By Bill Finley
The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) and FOX Sports have reached an agreement with the latter acquiring exclusive media rights for the GI Belmont Stakes, beginning in 2023. The eight-year agreement runs through 2030 and includes the entire Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, which is the multi-day event of top races preceding the Belmont S., as well as a new title sponsorship deal which grants NYRA Bets the title sponsorship to the Belmont S.
“FOX Sports has quickly become the year-round home of the finest Thoroughbred racing in the country,” said Dave O'Rourke, NYRA President & CEO. “Their commitment to presenting innovative and informative coverage has had an enormous impact on reaching new fans and enhancing overall interest in the sport. That's why NYRA is so pleased to expand our partnership to now include the Belmont Stakes on FOX for many years to come.”
Michael Mulvihill, FOX Sports Executive Vice President, Head of Strategy and Analytics, said that acquiring the media rights to the Belmont was a perfect fit for a network that has embraced horse racing and seeks to expand its presence in the gaming market. Fox has an ownership stake in NYRA Bets.
“There are two primary reasons for this,” he said. “The first and simplest is that we are obviously a premium live sports brand. That's what we build our business on. Any time we have an opportunity to add something that is a championship event that's known to not just horseplayers but to every American sports fan, it just fits in with what we want our identify to be. We want to be a leader in live sports event programming. That's the most basic attraction to us.
“Alongside that, is the fact that we like to believe we are evolving from being purely a media content company into being more of a content and gaming company. Our Fox Bet brand is an important part of that. The relationship we have with NYRA and the partnership we have with NYRA Bets is a very important part of that. To be able to add the Belmont Stakes and see that as an engine to the continued growth of NYRA Bets is part of our continuing evolution into more of a gaming company.”
Mulvihill said that Fox's Belmont coverage will be more geared toward the horseplayer than what has been a typical broadcast of a Triple Crown event.
“We are going to be a little more willing to acknowledge that wagering is the lifeblood of the sport,” he said. “We want to put a product on the air that appeals to the people who are playing the races regularly.”
NYRA and FOX Sports began their collaboration with Saratoga Live in 2016 at Saratoga Race Course with 80 hours of live coverage on FOX Sports 2. That coincided with the national launch of NYRA Bets, NYRA's mobile wagering platform now available in more than 30 states. The total coverage of horse racing on FOX Sports has grown every year since the partnership began, eclipsing 700 hours in 2020. FOX Sports became the national television home for Belmont Park in 2019, began televising the GI Runhappy Travers to a national audience on the FOX broadcast network, also in 2019, and expanded the partnership with NYRA in March 2021 with a landmark media rights agreement. The latter agreement provides a FOX Sports subsidiary with an option to increase its current 25% equity interest in NYRA Bets.
“I don't agree at all that the sport isn't doing well,” Mulvihill said. “If you look at national handle figures for the year that just concluded nationwide betting is at a 12-year high. I don't know how many sports have key business metrics that are hitting 12-year highs right now.”
The Belmont S., the final jewel of the Triple Crown, was previously shown on NBC from 2001-05, ABC/ESPN from 2006-10, and on NBC from 2011, where it will be again shown in 2022 before moving to FOX Sports.