Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 2 December 2020

Horse racing TV viewership jumps 200 per cent in USA

New York Racing Association hope to save jobs of 'tens of thousands' of workers

File photo of the 2018 Kentucky Derby in Louisville. AP
File photo of the 2018 Kentucky Derby in Louisville. AP

Horse racing has emerged as an unlikely leader in the world of US sports during the coronavirus pandemic.

Racing is one of the few sports going on – in a limited capacity and at a few empty tracks – in North America but its TV presence has expanded because of the lack of other options, according to the Associated Press.

The New York Racing Association (NYRA) helps produce 'America’s Day at the Races' on Fox Sports, TVG has partnered with NBC Sports for coverage each week and the hope is the fledgling industry can stay afloat during these tough times.

“Horse racing has been a welcome substitute for other events that are currently unavailable,” Fox Sports executive vice president Mike Mulvihill was quoted as saying by the report.

“Viewing of horse racing has tripled over last year. It’s been a nice bit of normalcy when the rest of the sports world is anything but.”

For a sport that usually only garners national attention from the Kentucky Derby through Triple Crown season, horse racing is benefiting from being the only game in town.

Total viewership on Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2 and NBC Sports network is up 206 per cent in 2020 from the same time last year.

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Horse racing continues

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Different kinds of viewers are tuning in, too, and TVG CEO Kip Levin said the tone of broadcasts changed quickly to accommodate that.

“Hats off to our production and talent team. Literally within days they had shifted from talking to the fan that knew a lot about the sport to talking to and really educating the audience in ways in which we don’t normally do,” Levin said.

New fans are able to get familiar by watching on TV thanks to just a few dozen people working at Belmont Park on Long Island and Southern California studios. NYRA director of TV operations Eric Donovan oversees a third of his usual staff spread out among multiple areas at Belmont Park, while TVG’s usual crew of 45-50 is down to less than 10 people, all in their own workplaces.

On-air broadcasters are either stationed apart on set or working from home. Officials said workers are observing guidelines on distancing while doing their jobs to put races on the air.

“We’ve spaced everybody out throughout our TV trucks so that people are not in close proximity with each other, we’re constantly cleaning the facility, so we’re operating in a safe way,” NYRA chief revenue officer Tony AllevatoAllevato said.

Live racing at Aqueduct Park in Queens was suspended in mid-March after a backstretch worker tested positive for the coronavirus. Groom Martin Zapata, 63, died in early April from COVID-19 complications.

But non-New York races have always been part of the NYRA broadcasts, and now the racing comes from places like Florida’s Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs, Arkansas’ Oaklawn Park, Oklahoma’s Remington Park and Nebraska’s Fonner Park.

Belmont Park’s backstretch remains open for almost 600 workers to take care of the horses, and Allevato said NYRA as a nonprofit continues to broadcast races, not to make money but to take care of its employees and help the industry at large.

“We’re keeping them employed, and we’re keeping food on the table for these people,” he said.

“We are in horse racing for the long haul, and our goal is to see New York horse racing thrive, and for horse racing to be successful in New York, it needs to be successful across the country and there’s a massive ecosystem that’s involved here with tens and tens of thousands of jobs.”

Updated: April 18, 2020 02:34 PM

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