Op/Ed: Fred A. Pope


Sue Finley and her staff are giving our industry an amazing gift with the magazine TDN Weekend.

When I look back on 40-plus years in this industry, there is a lot of heart-pounding excitement from racehorses, but it is the people, sights, sounds and tastes that remind me how wonderful it is to experience Thoroughbred life around the world.

TDN Weekend is a rich, elegant celebration of what draws people into racing and breeding at the highest level.

No major sport is more closely allied to luxury goods and services than Thoroughbred racing. According to Bain & Company, luxury is a $1 trillion market. But, the makers of luxury goods are not major sponsors of racing. Why?

In my career I've handled international media rights for equine events and sought advertisers and sponsors for a racing show Tom Hammond and I had on ESPN. When you have to sell this sport, you learn the truth. Racing targets men who gamble, however, the primary consumers of luxury goods are women.

Perhaps it is time for our sport and the makers of luxury goods to take a fresh look at how they can partner for a bright new future together.

Every sport has a bellwether event establishing the maximum viewership of that sport in each country. In the U.S., the Super Bowl is the top football event; the Masters the top golf event; the NBA Finals the top basketball event, etc. Only the Super Bowl consistently beats The Kentucky Derby in viewership.

NBC, producer of The Kentucky Derby, is not interested in several thousand racing veterans who want hard-boot information about the race and odds. NBC is focused on improving the telecast beyond the 16 million viewers its sponsors pay to reach. By the way, the fashion segments they added now deliver an audience that is 51% female.

In a recent interview, Craig Bandoroff of Denali Stud lamented how wealthy girls get into riding and minor horse sports, but as they grow up, they don't get into racing. Maybe the reason is most racing telecasts do not connect with them, and importantly, racing does not connect with their peers.

This is not about everyday racing. This is about the opportunity to use our major racing events to add a new revenue stream into the sport.

If the objective is to provide racing entry into the $1 trillion market for luxury goods and services, it cannot be faked. It has to be real and authentic, designed for the consumers of luxury goods and services.

In the telecasts of major racing events, instead of the producer saying, “We're here to boost gambling,” the producer should say, “We're here to boost this event.” That means the telecast is to capture everything we enjoy at major racing events. If NBC can capture the look and feel of a Derby Day experience, everyone wins: the sponsors, the industry, Churchill Downs and the little girls Craig wants to grow up liking our sport.

Maybe, just maybe, we should realize women are central to the future of this sport.

Luxury is an enormous market and it is fiercely competitive. Last year, it was stagnant and perhaps that provides an opening for the brands to find new ideas to gain market share.

If Chanel, Hermes, or Louis Vuitton wanted to reach an international audience of luxury goods consumers, what sport would best deliver such an audience? Football? Soccer? Hardly. No international sport targets women, however, a new brand of international racing can fill that void.

Luxury goods are international. They need an international sport that is designed to appeal to the consumers of their products. They need a sport with the natural, universal attraction of horses.

Today people gamble on every sport, but the major sports do not talk about gambling on their telecasts, where sponsors are paying billions of dollars to be associated with them. Technology today provides the gambler instant access that is separate from the telecasts. That might provide the way to make a new international program a reality.

Every attempt at an international racing series has failed because the racing authorities in each country cannot agree on wagering splits. With more revenue in media rights and sponsorship than wagering, a partnership with luxury goods can

grow and develop the image of racing around the world. It will raise all boats.

A new, non-gambling brand of international racing that is focused on the sport, fashion and lifestyle of the Thoroughbred industry just might provide entry into China, a country that prohibits gambling and is the leading consumer of luxury goods. What would that be worth to our industry?

Luxury goods also need for Thoroughbred racing to reestablish itself as a real sport. Hermes was founded on craftsmanship in saddlery and their brand would benefit greatly when racing has new relevance and credibility with future generations.

Longines is one luxury goods company that is making a push by sponsoring racing around the world and it has a monthly show on CNN International called The Winning Post, with Ally Vance. Like TDN Weekend, it is a welcome, elegant presentation about horseracing around the globe.

While a Thoroughbred lifestyle show is good, it lacks the heart-pounding excitement and the mass media power that only live, major sporting events deliver. It's the difference between an audience of thousands and one of many millions.

The Kentucky Derby, Melbourne Cup, Epsom Derby, Japan Cup and The Arc are bellwether events. If you total up the major racing events in each country, the total viewership would be exceeded only by soccer.

Bringing sponsors into international racing means the telecasts will need to be produced on a level their consumers expect in sports like soccer. New revenue can drive state-of- the-art production, with new techniques that capture racing in ways we never imagined. The better our racing events look, the more sponsors will want to be associated with them.

Every business calculates return on investment in advertising and promotion. Finding a good fit is difficult these days because of social media, online sales and the fragmentation of media. Sports are very efficient for many sponsors, but not personal luxury goods. Thoroughbred racing can provide a new partnership with brands of luxury goods and services that no other sport can deliver.

The racing product that luxury goods makers need does not exist today. It must be designed. How would it be different in content from current racing telecast? Can we bring a new look of elegance and style to racing telecasts that women, men and sponsors will embrace?

What do women want to change about racing telecasts? I've commissioned extensive consumer research on racing in the U.S. and some of it is reflected in this piece. But before designing a new international racing program that is focused on the consumers of luxury goods, we need to ask the sponsors and representative groups of those consumers.

The major stakeholders in international racing and breeding make up a very short list of individuals. Like the top brands in luxury goods, they are fiercely competitive. They have always taken whatever the racing authorities have offered in purses from gambling, but now they should consider how the future of racing should be expanded far beyond the single revenue stream of gambling. There are already signs of innovation.

Arrogate has now won more than $17 million and little of that money came from gambling. Thanks to The Stronach Group and Sheikh Mohammed, innovative means were found to fund the races he won. Belinda Stronach just announced the 2018 Pegasus Cup purse would blossom to $16 million.

There can be a new brand in international racing that celebrates the excitement of the sport and the lifestyle of Thoroughbred racing.

TDN Weekend provides us a taste of how international racing can attract a new economic model and provide the families in this industry an unbelievably, bright future.

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