Polls: Horse Racing Gains ... and It's Steadier Than Politics

Horse racing continues to gain ground in popularity and measures up very well compared with other major league sports, according to the latest information from the ESPN Sports Poll.

The horse racing fan base among the United States population ages 18 and older went 31.4% in 1999 to 37.7% for the first seven months of 2004, according to the data. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association is a client of ESPN Sports Poll.

The results were unveiled Sept. 27, first day of the two-day NTRA Annual Meeting and Marketing Summit in Las Vegas.

"We're talking prime rib to filet mignon," said Tracy Schoenadel, vice president of ESPN Sports Poll. "There is no other league that has done this, ever. Five years of growth never has happened before."

Schoenadel also said interest in the 12-24 age group increased 28.2% from 2003-2004. She said the number of avid fans overall increased 38% from 2002-2004. Factors cited by poll participants were the movie Seabiscuit (25.8%), the popularity of the Triple Crown (19.9%), televised racing (16.6%), a younger audience for horse racing (9%), interest in the Breeders' Cup (8.6%), and visibility tied to sponsorships (3.7%).

In other research discussed at the annual meeting, SDS, a Washington, D.C.-based market research company, said 48 million Americans indicated they are interested in going to the races. That number is up from 34.8 million in a 2003 survey.

Greg Schneiders, an SDS official who has worked polls since the 1976 presidential campaign, discussed the relationship between politics and marketing.

"People move on a continuum with a product or a candidate," Schneiders said. "When people reach the point where they might say, 'I might buy that,' they must be converted. More than last year, people are open to (experiencing horse racing). You've got to go out and get them in, just like Election Day."

As for what he called "the other horse race," Schneiders said the battle between Republican incumbent George Bush and Democrat John Kerry for the presidency is far from over. He noted the lead in the polls has gone back and forth, and that economic, social, and foreign policy issues have made for a "confusing electorate."

Bush currently leads in the polls, but Schneider indicated that, like horse racing, it doesn't take much to impact the projected outcome of a political race. He noted that incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter held a comfortable lead over Republican Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential election, but a debate the week before the vote gave Reagan a huge 10-point lead in about 48 hours. He won the election and ended up serving two terms.