At the 2018 Jockey Club Roundtable, Ian Highet, the organization’s Secretary-Treasurer, reported that “Racing fans are 63 years old on average, which…is in line with PGA TOUR, NASCAR, baseball, and some other sports.  The average age of a TV sports viewer has been increasing for all sports over the past ten years, and racing is aging at a similar rate…”

Manifestly, the number one strategic challenge for perpetuating horse racing is to cultivate new generations of fans.  This, of course, has been a topic of discussion within the industry for years.

Many fans of horse racing will tell you they developed an interest in the sport when a relative took them to a racetrack.  For instance, my father took me with him to Churchill Downs when I was much too young to bet.  The obstacle to this approach today was illustrated in the McKinsey & Company presentation at the aforementioned Jockey Club Roundtable:

“…of the top 35 metro areas by population in the U.S., only five have a Thoroughbred track that we would describe as major league based on achieving a TripAdvisor rating of 4.5 stars…There are 12 cities with no Thoroughbred racetrack at all.”

The next-best-thing to actually experiencing horse racing by attending it in person is watching it on television.  Though television viewing in general has been in decline, and particularly so among younger U. S. residents, TV is still a powerful medium, especially when combined with effective social-media outreach.

According to McKinsey & Company, “In 2011, [horse racing was] down to 43 hours per year of Thoroughbred racing on national television.  The number of new fans introduced to racing through TV had declined.  Today, thanks to initiatives with the Breeders’ Cup, Keeneland, NYRA, The Stronach Group, FOX, NBC and others, there are over 200 hours of racing on national television.”

Horse-racing marketers have also made significant progress in the use of social media, especially during the Triple Crown season.  Yet they have a difficult task of supplying a continuous stream of fresh and attractive content once the public’s interest in racing ebbs after the Belmont Stakes in early June.

The ongoing reduction in the number of racetracks in the United States and the absence of tracks in a dozen of the top 35 population centers are major structural impediments to replenishing the sport’s aging fan base.  Television and social media are assuredly the way to go in attempting to compensate.  However, creating a new fan is only the first step.  The next step is to monetize a new fan’s interest by encouraging him/her to visit a racetrack or, if one is not nearby, to open a wagering account with an internet provider (if the state of residence permits online betting).

Expanding the number of horse-racing fans is a never-ending process metaphorically akin to hard-rock mining and requires an overarching national strategy with tactics tailored for local markets, similar to how multinational companies “think globally but act locally.”  The Jockey Club, McKinsey & Company, and other contributors have over the years provided the industry with actionable data-based strategic insights, but within the industry there are self-imposed impediments to effective strategy implementation.  This is the topic of next Wednesday’s post.

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