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'Racing Night Live' Seizes The Moment

Published: June 17, 2020 8:39 pm ET

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"We had an opportunity, and we lived up to that opportunity to show racing to new sports fans in a way that was top-level."

Last week's premiere of 'Racing Night Live' on TSN was considered a success from all aspects for Woodbine Entertainment and for horse racing. Going forward, and given the lack of professional sporting activity currently available, senior management closest to the project feel there is still tremendous opportunity for growth that will only benefit both the Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries.

"I think the entertainment value was good; it was important for us and TSN to get as much racing in that two-hour time period as we could," Christina Litz, VP of Business Development for Woodbine Entertainment told Trot Insider on Tuesday. "This is about bringing sports to people, and they wanted a lot of action. We got six races in and I think for somebody new, coming in and checking us out, it was exciting."

Formerly with the Canadian Football League (CFL), Litz was part of the team that handled the relationship with TSN during her time outside of racing and she's been intricately involved this broadcast project at Woodbine. Litz was high on the drone camera that showed racing from Woodbine Racetrack last Thursday in a "tremendous and impactful" way, and she noted that there are plans to introduce the same sort of footage for future Racing Night Live segments at Woodbine Mohawk Park.

"I think a lot of the features we did too, we're trying to create this emotional connection with our sport because that's key to building fandom and bringing in new people, no matter the sport. It's no different with horse racing, so some of the features that we did behind the scenes on the backstretch are really important. And then a little bit on the education front with the Top 5 Things You Need To Know About Horse Racing. I think if you're in this industry, you assume a lot about what people do and don't know about our industry and the reality is the average sports fan doesn't know a lot about our industry so we want to take extra steps with this broadcast and make sure people feel comfortable watching it, and make sure they're understanding what they're seeing because that will engage them and connect them.

"And I thought the chemistry between all of our hosts (Laura Diakin, Brodie Lawson, Jason Portuondo and Chad Rozema) was great, I loved the competition between them on the wagering front as the night went on and I think we'll see more of that going ahead as well."

Woodbine's CEO Jim Lawson (right) agreed with Litz, also reaffirming that the show successfully traversed the path of catering to both the newcomer and the experienced racing fan.

"We need to be very careful to not talk above our target audience in the sense of very technical wagering and horse racing jargon that a lot of people [watching on TSN] may not understand," said Lawson. "We're walking a fine line because we know we'll have a lot of horse racing customers and our regular fans and owners and trainers watching, but we also have to also be cognizant of trying to build this sport and I think for everyone in this industry, that's what we want to do. And now that we're on a nation-wide broadcast, we've got to make it interesting for people and part of the interest is presenting it on a level that will be of real interest to them."

As part of that interest, Lawson and the team at Woodbine hope that the casual fan will be intrigued enough to interact with the industry in some form, perhaps as a customer.

"I think Christina and the Woodbine team and the TSN people walked that fine line very well. I've heard from all sorts of horsepeople, in fact mostly horsepeople, who loved the show...We've had all positive feedback."

If those involved in the production made it look easy, that's a credit to the professionalism of both the teams at TSN and Woodbine. Every second counts on live television, and Litz gave insight into the amount of regimentation that went into the 120-minute broadcast.

"For each item that goes on air it's marked in a production grid, and for this show there are 118 elements that had to be put into the show. It's that complicated."

Litz (right) gave props to those involved at Woodbine and TSN for their expertise in handling such a complex presentation with so many elements that are literally out of their control.

"They know how to deal with that complexity and they know how to deal with things on the fly as well, that combination of the two is really important to the success and the flow of the show."

If you tuned into TSN last Thursday between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. (EST) and didn't see the show, be sure to check your cable or satellite package. TSN has essentially five channels -- TSN 1 through 5, and the show was and will continue to be available on TSN 3 and 5, with the show being archived as well on the TSN website.

"For the vast majority of Canadians who subscribe to TSN, you will get all five TSN feeds," said Litz. "If you have TSN in your basic sports package, you have all five. As long as you subscribe to TSN, you should be able to find us."

There's a good chance others will also find the show this week as Litz stated there would be more promotion ahead of Thursday's episode and provided insight as to why last week's show might have been lighter on the amount of promotion than would be ideal.

"You know how quickly this all came together, both with the return of our staff coming back to work in broadcast and marketing, and all the people that support something like this...combined with the really great news that we had a number of sponsors come on leading up to the week of the broadcast including the title sponsorship with OLG, which we're so thrilled about. But with that comes a very quick turnaround on creative for promotion leading up to that. And the TSN creative services team was very involved in putting together some of the creative assets in advance.

"I would add on top of that we got the Arkells song [Knocking At The Door, used in the show's intro package] very last minute, and their record label and management looked at everything we put together too, so with that we were very much -- until that very last day -- getting everything ready to go. The downside of that is that we weren't able to promote as much as we would have liked to have seen outside of our own Woodbine channels."

"So that's going to change this week, it already has changed. There are national radio ads on the TSN network running this week, you'll start seeing on CP24 and you will have seen on TSN already upping the ads on the tune-in side, and then social media channels will extend beyond our network this week as well. I'm really optimistic about what that means to drive awareness and I think the good word-of-mouth about how much fun it was last week will get people tuning in going forward."

Despite the lack of build, Litz said the ratings numbers for the first episode of 'Racing Night Live' met Woodbine's expectations.

"It fell in line with our expectations, which are really hard to set right now. It is such a different world for sports and broadcast, as you can imagine. Having come from the CFL, it's such a different world right now. So they absolutely fell in line with expectations. There's one ratings measure that we like quite a bit for this one; over that two-hour period we reached about 125,000 Canadians at some point, that [number of people] checked out the broadcast and that's really exciting to us. And a lot of it came in the back half of the program which speaks to how ratings are usually better in prime time. Of course we're a little bit restricted with the racing schedules but I think, again, people were tuning in near the end to check things out in a very high volume that we're really excited about and we hope they saw the excitement.

"It's in line with expectations but I definitely want to see growth here because this is an unprecedented opportunity for our industry to get in front of new people. So we definitely need our horsepeople out there sharing with their friends that this isn't just for people that are close to our industry. This show is for all sports fans, and they're going to have a good time watching and when they download DarkHorse to play along with it just adds that extra element that other sports aren't going to be able to match."

Looking ahead to Thursday's show, fans can expect to see a feature on Thoroughbred jockey Justin Stein and racehorse Stormy Lord, and Scott Young will be featured on the Standardbred side. Participants from both breeds will also be featured in a series of Father's Day thoughts throughout the broadcast.

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