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Horse racing can attract younger fans through gamification and a party atmosphere

The Breeders' Cup highlights another chance for horse racing to attract a younger demographic.

Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Horse racing is trying to replenish its younger fan base. Research has shown younger demographics aren’t smitten by the sport.

Reasons: Local tracks are closing, young fans only associate the pageantry of horse racing with the Triple Crown races, and OTB locations have a reputation of being smoky rooms filled with decrepit gamblers.

Yet, horse racing could appeal to young people. Races are tailor-made for short attention spans, the race for the Triple Crown carries a historic storyline, and the track can still be a good place to party . So how can racing create new fans?

One way is to create a party atmosphere. The Preakness Stakes has had a party reputation for a while. The Kentucky Derby has done a great job portraying itself as a fun event with fancy hats and mint juleps. Some race tracks, such as Del Mar, have concerts that draw the younger demographics to its grounds. These other attractions drive crowds to the racetrack, which is a good start, but it doesn’t necessarily get folks involved in horse racing fandom (and gambling).

(Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)
(Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

Another way is to increase interest is to provide technology solutions. Gamification, competition and gambling all pull a younger demographic. Look no further than FanDuel and other daily fantasy sports sites. One company that is trying to do this is Giddy Apps. Its website, DerbyJackpot, allows fans to bet on horse races throughout the country. No more trips to the OTB. It also eliminates language used to make bets at the track (which can intimidate casual horse race attendees). Products like this attract a casual fan. The hope is that this type of gamification prompts users to attend a race. There is the drawback of people now placing monkey or donkey bets at a track (types of bets in Derby Jackpot that aren’t track bets), but the excitement of the track may draw young fans back.

Finally, racing must increase its distribution. The Breeders’ Cup extended its contract with NBC and provides some of the best horse racing in the nation. However, there are other opportunities. The opening of Del Mar is a big event in Southern Californian circles. Santa Anita, Keeneland or Saratoga opening days could be promoted and marketed, focusing on big-name horses with which fans are already familiar. Young up-and-coming horses could gain exposure before entering the three-year old Triple Crown races.

The expectation is that folks who attend a horse race will get caught up in the excitement. Take it from someone in the target demographic who has attended multiple races. Entertainment, gamification and storylines could get fans out of the gate and headed to the finish line.

Michael Colangelo is Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute and Senior Editor of The Fields of Green.

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