Santa Anita heads into its annual meeting Dec. 26 without the television exposure enjoyed by its Southern California counterparts.
A contractual arrangement between Television Games Network and FOX Sports Network virtually shuts out Santa Anita from the Southern California daily afternoon television market for the first time since 1995. In addition, the Magna Entertainment-owned track's only regular national TV outlet is Magna's subscription-only Horse Racing Television (HRTV) network.
Andrew Gaughan, Magna's vice president of new media, said negotiations are ongoing for a distributor of the HRTV signal. Currently, HRTV's attractiveness to potential viewers is limited because it requires equipment purchases of $450 and a $100 monthly fee.
"We are optimistic we will have a distributor for HRTV in 2003," Gaughan said.
He also noted that the arrangement between TVG, Magna's rival in the home account wagering market, and FOX Sports ended a successful broadcasting relationship in Southern California. Santa Anita has produced a two-hour daily afternoon shown on FOX Sports for several years.
TVG is owned by Gemstar TV Guide International, Inc., which is owned in part by News Corp., the international telecommunications conglomerate that includes FOX Sports.
"It is key to point out that FOX and TVG have this exclusive arrangement, which is unfortunate because that arrangement benefits no one," said Gaughan.
TVG, which is using its regular satellite network programming on FOX Sports, is quick to point out that in addition to Hollywood Park, the agreement with FOX brings racing from Del Mar, Oak Tree from Santa Anita and Fairplex to the local television market.
John Hindman, TVG's vice president for communications, says the FOX agreement, which went into effect in April, is "a great way to capture a new fan."
"Our ratings have been very competitive with the top programs in this market," he said. "We're pleased with the results from California and it has shown that (the air time) is a positive for California racing. We feel the arrangement (with FOX) is an ingredient to the progress we've had this year."
TVG's home account wagering service has left Magna's Xpressbet far behind in the state, where betting by phone and computer became legal in late January.
Through Nov. 30, account wager handle from all sources was $156,457,505, according to figures provided by the California Horse Racing Board. TVG has accounted for 54.8 percent, or $85,774,037. Xpressbet, with $27,121,221, handled 17.3 percent. The third legal ADW provider in California, Youbet.com, has processed $43,562,247, or 27.8 percent.
Santa Anita officials believe that instead of their races in the 3 to 5 p.m. (PST) slot they used to occupy on FOX Sports, TVG will air the out-of-state tracks it is contractually committed to show. With Santa Anita, Gulfstream Park and the two Northern California tracks, Bay Meadows and Golden Gate, Magna dominates the national racing scene during the winter months, but none of those are shown on TVG.
Hindman said that TVG is negotiating with FOX Sports about what to fill that time with, but no decision has been made.
CHRB chairman Alan Landsburg said he's watching the situation.
"I am distressed by the fact that the broadcast time that was given to TVG is not being granted to Magna Entertainment," he said. "A corporation with a real vested interest in TVG is refusing to help racing. It has only its economic interests in mind."
Santa Anita will continue to produce a five-hour telecast each Saturday on KDOC-TV, which is available throughout the Los Angeles region, said Amy Zimmerman, the track's director of broadcasting. KDOC also broadcasts a 30-minute replay show each evening.
Santa Anita is also responsible for producing 15 hours of HRTV programming a day at its studio, she said.
Prior to its show on FOX Sports, Santa Anita produced an afternoon program on the old Prime Ticket network, Zimmerman said.