Before There Was a Super Bowl, There Was Horse Racing

In the waning days before Super Bowl 49, when the media was at a frenzied pitch, the Northwest Indiana Times ran an article about changes in the public’s interest in horse racing over the last 49 years. It describes the world of racing fifty years ago, when horse racing was a major sport on the level of boxing and professional baseball. Football had not yet reached that grand stage; baseball was the national sport. After baseball, racing and boxing were next in the hearts of most adult male Americans. In those good old days, racing was a major beat and newspapers in big cities had a racing columnist.

Major races were reported the same way important major league professional sports events are reported today. Like the Super Bowl or the World Series, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes filled endless newspaper columns in the days and weeks leading up to the races. The odds on each horse, track conditions, inside information about the jockeys, gossip about the owners and the weather were all part of the pre-race hype that filled the sports pages. The Triple Crown does still draw some media attention, particularly if a horse has the potential to win all three races, but it is nothing like the glory days of horse racing.

Sadly for devotees and the writer of the column, the bettors have moved on to the lotteries, casinos and fantasy sporting leagues, while the media has switched to other sports. It is the way of the world – here today, gone tomorrow. And then something new comes along.

The possibility of striking it rich by making a wager is alive for anyone who is willing to “bet their money and take their chances… it wasn’t too long ago that the sport of horse racing was the only legal way for an American to place a bet. Just how did the casino industry manage to leave horse racing in a cloud of dust?…long before the popularity of casino gambling horse racing reigned supreme…Horse racing was covered in the media as a major sport on a daily basis. Every newspaper had a “beat” reporter in the press box filing stories for every edition… Horse racing was a fact of life in America. It enjoyed a reputation as the nation’s No. 1 spectator sport for decades. Racetrack grandstands in major cities were filled to overflowing on weekends and holidays…what happened? Competition for America’s entertainment (and gambling) dollar. State lotteries, casinos, the proliferation of motor sports, in-home entertainment outlets such as VCRs and DVDs, the Internet and the expansion of other sport…all helped to push horse racing out of the limelight it once enjoyed. John G. Brokopp, Northwest Indiana Times, 1-29-15

The Super Bowl will be hard to replace. Polls indicate that over half of the households in the country tuned in and early estimate put the number of people watching at more than 112 million. Besides the game, they were treated to endless commercials at $4.5 million for each 30-second ad, generating $331.8 million in advertising spending. The game was played in Phoenix, but the party was in Las Vegas; three hundred thousand people were in Las Vegas at the party. They were there to place a bet, drink, eat, dance and watch Seattle and New England do battle on a big screen. Over $100 million dollars were wagered on Super Bowl 49 in Las Vegas. Billions of dollars more were probably wagered illegally across the country. The big game is big money.

The old days of racing never reached the level of public interest the Super Bowl has achieved. But in the context of the times, racing was the equivalent of football or baseball. The decline of racing might serve as a lesson for other forms of betting, including football. It will not last forever, whatever it is. Something new will come along and years from now, a reporter will reminisce sadly about the grand old days of football and the Super Bowl. There will still be a Super Bowl, just as there is still a Kentucky Derby, but it will not be the most important sporting event of the year.


2 Responses to “Before There Was a Super Bowl, There Was Horse Racing”

  1. 1 CASINO Trackback on February 25, 2015 at 2:03 am
  2. 2 2 likes Trackback on February 27, 2015 at 1:12 am

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