Sports Gambling…on the golf course ?
BRING ON THE PREAKNESS AND BRING ON THE RATINGS
There’s an interesting cover feature in the USA Today sports section this morning, about the NCAA’s concerns over sports gambling by college athletes, in violation of NCAA rules. An anonymous survey shows an increasing trend with golfers leading the way. Higher percentages of golfers wagering on sports on a regular basis may or may not be significant. While all young athletes grow up in a more gambling tolerant environement today than say, 30 years ago, gambling is an everyday occurance in golf, where five dollar Nassaus are regular fare in matches at every country club and public course in the nation. The overall percentages are more interesting, showing nearly 25 percent betting on sports, the majority on personal skill games with horse racing coming in second. They aren’t the only numbers that demonstrate an increased interest in the sport of kings. While the average fan spends little, if any, time at the track, horse racing on television can be like a car wreck, hard to look away from when it’s in front of you. It doesn’t take a three hour or longer time investment to follow a horse race from start to finish. As they say of the Kentucky Derby, “The most exciting two minutes in sports”, and even casual observers will stop the remote long enough to follow the winner home if they come across a race on T-V. But television has learned how to generate some staying power for the premier events, attracting an audience and keeping it, even without lying about the actual start time, which has become a staple of the business in every other sport. Anyone with any inkling of placing a sheckel or two on a race won’t mind keeping an eye on every late development, particularly on a day like Saturday, when a muddy track at Churchill Downs manipulated the odds almost until the moment the horses were in the gates. The Derby drew a 10.4 rating, which against it’s own past was phenomonal, the highest since 1992, when the competition in terms of number of cable sports outlets alone was about half what it is now. There were, as I pointed out last week, a lot of story lines to this Derby, a black jockey looking to snap a more than a century old drought, a female jockey looking to break the barrier, a horse co owned by the coach of the men’s NCAA basketball champions, but story lines can be found in just about every race, where history is the primary feature on the handicap sheets. The Derby’s true ratings power is shown against other sports that are also in their prime time of year, outdistancing NBA playoff games between the Knicks and Pacers and Grizzlies and Thunder by several lengths while the numbers for the Wells Fargo Championship seem to show more golfers were betting on the Derby than watching their own sport. The next test for horse racing is a week from Saturday, with the Preakness, which is already developing story lines because it’s a greater test of skill, with a limit of fourteen horses, six less than competed for room on the rail at the Derby, and only 11 are already in with at least one of the pre derby favorite’s, Verazzano, yet to commit. Mylute, ridden by Rosie Napravnick, Goldenscents, owned by Rick Pitino and ridden by black jockey Kevin Krigger, and late Derby charger Normandy Invasion are already in the field to challenge Derby winner Orb. The NCAA may want to keep a close eye on it’s golfers. This one has all the earmarks of a record day at the windows. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.