Commentary

Surprising big numbers

Updated: June 30, 2014, 11:47 AM ET
By Jay Cronley | Special to ESPN.com

The two biggest TV ratings hits of the season have been horse racing and soccer.

Showcase events in the Triple Crown series and World Cup games drew more than 20 million viewers. A hot baseball game might have three million folks watching.

Here's one reason why horse racing doesn't qualify for year-round coverage even in cities where there are race tracks: picking winners is hard.

World Cup soccer is made for TV. It gives America's youth and youthful-acting a chance to out-party the world. The ball is big and easy to follow. And nobody knows how to drink beer with no hands like Americans. It is unpatriotic to fail to support your country's soccer team. The only problem with soccer catching on in America after the World Cup is all the flopping. Sunday's two games made it look like the flounder fleet had just landed at the Fulton Street Fish Market. In concert with the World Cup, HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" is running a piece this month about all the fixed soccer games caused by gangsters in Asia. Players, namely goalies, and referees, were shown jovially admitting to taking hundreds of thousands of dollars to throw games. Leading up to the Kentucky Derby, "Real Sports" ran a piece about the abuse of race horses at rundown tracks across the country. These stories demonstrate how a monthly TV show can be timely. In any event, during the average soccer contest, the flow of the game, featuring the intensity of the announcers and the crowd noise, enables the TV viewer to work on his or her taxes or continue writing that novel and still be able to look up at the screen to enjoy the "elegance" of the build-up to a shot.

The gigantic soccer and horse racing TV numbers are seriously diluted, as hordes of fans watch the major events in large groups, mobs and throngs on unrated screens. Hundreds of thousands of racing fans view the Triple Crown and Breeder's Cup races on unmonitored screens at race tracks across the country. Even in the home, horse players often view the races on betting-site screens and go uncounted.

Whereas all fans of "Modern Family" are rated, soccer and horse racing probably get credit for around 80 percent of their actual viewers. And with college football, TV ratings would be half again as huge if fans weren't in stands across the country.

Horse racing is the only sport to stay the course without blanket coverage from the media. This year, during one of the best Triple Crown dramas ever, with earthy owners running an inexpensive horse against the big shots, many newspapers ran Preakness coverage "in other news." And on the talk shows, Tiger was seen being seen. On the talk shows, it's always football season. On the talk shows, the hypothetical is big news.

Here's one reason why horse racing doesn't qualify for year-round coverage even in cities where there are race tracks: picking winners is hard. If you loved Denver over Seattle, forget looking at horses. A lack of talk radio time is what you get when a Triple Crown series comes off smoothly. Good news is like good weather. It only goes so far.

Many horse race fans believe that the gigantic TV numbers should result in bigger media play. Here's what you do about that: The same thing that you did before. It's the horse player's creed: Get over it.

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