REVIEW OF THE KENTUCKY DERBY BUSINESS PERFORMANCE

Kentucky Derby 136 did quite well on television and in betting handle. Following is a synopsis:

KD136 had a TV rating of 9.8 and a 23 share of audience. This means that 9.8% of the 114.9 million TV households in the United States were tuned into the Derby, or about 11.3 million households. Further, of the approximately 49 million television households that actually had their TVs turned on during the time period that the Derby was being telecast, 23% of them were tuned into NBC’s presentation of the Derby.

KD136 attracted the best television audience since 1989 when 18.5 million people watched. The three-hour 2010 telecast averaged 16.5 million viewers.

Television ratings for the Kentucky Derby have climbed by 50% since 2000.

Total handle for KD136 was $112.7 million, which was an increase of 7.5% over the $104.8 million wagered in 2009. 2010 reversed handle declines in 2007, 2008, and 2009.

All-sources wagering on the 13-race Derby-day card at Churchill Downs was $162.7 million, a 4.3% increase over the $156 million bet on the 13-race card in 2009.

Total on-track handle for the 13-race card was $21.5 million, up 1.4% from 2009. On-track handle on KD136 alone was $11.1 million, an 8.8% increase over the previous year.

Attendance of 155,804 for KD136 was the event’s fifth largest crowd ever.

The Kentucky Oaks card, run the Friday before the Derby, attracted 116,046 people to Churchill Downs. All-sources handle for the entire Oaks-day card was $35.9 million, a 19.8% increase from 2009. All-sources handle on the Oaks itself was $10.6 million, up 54.6% over 2009. On-track handle on the Oaks card was $11.9 million, or plus 13.2% over 2009.

These statistics are especially positive, in light of two obstacles. While the Oaks-day weather was ideal, it rained Derby day and Churchill Downs officials met with police and Kentucky National Guard personnel to plan for how to evacuate in case of dangerous weather conditions. Moreover, the AMTote betting hub in Oregon malfunctioned in the hour preceding the Derby and this affected some prominent advance deposit wagering services and off-track betting sites.

The analysis here is that the major reasons for the business turnaround for KD136 are threefold. First, the economy is improving, albeit slowly, and surveys of consumer sentiment are improving. Second, NBC and its cable affiliates did a fine job of promoting KD136 through advertisements and promotions. Third, the Derby-week injury and subsequent withdrawal of the Derby favorite, Eskendereya,  created very enticing plays, with a 7-1 racetime favorite and many contending colts held at double-digit odds. This, coupled with the memory of Mine That Bird’s victory and hefty payout in 2009, attracted bettors.

On a concluding note, jockey Calvin Borel is an excellent public-relations ambassador for racing. The enthusiasm and decency he conveys, along with his cooperation with fans and the media, are refreshing in an age of prima donna athletes. The Wall Street Journal recognized this in the article “An Athlete Who Deserves His Due.” The author avered that Borel may be America’s “coolest sports star.” I’ll second that.

Copyright © 2010 Horse Racing Business

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