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Thursday Thoughts: Horse Racing and the NHL Have Similar Issues

by Al Cimaglia

May 31, 2018

As some of you may know I have covered hockey for several years and have written on various websites about the Chicago Blackhawks. The NHL is somewhat a niche sport and it does have some similarities with horse racing.

The NHL playoffs have received better TV ratings this year. That is interesting, especially as many of the big market teams didn't make the post season or weren't around very long. Even the Monday night opening game of the Stanley Cup Final held its own in ratings although bumping up against an NBA Game 7.

One significant improvement which helped the NHL in recent years is high-definition television. In the past a constant complaint was folks couldn't follow the puck on TV. Now the telecasts have become more compelling with high-definition and super slow-motion replays. The sport could become more popular if the standardized telecast for every game around the league were all high quality.

In NFL games there are many camera angles but for the most part every contest looks the same way on television. The NFL has the ability to control camera angles more so than the NHL. The NFL uses more camera locations, but the telecasts are all high quality. Currently there is a significant difference between the coverage at certain NHL rinks and if it could be more similar it would help the viewing experience for every fan. NHL buildings are not uniform although the ice surface is, and consistent camera angles would help increase TV ratings. The better the viewing experience the more likely people will continue to watch.

Harness racing especially but thoroughbred racing as well could benefit from better camera angles and the use of high-definition technology. The video from some harness tracks is awful, so bad saddle pad and head number colors are not distinguishable. The realization most horse racing enthusiasts are no longer watching from the track apron should have hit home many years ago. It is past the time to move forward and improve the video presentation.

By improving the camera angles at the race track it can not only help those watching off-track but also the judges trying to determine infractions. In certain spots on the track a head-on camera shot might not be available, and that could limit the view of racing officials watching a replay. Gamblers would be better served as well as everyone with a financial interest in the outcome if the camera angles were enhanced and high-definition cameras were used.

Hockey tends to market teams instead of star players. It's' an odd strategy as the last big NHL star to receive proper media attention was probably Wayne Gretzky. The "Great One" retired in 1999 and the NHL should realize their marketing style isn't popular because it doesn't work as well. The NHL needs to step up and start marketing its stars like every other major sport.

Horse racing should showcase jockeys and drivers more often, as well trainers. Not to be forgotten should be the stars of the show, the great horses. The NHL may have sub-par marketing, but horse racing does not even have an identifiable marketing plan and in 2018 that's not a strategy for success.

It would not surprise me if the NHL increased more in popularity over the next ten years than the other three major sports. But the league needs to shed some old, worn ideas and point toward the future. The same could be said for horse racing.

Check me out on Twitter, @AlCimaglia.