I spent this past weekend at the Preakness Stakes held annually at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. It’s an event I’ve attended probably 20 times in my life and each time is uniquely different then the others because the Preakness offers the gamut of the live experience. I was a guest of the Stronach Group, the owners of Pimlico. Their corporate tent included a former Miss Universe, a future Hall of Fame Baltimore Raven, celebrity chef Bobby Flay, the charasmatic mayor of Los Angeles and so on.
Approximately 100 yards away, the Chainsmokers were on a stage playing in front of the mass who came to rage. There is no professional sporting event that caters to a Mardi Gras/Mosh Pit styled party quite like the Preakness.
These two distinct areas while close in proximity, don’t include the other side of the track where the clubhouse and grandstand crowd which represents spending capacity at the biggest event the state of Maryland will house each year.
This capacity to generate interest across every age range and income level was always something I personally admired about the sport. It seems to have a place for everyone to celebrate. But these days in our world of media consumption, it’s an interesting viewpoint into segmentation of community and how each sport may have to look at the experience horse racing creates to maintain their current levels of relevancy. And in turn, the sport of horse racing must consider that their advantage is the experience itself and moving forward construct their messaging to represent that.
I ended up in a number of interesting conversations about the future of the sports from a consumption perspective. Horse racing coverage explodes for the 3 week period leading up to the Kentucky Derby and through the Preakness. If a Triple Crown is on the line (that won’t be the case this year), that coverage continues for another 3 weeks through the Belmont Stakes. The ratings are predictable for each event dependent on outcome and general awareness of the horse running for historic glory.
The rest of the calendar year focuses on the races themselves. And because the other days pale in comparison to that of these major Triple Crown events, consumption is low with demographics heavily leaning on men who bet.
But there are some in the sport who want to change that because the sport rarely has utilized it’s best feature to it’s content generating advantage, the experience itself. Those complicit with actively trying to make the venues as attractive to a younger audience as possible will spur a rebirth.
Horse racing is by definition in terms of general interest, niche. But I’d argue that the majority of sports are becoming niche as well. In fact I’d argue that all coverage of sports in this country are becoming niche products. The proof comes from ESPN executives who announced during the recent upfronts that they are working with the Nelson ratings organization to get an accurate representation of out of home viewers of their products. They want people in bars to count toward ratings. If that becomes accurate and lucrative, you can be certain that networks will start paying bars and restaurants to change their TV’s to their channels. What it in earnest suggests is the networks are losing so many viewers so quickly (this is not exclusive to ESPN, it affects everyone) that they are grasping to find ways to tell advertisers that they still have the benchmark number of eyeballs to command top ad revenue. Thus, content providers are essentially becoming niche purveyors themselves.
I spent the weekend with one of my oldest friends who works in the media buying industry. Like the media world where I reside, this landscape shift is earth shattering. The money in advertising isn’t drying up. It’s the companies who foresee where it’s best spent that will survive. In the case of horse racing, selling the experience appears to be the best way to go because their experiences range. Because it has something for everybody, the goal would be to find ways to reach everybody. That seems to apply to everyone in every facet of sports now. Find ways to message your brand in as many ways as possible. And use that aggravate number to tell your story.
In a year from now, when I return to Pimlico, those parties will still be going and still be vastly different from one another. Now is the time to see if the media alters it’s approach to attract everyone to whatever it is they are looking to be a part of.
You can follow me on Instagram/Twitter/Snapchat: @RealBramW
You can email me at: Bram@reelmediagroup.tv