The 2013 Breeders’ Cup will be televised from Santa Anita Park, as follows:

Friday, November 1, on NBC Sports (cable channel), 4 PM- 8 PM (Eastern USA time zone)

Saturday, November 2, on NBC Sports, 3:30 PM – 8 PM (Eastern USA time zone)

Saturday, November 2, on NBC (network) 8 PM – 9 PM (Eastern USA time zone)

In the early days of the Breeders’ Cup, beginning in 1984, there were only seven races and they were carried on NBC network television on a Saturday from about 1 PM to 6 PM. Then, for a few years, the races were on the cable channel ESPN. The Breeders’ Cup was expanded to two days in 2007, and most of the races have now been moved to cable television. The Classic is the only race presented on network television in prime time. This split between cable and network makes sense, given the traditionally tepid ratings for the Breeders’ Cup on network television and the impossibility of attracting a large audience for four and 5 1/2 hour telecasts on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

The cable telecasts will undoubtedly have low ratings and draw the vast majority of their small audiences from among horse racing aficionados. Making matters worse, NBC Sports is a channel that comes as a premium offering on most cable systems, meaning that a large segment of horse-racing fans won’t receive the bulk of the Friday and Saturday telecasts. This will further detract from the potential audience size. When the Breeders’ Cup was telecast on ESPN, the situation was not as limiting because ESPN, though a cable channel, was usually included in basic packages of Time Warner and other providers.

The TV audiences for sporting events have been in decline in recent years. For example, the exciting Game 2 of the 2013 World Series attracted only 11.5 million viewers. Thus expectations concerning TV ratings for the Breeders’ Cup Classic in prime time should not be optimistic.

The same can be said for on-track attendance. The Friday card is held during the work day in Los Angeles (1 PM – 5 PM on the West Coast). The Saturday card is about a workday-long when the preliminary races are factored in.

People in general, circa 2013, do not have the patience for marathon sporting events. For instance, some of the top-flight college football programs in the country have seen empty seats in their student sections and coaches have criticized fans for leaving games early.

The judgment here is that the Breeders’ Cup watered down its brand equity when it expanded to two days. The perplexing part of the decision is that the addition of the Friday card ran counter to shortening attention spans in the 21st century. In the case of the Breeders’ Cup, less was more.

The overall quality of the Breeders’ Cup has been damaged by the absence of some of the better turf horses from Europe, owing to prestigious autumn races in France, England, and Ireland. Consider the attraction had the Breeders’ Cup been able to entice the connections of Sea the Stars and Frankel.

In spite of diluting the brand and the obvious embellishment of billing itself as the “World Championships,” the Breeders’ Cup is still a great show for horse racing fans to watch and bet on.

Copyright © 2013 Horse Racing Business