which track couldn’t use an extra check every month?
I know many tracks have family events to try and bring families out, and I think that’s great. But for those families who drive four hours each way to drag their kid to the closest track (not unlike mine) so they can see the races, I think tracks may need to offer a little more service. I definitely cannot speak for any track I haven’t been to, which is most, to be honest, but I can speak for those that I have had the honor of visiting. Perhaps just more focus on visitors who love the horses and not just the bettors. 
I believe that media is half to blame for our diminishing sport. However, with the right tools and the right people, I think we can collect to uplift a sport to how it once was in the 60’s. After all, we were once the most attended sport in America. Why couldn’t we reach that standard again? 
 ~Madison Jackson


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Older Comments about Bringing New Fans To Racing...

There are very very few actual attempts at KEEPING fans once the cutsey PR crap draws them out....They had some good ones (but alas not follow up for the REAL reason people should come back THE HORSES) with WWF day, Seabiuscuit day etc...They had a series of good seminars throughout the season which were well attended (over 100 most of the time). I saw a glaring hole in the understanding so my seminar was on wager creation and the PR director later told me that was such a welcome subject that the tape of the talk received more hits than any talk given that year...The TV show that was on all local sports showed the entire card both Saturday and Sunday along with expert advice on wagering.. They also gave 10 lucky patrons vouchers and then followed them through a card of racing to see how they fared with one another..Great hands on education that was all lost to downsixing..SOMEONE is trying and that is about half the reason I relocated to Woodbine to be part of that effort...All gone now
I have worked hand in hand with people AT THE TRACK in trying to both discover what brings them there and what makes them stay...Year upon year both rational and irrational ideas have come and gone with myself part of thre research and implementation...While I realize what has NOT worked there is always a new niche, HOWEVER anyone who approaches this age old problem has go to realize the dug in intransient positions that the front offices tak in bucking any change...That is SADLY the way it is on both coasts, down SOuth and iun the middle...Find out what makes a place like Oaklawn tick and you will win this battle. BUT it's isolation and being the only game in town helps them tremendously...Go out butt some hears but I have to tell you that 20 years at it wil just make your frustration quotient go through the roof and you will not have advanced the cause of the fan ONE IOTA.
@Laz..LOL...that word will forever be associate with him. Someone need to put his picture next to the word in all the dictionary.
sword, that's malarky and you know it. LMAO
TBDF- Don't you know that anyone that don't agreed with TV point of view is consider to be living in a fantasy land. @kaitlinefree - Do you really expect any better from TV. He is like the Grinch that stole Christmas.
sullivan,you have my deepest concerns about the so called stalker on your back.i always found it helpful to be truthful to shoo away these types.why not answer CFC to put it to rest.smug responses are not your usually friendly and enrgetic persona. go ahead as the little 14 year olds say in many neighborhoods. i dare ya,i double dare ya,i triple dare ya. prove MR. CFC wrong and get him off your back.
Oh CFC, what would I do without you stalking me? Tracking down my age? At least I can count on you to check my profile daily.
Thanks CFC and Sullivan. I'm just anxious for TV to answer my latest question I posed.
And now, we're into psychoanalysis. I like the line, "you've done as well as and even better than could be EXPECTED". @TBDF. I didn't expect anything, but you are a delight to read. Look forward to many more of your posts.
TBDF, you've done as well as and even better than could be expected. What t_v is trying to say is that racing is full of knuckleheads who don't make sense and it won't all be a walk in the park
TV, just be as so kind as to answer me this. How have I not taken reality? I say I've been doing pretty darn well in my 13 years.
Maddie, very nice article. I believe Buckpasser summed it up by essentially stating there is more demand for the consumer dollar, and that this isn't the good old days where horse racing was the main way to gamble. In order to bring back the good old days, the internet would have to be closed down, to all forms of gambling including horse racing to get people out to the tracks. That's not going to happen, but having as many people as possible seeking ways to improve the sport so it can stand on it's own economically, just may come up with something to at least save the sport, and it does need saving. Maddie, people like you, despite your young age can be among the leaders of your generation and very possibly influence the generation just ahead of you. Sure you'll have to fight, and fight hard at that, and success is never guaranteed for anyone, but I get the impression you already know that, which is good. Many times in life success comes slowly, with many setbacks along with it. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do this or that. Listen to yourself and follow your passion and no matter the outcome you'll be just fine. You have my best wishes for a happy healthy life. Good luck to you and keep the articles coming.
Yes--I agree with Kay.
TBDF, keep working towards your dreams. While there can be bad and negative things in life at times, there can also be magical, wonderful things.
hey there is no Santa Claus Easter Bunny nor perfect jockey either
I was using either the future or subjunctive tense.
enlightening a person to the realities of life is cerainly not attacking them
keep in mind that you are attacking a young girl TV. does that make you feel good?
it is obvious that has not been the case so far

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