A large majority of casual Thoroughbred racing fans said they had heard of the Breeders' Cup, but more than half did not know it was racing's championship event, according to an ESPN Sports Poll conducted last year.
When asked to describe the Breeders' Cup, nearly 36% of people identified as "light" racing fans said they thought the championship was a day for young horses preparing for the Triple Crown. A "light" racing fan is a person who has bet on racing within the past two years and generally bets between one to three times a year.
The poll results, while disturbing, did not surprise Breeders' Cup president D.G. Van Clief.
"We have known for a long time that the challenge for racing has been to define itself for the public at large," Van Clief said.
The good news, said Van Clief, is that the consolidation of Breeders' Cup and National Thoroughbred Racing Association marketing efforts Jan. 1 will help build a coherent sport that can raise awareness, increase fans, and attract major corporate sponsorships.
"With the NTRA our two teams can now package the championship with racing year-round and offer flexibility in the schedule and in the creativity of the package," he said.
Van Clief said he does not believe the Breeders' Cup needs a new name that would more directly identify it as a championship event.
"If were going to do it, then it should have been done 10 years ago," he said. "There is quite a bit of equity already built up within the industry. We have done some additional a research on the name. There is lots of evidence that people feel it imparts an upscale cache and upscale aura. We could add some descriptive material around it to clarify what Breeders' Cup means. That is the heart of the re-branding effort."
In mid to late June, Breeders' Cup and the NTRA are expected to release the revamped brand and announce some new racing series that will help build fan interest leading up Breeders' Cup Day. The series will package together existing stakes races into categories associated with Breeders' Cup races.
"We are looking at an effort to connect the championship to racing throughout the year," Van Clief said. "We also would like to create a rating system or ranking system so people can follow horses throughout the year. It would be comparable to college basketball polls." Poll Results About the poll
: ESPN Sports Poll conducted the survey. Adults 18 years and older were polled quarterly through 2000. The first question was asked for all four quarters of the year, the second and third questions were asked during the third and fourth quarters. A total of 2,000 people were polled per quarter. A "light" Thoroughbred racing fan is someone who has bet on a race within the past two years. A "lapsed" fan has bet on a race previously but not within the past two year. "Social" fans have attended a race within two years but have not bet or do not consider themselves bettors.