By John Piassek
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
On the last weekend of January, some of the best horseplayers in the country gathered in Las Vegas for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Contest. The big story was Jonathon Kinchen, who was the winner of the NHC Tour, and was as such eligible for a $2-million bonus should he have won the grand finale. The contest received a splashy play in the Form (which make sense, since they sponsor the contest), and Kinchen was interviewed for the Blood-Horse.
Other sports are no strangers to contests boosting attention. Over the last year, websites like DraftKings and FanDuel have created a stir in the sports world, luring in customers with the prospect of making tons of money through betting on sports. In the decades before them, sports fans put up money in their own fantasy leagues, and won plenty of it back. Even racing is starting to get in on the act, with websites like DerbyWars offering one-day handicapping contests on a variety of tracks.
Even though it’s a positive that such contests exist, it’s always been interesting to me how racing goes about marketing them, compared to the others. The whole selling point of daily fantasy sports websites is based on how much money its players could win—those who had won seven figures are the centerpiece of many of their ads. Yet, how often do you see the opportunity for big winnings advertised in racing? Not very often.
Jonathon Kinchen and people like him are perfect marketing tools for horse racing. They’re passionate racing fans and handicappers who took a shot in contest play, and won big. Should tracks implement contests of their own, or start up their own daily fantasy racing websites, it would be a gold mine.
NYRA has the right idea with their “low-roller” contests. First implemented at Saratoga over the summer, the contest has a low $30 entry fee, and allows the player to place five $2 win-place-show wagers over the course of the day. This allows the entrant to have some fun for a low cost, with a large cash prize awarded to the player with the best bankroll at the end of the day. There’s a lot more you can do with such contests. In addition to low-roller contests, tracks can have a bankroll competition, in which each entrant would get a bankroll of, say, $100, and can bet it any way they want (while placing a minimum/maximum # of bets). Near the end of the season, the winners of each low-roller contest can compete in a “high-roller” championship for an even bigger prize.
Those are just contests that can be offered in person. Notably, Monmouth Park recently created their own daily fantasy sports website. This is the perfect vehicle for Monmouth to unveil their own series of DerbyWars-like contests on their own races. Properly promoted, this would get Monmouth a sizable piece of the contest action, plus serve as a vehicle for other tracks to offer their own online contests.
There’s a big market and a big opportunity out there for contest players. Both on-track and off-track contests present the chance to win big money. Racetracks should start catering to them, to improve their profiles—and that of the sport.
John Piassek is a student at Loyola University in Maryland. He prides himself as a supporter of racing in New Jersey and Maryland. John is an aspiring race track announcer, marketer and writer. His “Mid-Atlantic Musings” column on DanonymousRacing.com focuses mostly on NJ and MD racing, ways to market them, how the states can improve their racing, and how racing should start focusing on bettor-centric marketing.
You can follow John on Twitter @Theyreoff.