With all major sports on hiatus across the United States as the nation battles the COVID-19 pandemic, Thoroughbred racing has managed to hold out in a few pockets of the country. While there are no fans populating the stands where racing continues — namely Arkansas, Florida, Nebraska, and Oklahoma — the action on the track continues.
This is good news for the horsemen at those facilities who are able to continue to ply their trade when so many have been forced to reorganize their racing agendas. It is also good news for TVG, the sport’s television channel and an advance-deposit-wagering platform.
While TVG and other ADWs are missing the key tracks of April: Keeneland, Aqueduct, and Santa Anita Park, the racing network has some programming. Partnering with NBC Sports in order to access a larger audience, TVG has been able draw in new customers to the platform.
“Horse racing has become the only live sport in the U.S. I don’t have exact figures, but our ratings are up substantially,” said Kip Levin, president of FanDuel and CEO of TVG Network Betfair US. “We’re simulcasting on NBC Sports Network in a partnership with NBC ... TVG is carried in 45 million homes, NBC Sports is north of 80 million homes. It’s a good opportunity for horse racing but not under the ideal circumstances we want. However, it is one where people are paying attention to racing that otherwise wouldn’t be paying attention to racing.
“We had launched a new ADW product in January under the FanDuel brand called FanDuel Racing with the intent of promoting it during the Triple Crown run and summer racing. It’s really an ADW built for new fans that didn’t understand all of the bet types or how racing works. There has been a growth in that product. FanDuel is clearly for people that are brand new to the sport and trying it for the first time. We are excited about the growth we’ve seen in that.”
As the audience grows, the TVG talent has also shifted its focus to better explain the sport to newcomers.
“We are changing the way we talk about the sport, knowing that all of a sudden we have sports fans, that otherwise would probably be watching college basketball, who are watching horse racing for the first time,” Levin said. “[Normally] we are under the assumption our viewers are knowledgeable horse racing fans. One of the things we’ve done really well is changing our tone to talk to more beginners. You are hearing talent talk in more analogies to other sports that people might be more familiar with. From the wagering side of it, we’ve stopped promoting Pick 4 and Pick 5 tickets and stripped it down to talking about horses a player might want to make a $10 win bet on. That’s been very impactful.”
The gains TVG has made in viewers and new customers is a mix of newcomers and other horse players that are now not able to attend their track, OTB, or simulcast outlet due to closures.
“It looks like about half of the new customers are coming in from retail, so they would have otherwise been at the track or a simulcast facility, or an OTB; the other half are people who would have likely been betting on sports,” Levin said. “The growth in the online business is not replacing the handle that has been lost across the spectrum, but I think when the world comes back to normal there is the potential that we have used this period of time to create some new horse racing fans that normally wouldn’t have been there.”
And those new racing fans are watching “new” tracks, such as Fonner Park in Nebraska.
“It has been a great opportunity for Fonner Park, a track that wouldn’t get a whole lot of play on TVG,” Levin said. “To their credit, they have shifted their racing schedule to accommodate and find time on the air at TVG. We’ve done a lot of business on Fonner Park.
“We are in constant contact with all of the tracks to keep ahead of their status and it is different everywhere. In a lot of ways, one positive thing about this crisis is that I’ve seen really great collaboration within the racing industry beyond what you might normally see.”