Thursday, April 9, 2015

Good TV / Bad TV

The schedule for this summer's coverage of the Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" races on NBCSN was announced today [] with 18 races scheduled for national telecast beginning in early June. And while televising racing on a national scale is certainly good (at least I think it is), many of these broadcasts, including the Triple Crown broadcasts, are thin in actual racing. I mean reeeaaaalllly thin. By way of example:

On Saturday, August 2nd, there is a one-hour broadcast from 5:00 to 6:00pm in order to show a single race - the Haskell. 

On Saturday, June 13th, NBCSN will be on the air from 8:30 to 10:00pm Eastern time (yay, Prime Time) to televise the Stephen Foster and the Fleur De Lis. For those mathematically challenged in the group, that's an hour and a half broadcast with two races shown.

Races take 120 seconds (at the most) to run in this country so that 90 minute program will showcase somewhere around four minutes of actual racing. And that one hour program with just one race? A whole two minutes of action for your 60 minutes of airtime.

Gee, I don't understand why casual observers aren't breaking the Nielsen ratings to tune in to watch!

Look, I think overall both FoxSports1 and NBC/NBCSN have done a fairly good job covering the sport the last few years. They are certainly better than the ESPN Triple Crown/Breeders' Cup disaster of a few years ago.  At the same time, we have to remember that broadcasting on a national platform is different than showing a run-of-the-mill card on TVG or TVG2 on a Wednesday afternoon since we're trying to grab at least a little bit of attention from the non-hard cores. (And much different than a track's own internal simulcast program.) At least I thought that was the plan.

If you were trying to get someone to like the NFL, and be passionate about the NFL, and all you had was a TV to do it, would you A) Have them watch four hours of NFL AM, or B) have them watch four hours of NFL Redzone? I know which one I'd choose: I turn on RedZone on Sunday morning at 9:55am (you know, West Coast time and all), and I stop when the last 1:00 game is over (while simultaneously viewing my Hawks) It's an orgy of non-commercial NFL goodness.

If you wanted to get someone to get into baseball would you make them watch four hours of Intentional Talk on MLB TV, or would you turn on an actual game (preferably a good one with a top notch pitching match up and at least some elite players on each side)?

Horse racing essentially shows someone four hours of NFL AM or Intentional Talk which, in their own rights, are not horrible, but it is not the best we can do. (On Derby Day, we show them an hour-and-a-half of E's "Super Bowl Celebrity Pre-Game Fashion Show and Tailgate Party".)

Every year, our best chance to sell the sport of horse racing to the casual sports fan is the Kentucky Derby, yet every single year the last hour and a half before the Derby, when the majority of the people are tuning in, we inundate them with 90 minutes of crap and 120 seconds of racing.

The Derby coverage isn't going to change (sadly); I've come to grips with that reality. But the rest of our national coverage doesn't have to be that bland. In short: show racing.

Show lots of racing.

Show wall-to-wall racing.

Don't carve out an hour of national broadcast time and then fill it with only 100 seconds of action - that's a colossal waste of time.

You could show four races in an hour and keep the viewer interested the whole time, or at least expsose them to as much top-level racing as possible. Sure, we might not have the time to go over some of the details of the sport, or to innudate them with some kind of feel-good story. Instead, we'll give the customer, or potential customer, the thing that should be causing them to be a fan: racing.

Show the post parade, the odds, talk about the best horses and bets, show the race, then show and talk about the payouts.

Yes, talk about the payouts... for more than ten seconds.

It's a gambling sport - if you won't sell it, how can you expect anyone to buy it?

Later, rinse, repeat three more times and you could easily show four races in an hour.

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