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Going Backwards Forwards

Horseracing should be selling itself - newspapers are a great place to start

113009In another incident this week, we didn’t have a newspaper getting rid of racing, we had racing get rid of a newspaper. The New York Racing Association banned the popular publication The Saratoga Special from being distributed at Saratoga for reasons known only to them.

Considering the Saratoga Special boosts interest in racing at Saratoga, is not controversial in any way, is a must read when in Saratoga, and costs absolutely nothing, NYRA’s actions seemed perplexing. A compromise was then made, allowing the publication to be distributed at only three designated places on-track.

Then, thanks to the rallying cry of its supporters and the efforts of several people at NYRA, the Saratoga Special finally was “back in business.” Who knows what that was that all about in the first place?

Here we had another example of the silencing of horse racing by eliminating, or in this case, attempting to eliminate, a newspaper. This time, however, it was racing devouring itself. Thank goodness, the powers that be came to their senses.

The Belmont Park press box has now become virtually silent, an echo chamber with the Daily Racing Form all that remains of the once extensive press corps.

Racing’s leaders talk about the reversing the decline of the sport, dealing with a litany of controversial issues and basically making little headway.

But can’t we see what is right before our eyes; something we are blind to or choose to ignore?

If the racing world is ever going to end it is not going to happen in one cataclysmic blast.

As Rachel Carson wrote in Silent Spring, “Over increasingly large areas of the United States, spring now comes unheralded by the return of the birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song.”

Like everything, there are warning signs. No one is attempting to compare the steady disappearance of the birds or the loss of the rain forests and other important habitats to the steady disappearance of newspaper racing writers. But it nonetheless is a warning sign of the sport’s self-destructrion. It is not the actual disappearance of racing writers as much as it is the reason why newspapers have gotten rid of them.

According to newspaper editors and publishers, no one cares about racing anymore. Instead of attempting to make them care, they just take the sport, crumple it up and throw it in the trash, as they would a piece of poorly written copy.

We may not realize it, but this is a microcosm of what is happening to the sport on all fronts, in that we have lost one of the main concepts of journalism – force the public to become interested, just as poker, NASCAR, wrestling, and mixed martial arts have done. Just as milk did years ago and insurance is doing now. The public has proven time and again they will buy anything if you make them. Make racing a product in demand and the newspapers will return, and so will the journalists.

Of course, this is easier said than done. It requires an inventive marketing mind on a national level, not just marketing heads at individual racetracks. It is the fractured nature of racing that has hurt the sport. Yes, of course, we must get rid of the public’s perception of racing by exposing the cheaters and uncovering sinister activities and pushing for harsher penalties. But, like everything, that is a slow, tedious process and easier said than done when you have no single ruling body, as do the major sports.

Racing writers once helped nourish the Sport of Kings, enabling it to continuously grow, not only by their words, but by bringing it into the public’s consciousness through newspapers.

Not just the public in New York or Los Angeles, but in small cities and towns across the country. They were the link between horseracing and America, even to venues like Salt Lake City, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, and Spokane. They all had a presence in press boxes across the country. Now, as the newspapers say, no one cares anymore, except on the rare occasion when you have a California Chrome or a Smarty Jones. But the sport cannot subsist on such a sparse diet.

So, newspapers continue to eliminate what they consider to be dinosaurs. First it was the racing writers. Next it will be the sport itself, which has been driven into the ground and is close to being buried completely. A good deal of the publicity racing does get concerns its nefarious activities, and many people now view the sport in a negative light. We must eliminate that perception in the eyes of the general public. We must bring back the birds. We must bring back the beauty. We must bring back the words.

Excerpt from ‘Ghosts Of Press Boxes Past ‘ Hangin’ With Haskin – www.bloodhorse.com


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2 comments on “Going Backwards Forwards”

  1. I’m not in any way decrying the ‘canary in the coal mine’ aspects of the story. If horse racing were of sufficient interest, newspapers would cover it. They would even cover it if there was no press box!

    Newspapers themselves are undergoing an existential crisis. They are struggling to remain relevant in age of video-watching (i.e. rather than reading), online advertising (i.e. Gumtree vs Classifieds), and social media.

    However, the same online platforms that threaten newspapers are available – at very low cost – for the industry to manage its own information flow. Yes, it’s of concern that newspapers give horse racing less column inches, but it’s also an opportunity.

    I should add that digital media enable a much richer, multi-layered experience than what is possible via print media.

  2. Good article.

    Most of our sports problems are related to attitude and cost realities. On the attitude side there is a general lack of belief in what is being sold which is the result of years of very limited success in efforts to market the game. This has led to budgets being cut on the racing side and funds allocated to more profitable ventures.
    Marketing and advertising, although having numerous potential benefits are an implied cost which in a declining business would never receive any meaningful contribution.
    Until betting operators can be convinced that racing could be turned around and add significantly to the bottom line the sport will receive limited support.
    The sad reality is that with these ever increasing internal headwinds it can only become a self fulfilling prophecy.

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