Thoroughbred Racing Fan Association, Inc.
ARE CHESS PLAYERS THE NEW FANS RACING NEEDS?
Reading the New York Times each day is not a usual exercise for ThoroFan. Reading the Daily Racing Form may be. However, recently was different. Opening to the Sports Section of the New York Times provided a surprise. The lead story was entitled, “How Chess Conquered Norway”. It was replete with a full, above the fold, colored photo of busy, dim-lighted night club crowded with chess players. The club was perfectly named the “Good Knight”.
The origin of the story was less intriguing than the fact that the New York Times was covering chess on the first page of their Sports section. How could the New York Times see chess as a sport? Here is how. The dictionary definition of a sport is (noun) “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment”. Picking up pieces and moving them meets the criterion of physical exertion. Clearly individual skill is a prerequisite for playing chess. There is no doubt it is played for entertainment. The Times is right, Chess is a sport, albeit unlike the other sports covered in the Times Sport’s section.
Will handicapping horse races be the next sport recognized by the New York Times? It, too, meets the definition. Analyzing past performance data, trekking to morning workouts and racing to the window to get a bet in are on the tangent of physical exertion, especially after doing it for a full card of races lasting upwards of eight hours. Anyone who tried handicapping knows the learning curve is steep and skill is a prerequisite. Most do it for fun and entertainment. Rare is the person who makes it a profitable exercise. So, let’s all lobby for handicapping races to be a new sport recognized by the New York Times. If you agree let them know by writing a note to the Sports editor.
More interesting for the sport of Thoroughbred racing is the opportunity to attract new fans from groups not heretofore considered. Because of revenue models new fans have been teased to racing by watching a sport (horse racing) and legally wagering on it. With the competition from other forms of gaming this approach is showing weaker responses. If racing were to refocus on the intellectual skill demanding games, a new group of fans may be discovered.
Think about the possibilities. The core similarities among people, for example, who play chess or backgammon is the intellectual stimulation and excitement of playing well and winning. This likely true for many other games that people play. Handicapping races shares these traits. A search of the number of people who play chess in the world counted more than 600,000,000. A similar search of people who played backgammon counted over 10,000,000. With advancement of internet wagering and ADW accounts physical location of players or proximity to racetracks is not a factor in building a fan base. In fact, many of these players regularly play their games online miles away from their opponent. The likelihood that chess and backgammon players would find handicapping horse racing against a world-wide, pari-mutuel crowd intoxicating is real, to say the least.
So here is the take-a-way from this week’s New York Times story on chess in Norway. The potential for growing racing’s fan base by attracting gamers of all ages is huge. Tapping this group may be difficult and for sure a paradigm shift for racetrack marketing departments. To start, tracks might begin with hosting a variety of gaming tournaments. Clearly space at racetracks is not a problem. They could be scheduled on dark days or for some tracks with plenty of extra space on race days. Information on Thoroughbred racing and handicapping could be available with mini tutorials for those interested. It will be a slow cultural shift for many, but one that will incrementally grow as the excitement is realized.
“Horse (Knight) takes King—checkmate” just might be the new slogan for horse racing! It is worth a try.