The Kentucky Derby: Big Drinks, Big Hats, Big Parties, and Big Bets….. oh, there’s a horse race, too!

I grew up in a farming community of 1,200 where I was active in the local 4H chapter and
dominated the local county fair scene with my show rabbits and chickens. We had two ponies growing up and my brothers and I learned responsibility and compassion for life at a very early age because of that. Between school and our basketball and baseball practices, we showed our livestock around the county and participated in the farm life of our community as much as possible.

My dad is retired from teaching but still coaches basketball and teaches an Agriculture Science course at Warrensburg-Latham High School. You can see his recent students’ work on Smart Farming here where they have added sensors to a greenhouse: LINK

Check out my award-winning livestock in combination with the gnarly 90s sports gear of Jason Kidd Nike
basketball shoes, the Nike logo chain, and the Pittsburgh New Era gray hat below:

In this experience, we also learned to enjoy horse racing- flat, cart, and other forms- which was done at the county
fair each year. Today, I still view the sport of horse racing through that childhood lense. I find
enjoyment and thrill in the sport, even though my view on the treatment of animals has evolved
over the years.

I don’t need an extra stimulus to enjoy the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.

I don’t have money on the race this weekend. I will not be wearing a Derby Hat or participating
in a fancy Derby Party. And I can guarantee you that I will not be drinking a single ounce of a
Mint Julep.

Some people will, though, and that’s OK.

Sports viewership is changing because the viewer is changing. We demand more stimuli to
keep us engaged. A 3.5-hour baseball game is becoming an issue. MLB ratings and attendance
are changing. We now need full-blown entertainment groups to entertain fans during every
timeout in the NBA. The Bulls’ main attraction right now is Benny the Bull. Money in pro sports
has shifted from in-stadium sales to more media-based: centered around clicks and views.

It feels that society needs to constantly be fed entertainment or our interest starts to dwindle.
Maybe this is the advent of the millennial generation into the sports consumer world. Or maybe
there’s something more in play here.

There’s little reason for the average basketball fan to tune into a Tuesday night Sacramento
Kings vs. Memphis Grizzlies game in February. Daily fantasy sports (and sports betting) has
added a new layer to spectatorship and has given the NBA fan a reason to tune into a game
that would otherwise be considered “worthless” to view for non-Kings or -Grizzlies fans.

“The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports; The Run for the Roses”. The Kentucky Derby is the sport of horse racing’s grandest stage and an event synonymous with sports betting. Here, sports betting provides an extra layer of excitement and engagement.

Trust me, this isn’t a post about sports betting or the movement to legalize sports gambling.

Rather, it’s a discussion on the need for extra stimuli to maintain our interest in sports.

I view those extra stimuli as a strategy for inclusion. Bringing in the Mint Juleps, the gambling,
the big hats, and parties can bring people into the sport that originally were not fans of horse
racing. Is this bad? I don’t know. Inclusion is often always good, but when the included parties
start to dilute the original concept of the event or sport, it could become an issue.

This weekend is about culture. It’s about big hats, big parties, mint juleps, and big bets. It’s
about eye-catching and branded horse names. It’s about celebrities, guest musicians,
sponsorships, and outrageous wardrobe selections.

It now seems to have very little with actual horse racing.

That’s kind of my point here. These extra sports stimuli for the viewer are inclusive and brings
more viewers, which is better the business decision in today’s sports revenue model. However,
is the actual sport being taken over by the added extra viewership stimuli?

At what point do we consider this an issue?

Yesterday, the Bulls Instagram page posted a few posts. One was about their player Ryan
Arcidiacono (players are/should be the main attraction of an NBA team) and that post had, as of
Wednesday at 1 PM, 13,888 likes. The Bulls also posted a “Fortnite”-themed post yesterday
featuring Benny the Bull which yielded 81,640 likes.

Should the Bulls be worried that their entertainment stimuli surrounding their basketball team are
a bigger draw than the actual basketball team?

Should the Kentucky Derby and the horse racing community care about fans and celebrities
traveling to Churchill Downs to party, drink, and bet instead of really watching and caring about
the horse races throughout the day?

Does it matter if the money is coming in?

And at what point do sports start to lose identity in exchange for profits?

So Saturday, for me personally, I’ll watch the Kentucky Derby for what it is and I’ll love it. I also
understand that I’m an individual and not everyone has the same view on horse racing as I do.

We all want sports to be as inclusive as possible. An increased viewership and fanbase can
help grow the sport and maximize revenue in today’s media-driven business climate.

I’m torn on this and I’ll leave you with one last question: Is gambling, drinking, and partying an
appropriate exchange for the identity of the sport?

 

 

About Dr. Zachary Binkley

Zachary W. Binkley, PhD is Assistant Professor and Program Director of Exercise and Movement Science Program. He is a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Special Interest Group on Basketball.

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