Another March Madness?

As we get deeper into what has become one of the busiest weeks in sports, between March Madness, NHL, NFL Free Agency and the NBA Trading Deadline, let’s take a look at another entity which is looking to capitalize one the fervor of March Madness…one that already has the elusive prize of legal wagering on its side…horse racing.

Many naysayers think the Sport of Kings is dead, but those at the top are going to make a valiant run at reviving all involved by using technology, trying to draw casual fans, bringing new brands back to aggregate, and most importantly, using their leverage with legalized gambling to grow and enhance its footprint as the sport ramps up towards this year’s Kentucky Derby and beyond.

The Jockey Club (founded in 1894) is currently leading an array of business initiatives on behalf of the sport of Thoroughbred Racing – ranging from a televised racing series on NBC and NBC Sports Group Network a re-launch/rebrand of a website, alternative TV programming, creation of a free-to-play game and a social game, a scheduling tool for tracks to coordinate start times and an ownership website to serve as a central resource for horse owners. All of the above is designed to raise the mainstream profile, popularity and recognition for the beautiful sport of Thoroughbred Racing. Their first viral video around the campaign launched last week, designed to capture some fun and excitement and engage some casual fans vs. the more traditional, here is a look.

Also, later in March TJC will launch a Free To Play social game with a celebrity league component. Omnigon is the maker of the game and it will involve both Facebook and twitter social elements designed to teach folks how to wager on horseracing in a non-stressful and non-intimidating platform (using the poker model). Once folks gain confidence, the hope is they attend a race and wager or open an ADW account and wager from home.

Will all this re-branding help? Will it help draw a larger audience and bring folks back to the track, or will at least draw more people to their mobile devices to increase the betting pool? Will other sports look at what the NTRA and Jockey Club are doing and try and piggy back with casual games that can eventually lead to legalized wagering across the board? Will some new brands be energized enough at the potential of the project and find ways to engage with an audience they have now attached themselves too…maybe that audience is as much baby boomers as it is a younger audience, as boomers have as much time and disposable income in many instances as the younger crowd everyone else is courting. Regardless it is a smart move by racing to try and engage early, even with a crowded marketplace and start the momentum to build toward the Triple Crown. Hard to see if they can win the branding race yet, but at least they are making a push worthy of being at the starting gate.