New network prime vehicle to drive horse racing interest

Rarely in life does one get a second chance, much less a third shot at redemption. Horse racing might just get a third chance, namely in key national television exposure.

I thought the second chance for racing was when TVG and HRTV came on the scene in the 1990s. They do a fine job promoting the sport daily, but, as niche networks, their reach can go only so far.

A new partnership with the fledgling Fox Sports 1 24-hour sports network was announced in August. It got short shrift coming in the midst of the Del Mar and Saratoga meets.

Michael Mulvihill, senior vice president of programming and research at Fox Sports, delivered the news at the Jockey Club Round Table.

Fox Sports 1 will cover the 2014 handicap division with 10 90-minute broadcasts beginning with the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park. I think that’s smart because it lets the other networks publicize the 3-year-olds who will become the handicap division when they turn age 4.

Mulvihill made many good points that someone from the outside looking in can visualize.

“Nielsen Research showed over 36.5 million people watched either the Triple Crown or the Breeders’ Cup,” Mulvihill said. “Of that number, an incredible 92 percent didn’t watch any other horse racing all year.

“Over 31 million people have already demonstrated some level of interest in racing ... those viewers represent an enormous opportunity for this sport.”

Mulvihill added that most sports “realize the bulk of their revenue through the sale of media rights ... while TV revenue will never be more than a tiny fraction of national handle.”

He foresees Fox Sports 1 as a “vehicle that inspires passive viewers to become active players who will contribute to growth and handle. That has to be our mission.”

You have to love hearing a top-level TV executive, who knows horse racing, marry his media platform with the horse racing product.

His brother, Jim Mulvihill, is director of media and industry relations for the NTRA. His background included marketing and publicity roles at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Thus, the family bleeds horse racing blue.

Michael Mulvihill went on to discuss presenting fan education and the challenge of handicapping as elements of each broadcast.

That is music to the ears of many in the sport. The horses, trainers and owners, while vital, don’t drive the economic engine. Horseplayers prime the pump via handle. Without bettors, or betting, how many people would show up to see horses making left turns?

My final thought is this: When Fox started broadcasting the NFL, it changed the way games were presented. For the better. I think horse racing still has a high ceiling, especially with the component of legalized gambling on track and over the Internet.

I believe in my heart a lot of new horse racing fans are out there. It’s just that they don’t know it yet.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick