SBJ/March 4-10, 2013/Media

Breeders’ Cup track will affect NBC plans in ’14

NBC will broadcast the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park during prime time again this year, but whether the network is able to do it in 2014 may depend on the host site for horse racing’s championship event, said Jon Miller, NBC Sports president of broadcasting.

“We encourage them to pick a site like Santa Anita to host it for 2014,” Miller said. “We have been clear with Breeders’ Cup that is a sure way to continue this [prime-time viewing] going forward.”

Santa Anita Park in California provides NBC with the opportunity to push the Breeders’ Cup Classic into prime time.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
The Breeders’ Cup is a two-day event which historically has been held the last week of October or the first week of November at various major tracks around the country. The organizing committee has not yet named a host track for the event beyond this year, when it will be held on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 at Santa Anita in the Los Angeles area. For this November, NBC plans to bring back its hourlong program featuring the Breeders’ Cup Classic race live from 8 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, after airing the other 14 races leading up to it live on NBC Sports Network on Friday and Saturday.

But Miller noted if it is held at an East Coast or Midwest track in the future, inclement weather and the lack of lighting at some tracks for night racing could pose potential problems in airing an hourlong program featuring the Breeders’ Cup Classic race live in prime time.

NBC prefers to run the Classic at night for many reasons, including that it has other sports programming, including college football, earlier in the day that time of year.

Miller was noncommittal when asked if NBC could broadcast the race earlier in the day on the network. “It depends on the day,” he said. “We will work with [the Breeders’ Cup] to try to find a window. But we have a pretty packed network schedule of live sporting events in the fourth quarter on NBC.”

Gary Quinn, NBC vice president of programming and owned properties, said: “The Breeders’ Cup knows what the playing field is. We made it clear what we have available on NBC and what we want to do in prime time.”

Peter Rotondo, Breeders’ Cup senior vice president of media, stated in an email in response to questions that officials are working toward host track agreements for 2014, and beyond, and expect to have details in place in the next several months.

“We feel our partnership with NBC got off to a very encouraging start in 2012 with a sensational telecast that captured the drama, prestige and excitement of the Breeders’ Cup and drew a very strong rating,” Rotondo said. “We have been in discussions with NBC on how we build and expand off 2012.”

Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic race held at Santa Anita was broadcast live between 8 and 9 p.m. ET on NBC and marked the first time a horse racing event was shown in prime time on broadcast television in years, if ever. It was considered an experiment, if not a risk, for NBC, which also owns the rights to horse racing’s Triple Crown — the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.

But the broadcast did better than NBC expected despite the lack of a popular horse or story going into it. The broadcast earned a 2.0 Nielsen rating, drawing 3.1 million viewers on a Saturday night. NBC’s average Saturday night rating has been below 2.0, in the range of 1.6 to 1.7, and Miller said that prior to the broadcast NBC would have been happy with anything in the 1.6 to 1.7 rating range.

“A lot of people doubted our ability to make the Breeders’ Cup work in prime time,” Miller said. “But our entertainment division was thrilled with it. Advertising-wise it was supported by key sponsors of the Breeders’ Cup. It worked really well and our feeling was, ‘It was a good thing, let’s keep it going.’”

There has been talk for years of Santa Anita being named as a permanent site for the Breeders’ Cup, but that plan is not popular among some horse owners, breeders and racing fans on the East Coast and in the Midwest.

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