The fall of horse racing: is more really, well, more?


It's a tough question for horse racing enthusiasts: is subsidizing Maryland racing just ignoring the real issue? Sure we all love those iconic images from horse racing's heyday when tracks were the hot place to be and the clubhouse at Pimlico in Baltimore was teeming with society's elites.

But those days are long gone. Like decades ago long gone. Yet the fight to preserve the sport is still strong — in today's Washington Examiner story about Maryland racing's increasing reliance on other gambling, breeders say the sport needs a full season to keep horse farms here.

Horse farms are also good for tourism and a part of Maryland's proud history. Heck, the Maryland Jockey Club (founded in 1743) is older than the state itself. But even people who slept most of their way through Economics 101 can tell you that without demand, supply should dwindle.

In Maryland, demand has fallen sharply over the decades as other sports — basketball, football, NASCAR — have embraced television contracts and been at the forefront of modern marketing, capturing new generations of fans. Meanwhile, horse racing bucked (excuse the pun) at change and didn't seek a regular broadcast presence until the 1980s. Marketing tactics remained largely unsophisticated until more recently, also costing the sport a chance to win  younger audiences.

The result is what you see today: in Maryland, the Preakness Stakes is the state's Super Bowl. But most other days, the tracks are an afterthought, if a thought at all, among the general public. The demand for the sport isn't justifying the high, year-round supply (more than 140 race days per year.)

Louisiana-based analyst Tim Rice asks, what if we had the NFL year-round? How much would we want football then?

"You just can't have a 24/7, 365 racing product," he said. "I don't care how much you love the game — you get worn out."

But then again, is it bad economics to save an important state tradition and the thousands of jobs that rely on it?