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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tuesday Morning Notes

Churchill Downs' deal with NBC to televise six key Derby preps during the stretch run of the Derby Trail (with one of the programs to be on the USA Network) stands in stark contrast to the disappearing coverage of Breeders' Cup preps on ESPN, where horse racing vanishes into thin air once college football starts, with no telecasts during six definitive weeks of Cup preps from late August until October, at which point most of the participants have already been determined (and, increasingly, are already done racing until the big day). Recall that ESPN even stooped last year to sticking one race on its college football scoreboard show, and tried to make it seem like it was some kind of expanded coverage. While Churchill and NBC touts their successful "Big Event" strategy, the Breeders' Cup seems more like a nuisance to ESPN.

And, in fact, it was ESPN's reluctance to televise any Derby preps itself that led Churchill Downs to step in and take matters into its own hands.

Over the past decade, most television productions of major Derby prep races had been co-funded by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's television production arm, and those broadcasts typically appeared on ESPN.

However, ESPN's commitment to racing in the spring has begun to wane as the network seeks out highly rated programming while seeking to shift lower-rated broadcasts to its Internet platform.
Keith Chamblin, a senior vice president for the NTRA, said the association had not planned to reach any production deals with ESPN on the prep races, citing Churchill's involvement this year. [Daily Racing Form]
- Er, Mr. Governor, it's been more than a week (or so) now, what's up?

- Frank gets to keep his favorite toys.


Anonymous said...

Ah, did you neglect to mention that Churchill was paying NBC $2 Million to broadcast these three "Road to the Derby" shows?

Alan Mann said...

No, I'm aware of that, it's stated in the DRF article that I linked to. The point is that CD took matters into their own hands when it became apparent that ESPN and NTRA were not going to do anything. And it also emphasizes the fact that the Breeders Cup locked themselves into a shitty deal over which they have no control. Perhaps if they were still on NBC, they could have worked out a similar arrangement with that network so that there isn't a blackout for the entire month of September.

Teresa said...

I loved this, in the NYRA release on the Eclipse for ESPN's Belmont coverage:

“We are extremely proud to win this award,” said McQuade, who is senior coordinating producer for ESPN. “No one works harder on this sport than we do. It’s a true year-round commitment to horse racing by this group of individuals."

How did he get that one out with a straight face?

Peter said...

Alan and Teresa,

My name is Peter Rotondo and I've worked for NTRA and BC for 7 years on the ESPN relationship. Feel free to call me anytime to discuss reality. Ernie Munick or Dana B. or Jessica C. can give you my number.



JPK3 said...

I think this is a great idea by NBC and Churchill Downs. I was up in Saratoga two Summers ago and talked to the Hennegan Brothers about the Derby trail and how much it bothered us that 98% of this country has no idea how these 20 horses end up in the Derby. In essence, it's just like March Madness spread out over many months. But horse racing is a forgotten sport that the tv networks don't care about anymore, so none of the prep races have been shown on tv. Now that all these races are on, it's going to bring more attention to the Derby. Hopefully people catch these preps and can latch on to a horse of their liking. It'll give them someone to root for on May 1 besides a betting interest. I hope NBC and Churchill give this a few years, and maybe it'll grow the fan base for the Triple Crown run.

Teresa said...

Thanks for the offer, Peter, though the tone in which it's offered doesn't really make the conversation sound too inviting, so I'll politely decline.

Peter said...


I apologize for the tone.

Sometimes it just gets frustrating to read the misinformation and uninformed opinions that continually get recycled. In any event, I'm here if you ever want to learn more about the tv side of the horse racing business and why things don't all seem as they appear...

Take care,


Alan Mann said...

>>Sometimes it just gets frustrating to read the misinformation and uninformed opinions that continually get recycled.

There's no misinformation nor uninformed opinions here. Though ESPN initially touted their commitment to the Breeders' Cup, there have been no preps on the network between late August and early October for the last two years. Period. There may be perfectly reasonable and matter-of-fact explanations, but those are the plain, sad facts.

Kevin said...

"Misinformation"?? Just because ESPN says it committed to the sport doesn't make it so. The truth is they have totally ignored racing leading up to the Breeders Cup -- FACT!

El Angelo said...

I actually would be curious to hear a statement or explanation of some sort from BC/NTRA regarding the decrease in coverage since the Breeders Cup has moved to ESPN, unless you count the new races on Friday/Saturday that many of us don't like. Hopefully what has happened in the past 4 years is not what they hoped for.

Teresa said...

Peter, calling our opinions "uninformed" isn't much better than saying that we're not in touch with reality! But I appreciate your coming back to explain what you want.

I would continue to maintain that there are fact, entities that work harder on horse racing year round than ESPN, but I'm happy to hear evidence otherwise.

Anonymous said...

So is anyone going to call him or not?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Rotondo,

If "no one works harder to promote this sport" why have I not seen a single feature on the horse of the year debate this week, despite me watching way more than usual?

After all, this is the single biggest story in our sport right now.

Anonymous said...

As if the Derby needed any more promotion.....what is needed is a way to revive all of the stakes races after the Derby, especially the handicap division. I suppose the KY folks are concerned that the breeding bonanza has peaked and the outlook is niot very bright.

NYRA and the other major tracks need to come up with a marketing plan to promote the post Derby stakes races, especially the handicap division. And not as a promo for the Breeders Cup, either!Which leads to the suggestion that the point system for divisional cahmps be restored. /S/greenmtnpunter