- Breeders' Cup officials have responded to the overwhelmingly negative and, from some quarters, emotional reaction to the announcement of the change in format for this year's event which will see all of the filly and mare races shifted to Friday. I know that Breeders' Cup President Greg Avioli is not afraid of controversy, and that he feels that debate and dissent is good for publicity. However, I don't believe that the Breeders' Cup was prepared for the torrent of criticism that has resulted. Avioli told Bloodhorse that the change will transform Friday into what he sees as “true Breeders’ Cup championship racing.”
“Having watched one year with a Friday program, it was clear the day had significant potential....The concern was we did not want it to remain a set-up for Saturday’s program. The goal was for Friday’s program to be true Breeders’ Cup championship racing.”“Change is hard in our industry," he added. The article reports that Friday's races will be expanded to a three-hour program on "ESPN." I will try to get clarification as to whether that means the main network, and not ESPN2. Breeders' Cup chief marketing officer Peter Land said that the Ladies' Classic will be run at 6:40 PM Eastern time, which he called a “dream scenario. From a sports perspective on a Friday evening, we’re not really competing against much.”
Well, there goes my idea about having a prime-time showing of the races. However, October 24 does fall smack in the middle of the World Series. And although the Series does not schedule games for Friday night, it is possible that a rainout would cause the races to go squarely up against the Fall Classic if they were scheduled later; and that obviously would not be good. Still, while there surely will be no competition at 6:40 PM, that's not a time when prospective or casual fans would be expected to be sitting in front of a TV.
I got an email from Chip Tuttle, the Breeders' Cup's marketing consultant (who moonlights as the COO of Suffolk Downs), with a more detailed explanation of the move; he wrote that he was "amazed at the passion of the reaction in some parts." I present it here with no further comment. That, I will leave to you (but please be respectful):
Why the change?
Breeders' Cup wanted to strengthen the Friday card. There was a lot of discussion and several models, but giving the best females their own spotlight won the day. It will lead to stronger attendance and wagering on Friday, improved television and media coverage and a true championship day for people, some of whom can engage on Friday and not Saturday.
The idea of having the female races on one day and the open races on the other has been successful at other major events (e.g., Oaks-Derby). Similarly, major tennis events and other sports have staggered their male and female championships over two days to help generate media for both categories of champions. I guarantee you the winner of the Ladies' Classic will get more mainstream media coverage this year than any year since Personal Ensign.
(Aside: I think the change from Distaff to Ladies' Classic triggered much of the reaction from the traditionalists. Also, on that front, no one from Breeders' Cup called it "Ladies Day." That was a media reaction. "Filly Friday" was considered but Breeders' Cup has not titled the day.)
The new format also helps remind the public that the event is bigger than one race, the Classic, and helps us broaden understanding of the different divisions and scope of Breeders' Cup.
This wasn't done on a whim by a bunch of guys on the BC Board. The process was deliberate and included a focus group of leading female and male sports marketing and horse racing executives. Keep in mind that the event has very low unaided awareness with the general public -- even self-identified sports fans who wager. The Distaff is a great name and has great heritage for the 3-5% who follow the sport on a regular basis (and who make up the passionate readers of the Thoroughbred blogoshpere). We have to look toward the other 95 percent like any other sport/brand that needs to bring in new audiences.
At the end of the day, the new format deserves a chance to succeed.