TOC: California Racing Needs More TV Exposure

Nearing the end of the first year of account wagering in California, the president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California has expressed frustration with the lack of television exposure so far.

"We're not overly pleased with any of the (account wagering) entities, particularly (Magna Entertainment Corp.) and the (TV Games Network)," John Van de Kamp said. "We're not pleased with the overall television distribution."

Magna, TVG, and each have agreements with the TOC that stipulate the horsemen's percentage of takeout from California-related account wagering. A lack of television exposure, if it results in less wagering, hits horsemen in the pocketbook.

"In Northern California, there is nothing available (for Magna tracks Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields)," Van de Kamp said. "MEC has no cable deal or any major television outlet."

In Southern California, Magna-owned Santa Anita Park is scrambling to find a daily afternoon outlet for its upcoming meet, which begins Dec. 26. Its former two-hour program on FOX Sports Network is off the air due to a contractual agreement between rival TVG and FOX (which are connected by common corporate ownership) that gives TVG the time once that once belonged to Santa Anita.

Officials at Santa Anita and at Magna headquarters in Toronto, Ontario, believe they are close to a Southern California television deal and are also optimistic they will have a distributor for their own racing network, Horse Racing Television, in 2003. (Currently, the track is limited to a five-hour Saturday show on KDOC-TV, available throughout the Los Angeles region. KDOC plans to air a 30-minute replay show on weekends as well, but has canceled Santa Anita's popular evening replay program.)

"We regret that Santa Anita is no longer available on FOX Sports, but there are other options," Van de Kamp said. "I've been hearing (they're close with HRTV) for the past year. It's always just around the corner."

A spokesman for TVG said races from Aqueduct and other winter/spring meetings outside of California with agreements with the racing network would likely be aired on FOX sports in Southern California.

"We'd put Santa Anita's races on our network on December 26 if Magna was willing to do business with us on similar terms to which 60 other tracks, including the other California tracks, have agreed," said Mark Wilson, president and CEO of TVG, in a prepared statement.

Betting through account wagering was nearly $156.5 million from late January through Nov. 30. Van de Kamp said he's not sure if the competition between TVG, which accounts for nearly 55% of the total, and Magna, which has processed 17%, has brought an appreciable number of new fans to the sport, an important goal when the California Horse Racing Board approved account wagering.

"It has always been unfortunate that we couldn't have a single hub for account wagering," Van de Kamp said. "I think the two companies are competitors, and that competition will eventually establish a victor and a victim. Right now, what we have is a lot of wheel-spinning."