Commentary: Sex Sells

Sure, this is no Bobby Riggs versus Billy Jean King but that’s what marketing is all about—taking something people aren’t sure they care about and making them realize they should care about it.

Early on Belmont day, Alex Waldrop, head of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said the sport needed to better market itself.

Well, Alex, sex sells.

You and your staff should have already held a meeting to discuss the various ways to market Belmont (gr. I) winner Rags to Riches to the public.

Ever see those ads where the word SEX is in huge type and the fine print says, “Now that we have your attention…”

Get that tape of New York announcer Tom Durkin from the stretch drive proclaiming it the “Battle of the Sexes.”

Let’s latch on to this and run with it.

Sure, this is no Bobby Riggs versus Billy Jean King but that’s what marketing is all about—taking something people aren’t sure they care about and making them realize they should care about it.

Nowhere was it more evident the sport is in trouble than at Bemont Park June 9, both in the stands and in the hallowed area known as the press box, where scribes from all corners normally gather to witness the event and describe it to others.

With no horse going for a Triple Crown and no Derby winner, the 46,870 in attendance at Belmont comprised the smallest crowd at the final leg of the Triple Crown since 1996. While media members often scoff at announced attendance figures at such events, this number was clearly very real while also very disappointing.

But even more disappointing was the lack of coverage the race received from the national media. On the day prior to the race, roughly 30 members of the media were filing stories from the press box. Half of those were from the industry’s two trade magazines and its only daily newspaper.

No writer from a California paper; one from a Florida paper; none from Chicago; none from Texas.

There used to be dozens and dozens of newspapers that had full-time writers covering the sport. Today, that number has dwindled to where the members of that fraternity could hold their annual meeting in a phone booth.

The NTRA is advertising for a position to help market the sport to non-mainstream media. In past years, we’ve seen such outlets as The Weather Channel and the Food Network at the Derby. But has that translated into new fans?

About as many as the Go Baby Go slogan.

While it certainly makes sense to get non-mainstream media interested in racing, perhaps we first need to figure out how to market the sport to the mainstream media. Many trainers play golf, but before we should try to get the Golf Channel to do a story on backstretch workers that hit the links, we should see if we can win back reporters from papers that have abandoned racing.

Coverage of the sport in newspapers continues to decline every year. Those that used to carry entries and results no longer do. They correctly reason you can get that information online. Those that have Turf writers do not replace them when they retire, or should we say, take a buyout. Even the two papers who should care about the sport the most, the Louisville Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald-Leader, failed to send columnists to assist their racing writers at the Belmont.

Michael Tabor, the co-owner of Rags to Riches, must know how to market the sport because he said the right two things in the post-race press conference. First, Rags to Riches will meet the boys again. Secondly, the daughter of A.P. Indy will race next year.

We all understand the economics of the game, but the fans are growing tired of the sport’s stars being whisked off to the breeding shed. There is no reason for them to imagine how good Street Sense and Hard Spun could be next year but Tabor has let us know he intends to see Rags to Riches campaign as a 4-year-old.

As soon as we find out where Rags to Riches will tangle with males again, we should capitalize on take two of the Battle of the Sexes.

In fact, there is one way to ensure the sport of Thoroughbred racing will appear on the front page of every publication and on every news telecast.

Forget Chad Johnson vs. Restore the Roar at River Downs. Get Paris Hilton vs. Rags to Riches at Hollywood Park.

But hurry; Paris’ days behind bars are limited. So, too, may be racing’s days to market itself.