Journalists Offer Thoughts on Coverage of Racing

The Internet, big-event days, and human-interest stories that appeal to the general public could help horse racing maintain and perhaps grow its fan base, journalists said during a Feb. 8 panel discussion at the Racing Congress in Las Vegas.

The panel, called "Life, Death & Resurrection," discussed the decline of racing coverage in traditional print media but noted some positive developments, primarily coverage of Thoroughbred on the ESPN networks and the growth in use of the Internet, either for wagering or informational purposes.

"I think the hero of modern-day racing is going to be the Internet," said Bill Nack, senior writer for Sports Illustrated. "I think the traditional media is no longer going to take much of an interest in horse racing."

"The culture we live in is a big event-oriented culture," said Jay Hovdey, featured columnist for Daily Racing Form. "If racing had more big events, racing would be in better shape."

Hovdey mentioned the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) as the primary event in the sport media-wise, followed by the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.

The discussion mirrored recent trends in horse racing and broke no new ground, though some of the panelists criticized racetrack officials and the sport itself. Gary West, racing columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, said the media is reacting to racetracks' de-emphasizing the racing product, particularly those with alternative gaming.

"It's easy to blame the newspapers (for cutting back coverage), but the real blame should be pointed at the sport," West said.

Joe Sullivan, sports editor for the Boston Globe, said his newspaper dropped much of its racing agate--primarily entries and results for local Greyhound tracks and a harness track--because of low demand and a need to use space wisely. Sullivan is a racing fan who noted the agate took up about a half-page a day in the newspaper.

"I felt it was a real waste of space with what we could do with that space," Sullivan said. "We're still going to cover horse racing, and we remain interested in feature stories."

Sullivan said the response to the paper's decision was "minor"--he received 75 to 100 e-mails, mainly from people connected to Greyhound racing. He said the Globewould continue to publish entries and results for Suffolk Downs and Saratoga in New York.

As for the Internet, panelists encouraged tracks to use Web sites to promote racing. Eugene Christiansen of Christiansen Capital Advisors offered a connection between horse racing and classical music--low market share, an aging audience, and threats of its demise.

Christiansen said classical music sales, according to a recent newspaper article, have been static at about 3% of total record sales. However, on Web sites on which music can be downloaded, classical music sales made up 12%-14% of the total, with new, younger buyers.

"The Internet is the future and a way to rejuvenate Interest in the sport," he said.

The Racing Congress is a product of Harness Tracks of America, the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, the United States Trotting Association, and the United States Harness Writers Association.