Redirecting the Limelight
Ray Cotolo
March 11, 2014
The March 1st edition of Harness Racing Update highlighted an article concerning Jeff Gural's venture to the telecast networks in order to present harness racing. The specific network is CBS Sports, which aired the last two editions of the Hambletonian. Such races that Gural would like to feature on the network were the Meadowlands Pace, Little Brown Jug, Sun Stakes Saturday (consisting of the Earl Beal, Max Hempt, James Lynch and Ben Franklin) and the Breeders Crown. While the idea of promoting solely harness racing is okay, it is the wrong mindset. Creating only fans of the sport doesn't guarantee they will become members of the actions that drive the industry, gambling.
In horse racing, there are three things that will keep people at the track: betting, betting and betting. When I revisited the CBS broadcast of last year's Hambletonian, I was disturbed by the fact that they rarely mentioned wagering on the events. Though it was a hot day in the swamp, it sent chills down my spine. Yes, they did mention the odds of the favorites, but the broadcast had a semblance of a football telecast. This will never work for the industry, one reason being that the NFL makes money off of advertising. In harness racing, it should be logical to appeal to wagering; it's one, if not, the top economic driver for the sport.
Yet again, thoroughbred racing one-ups us. When watching either the new Jockey Club series on FOX or NBC's coverage of the Triple Crown, it is guaranteed there will be some guy talking about betting. The context includes horses' odds and an actual analysis of the race. In harness broadcasts, there exists no position for a racing analyst. Harness broadcasts feature the same old jabber seen from other sports commentators, focusing primarily on the athletes. While harness is trying to gain a fan base, they aren't gaining the right one.
Think of it this way: in the stock market, successful companies are based off of shareholders. The more people buying shares guarantees an increase in the stocks value, while selling shares depreciates the ownership. Gambling on racing is the perfect microcosm; a successful industry would come from more investors. In this case, the investors would be gamblers. Of course, the other role in successful business models is management, which many in the industry agree could use reform.
All in all, there is no bad that can come from putting standardbreds on television. But, it's clear what runs harness racing, the bettors. While the horsemen are certainly the lead roles in this show we put on, there are still awards for supporting roles. We can't leave bettors out of the spotlight. My hope with this is that it is in Gural's plan to put racing analysts in the broadcasts; these broadcasts would cost the industry an estimated $625,000. We could either have racing fans or an industry. The choice should be obvious.
Ray Cotolo, long time follower of the harness racing industry, is a presenter on North American Harness Update.
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