HORSE RACING TELECASTS

Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic of ESPN’s Mike & Mike show were discussing (on Tuesday) the appropriateness of the Burger King mascot being shown standing behind trainer Bob Baffert and his wife during part of the telecast of the Belmont Stakes.  Baffert reportedly received a $200,000 payment for cooperating, which he donated to four equine charities.

The issue Mike and Mike brought up was whether the presence of the Burger King mascot was tactless and detracted from the historic moment.  (The Burger King mascot also accompanied boxer Floyd Mayweather and his entourage as it made its way from the dressing room to the ring for the recent Mayweather-Pacquaio title fight in Las Vegas.)

Greenberg and Golic agreed that Baffert should have accepted the money from Burger King in order to benefit the equine charities.  They did not venture, however, what their opinions would have been if Baffert had pocketed the money for himself.

In the current era of sports marketing, very few promotions are surprising.  The Dallas Cowboys organization under Jerry Jones is perhaps the best example in the United States of capitalizing on the aura surrounding a sports team for commercial purposes.  In Europe, the professional soccer teams and Formula 1 drivers are exemplars of the marriage of sports and business.

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Greenberg and Golic also interviewed jockey Victor Espinoza.  Espinoza comports himself very well and is an able ambassador for horse racing.  Mike and Mike called attention to Espinoza’s philanthropy.

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The major horse racing telecasts, namely for the Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup, are always faced with the question of what to do with all of the air time that is not devoted to an actual race.  As a result, the programs are typically full of human-interest factoids or stories.  For example, during the 2014 Breeders’ Cup, viewers learned that jockey Rosie Napravnik was expecting her first child.  One announcer also periodically referred to “Rosie.”  Imagine a casual sports fan tuning in with no context and wondering who is this Rosie?  Horse racing broadcasters tend to assume that viewers know more about the sport than they do.

An announcer on the Belmont telecast gratuitously editorialized that American Pharoah’s owner Ahmed Zayat is “controversial,” with no explanation at all for the characterization.  Is the viewer supposed to know why Zayat is controversial?  Does it matter?  A racing telecast is usually no place to raise doubts about an owner or trainer, especially right after his colt has won the Triple Crown, unless the subject pertains directly to racing, as when Kentucky Derby trainer Steve Asmussen was fending off charges by PETA in 2014.

On the 2015 Triple Crown telecasts, viewers heard time and again about Bob Baffert’s son Bode and the change in the elder Baffert after his heart attack and the passing of his parents.

How different this intimate approach is compared to the telecasts of most other sports events.  For example, to my knowledge, the NBA finals announcers haven’t frequently mentioned LeBron James’ wife, children, or mother, if at all.  How much did we hear during the 2015 Super Bowl about the head coaches’ families?  In the midst of an Indianapolis Colts game, do the announcers mention that the team’s owner has had problems with substance abuse and law enforcement?

A few human-interest vignettes or mentions are sufficient during a horse-racing telecast.  Beyond that they get tiresome and at times seem contrived.  Most viewers are told more than they care to hear or need to hear.  Moreover, it seems as though the announcers are basically saying, “You viewers should like our sport because it has all of these inspiring  people who have overcome [fill in the narrative].”

The alternative is more focus on horses, with a few human-interest vignettes sprinkled in, and shorter telecasts, so there is not so much air time to fill.

Copyright © 2015 Horse Racing Business

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