SBJ/Jan. 20-26, 2014/Media

FS1 to broadcast nine horse races

Fox Sports 1 has signed a three-year deal with The Jockey Club that will include broadcasting nine major horse races, including the richest race in the world, the Dubai World Cup.

The series of 90-minute programs will begin Feb. 9 with the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in South Florida, and end with the Ricoh Woodbine Mile Stakes at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto on Sept. 14.

Neither Jockey Club officials nor Mike Mulvihill, Fox Sports 1 senior vice president of programming and research, would disclose financial details of the deal.

While the network will air nine races this year, the deal does allow it to televise up to 10 races a year.

Jason Wilson, vice president of business development of The Jockey Club, a 120-year-old horse racing industry organization, said Fox Sports approached The Jockey Club last year about broadcasting horse racing.

Mulvihill noted the deal came out of discussions between consultant Ed Desser, who represents The Jockey Club, and David Hill, Fox senior executive vice president and a longtime horse racing fan and handicapper.

Mulvihill is bullish on the racing series. “We don’t do anything just to fill hours,” he said. “I believe that horse racing is a sleeping giant in American sports.”

He pointed to the fact that about $11 billion is wagered on horse races in North America annually, as well as the sport’s affluent fan base. He added that most of the Grade 1 horse races, which feature the best horses in the country, are being televised nationally only by networks dedicated to horse racing.

“That’s not to say that horse racing doesn’t face challenges,” he said, “but when you’ve got a sport that’s generating $11 billion in handle a year and for the most part the highest level of competition isn’t even being televised nationally, I have to believe there’s an audience there that is being underserved.”

The Jockey Club partnered with NBC Sports, which broadcast a four-program series on NBC, NBC Sports Network and CNBC called “The Road to the Kentucky Derby” in 2012 and 2013. However, that racing series will not be broadcast by NBC this year. “We did have discussions about ‘The Road to the Kentucky Derby’ series, but we couldn’t make it work for 2014,” Wilson said.

NBC declined to comment on its talks.

When “The Road to the Kentucky Derby” aired on NBC, it averaged 926,000 viewers in 2012 and 935,000 viewers in 2013. It averaged 243,000 viewers when it was aired once on CNBC in 2012, and between 52,000 and 166,000 viewers for its shows on the NBC Sports Network in 2012 and 2013.

“These shows will do as well as the shows we had on NBC Sports Network,” Wilson said when asked about ratings projections for Fox Sports 1. “Of course, we do expect a drop relative to the NBC show in 2012 and 2013.”

The series planned for Fox Sports 1 marks the first time Fox has broadcast horse racing since the late 1990s.



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