- Here's an interesting article in the NY Times about NBC's smashing success with the Olympics, and the efforts of the network's sports chairman Dick Ebersol to make it so. Even eight years ago, Ebersol was already working on having these Games shifted from September back to August.
“If you’re into September, you’re going to lose a big percentage of your male viewers,” Mr. Ebersol said. “There’s N.F.L. coverage on Sundays and Mondays, and college football is now on four or five nights a week. All of that goes away if you start in mid-August.”Ebersol wanted the swimming and gymnastics events to be available on live TV. Since that meant that the events would have to take place early in the morning (a 12 hour time difference between Beijing and Queens), he went directly to Michael Phelps, who assured him that it would not negatively impact his performance. Which I guess it didn't. (And by the way, his win in the 100 meter fly was the aquatic equivalent of Colonel John's Travers win!)
Ebersol said of Phelps: “He told me: ‘My only real goal is to leave the sport bigger and better than I found it,,,".
I can't help but wish that there was just a fraction of the efforts and dedication described above from the participants of the sport of horse racing, and the network which televises its showcase event. Regardless of who you think is ducking who between Curlin and Big Brown, if the participants' main goal really was to help the sport grow rather than to enrich themselves, they would get this done. And preferably in the match race format that's been discussed. It's high time to leave Ruffian in the past, and thank her for prompting the passage of time which would give such an event a true once-in-a-lifetime feel.
Regarding ESPN, I know that you can't compare the Breeders' Cup and the Olympics. Of course Ebersole had to hustle to make it work - NBC spent $894 million on the rights and had a lot more at stake. The Breeders' Cup is merely small fry by comparison. But, as you recall, ESPN pledged a major effort to make the Breeders' Cup a jewel of the network. Need I once again repeat the quote? OK...."We intend to bring our full arsenal of resources to present, to promote and distribute the storied property as no one else can."
Discussing the deal just prior to ESPN's first telecast in 2006, Breeders' Cup (then interim) CEO Greg Avioli said that rather than for ratings,
"It was designed for significantly more promotion over the months leading up to the Breeders' Cup to grow the property."
Well, I just don't see that kind of dedication from ESPN on at least two key fronts. For one thing, once September rolls around, as Mr. Ebersol noted, college and pro football starts. And horse racing on ESPN disappears. Poof. This past weekend's telecasts were the last time you'll see races on national TV until October 4. Given the fact that most of today's top thoroughbreds have their final preps scheduled for more than "only" three weeks before the Breeders' Cup, most of those horses, including Curlin and Big Brown, will not be in action when Randy Moss and Co. are next seen. Amongst the Breeders' Cup Challenge races that will not be on ESPN are the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Queen Elizabeth II, Lady's Secret, the Goodwood, Alcibiades, the Woodbine Mile and the EP Taylor, Grade 1 races all. (There's also the Flower Bowl, Turf Classic and Vosburgh, all not included on the BC's list of Challenge races, is that right??)
Now, it's partly the Breeders' Cup fault for expanding the Challenge series too much too quickly; can't expect ESPN to televise all of them (especially, and thankfully, races like the mile and a half Turfway Fall Championship. Did you notice that Delosvientos, who thrashed the Marathon-
And the other thing that's been bugging me is Filly Friday. No, not the concept nor the hysterical debate about the Ladies' Classic name. But rather the fact that ESPN could, if it wanted to, present the races in prime time. Sunday's Pac Classic ran from 8 to 10 here, a little taste of what could be. I can't recall a similar prime time national broadcast of horse racing at all, can you? It can only really happen with the races on the west coast, since the sport shuns the nighttime for the most part, especially for the bigger stars. It would give the network and the sport a chance to market the event to a wider TV audience than it may usually have. Here's a rare opportunity to present, in prime time, the best horses in training, and races that could be more interesting than the male counterparts the next day.
Yet, not only will it instead be on from 4 until 7 PM in the east.....a time when I can almost guarantee you that nobody but the already-devoted will make at least an effort to tune in, but it's not even on the main ESPN network. It's on ESPN2. That's not prime time in any sense of the word, and it's not appropriate for our championship races. It's more appropriate for those Olympics leftovers such as badminton and archery, presented on the USA Network and CNBC in the late afternoon.