Friday, 27 March 2009

German Racing, Part III: The Ugly

In my intro post ("First Things First") I mentioned that I hardly follow (or at least bet on) German racing. Readers of the first two parts of this miniseries on German racing might rightfully wonder why I wouldn’t, given that the problems I’ve pointed out aren’t necessarily worse than those found in British or American racing. The simple answer is: it’s hard and expensive to follow German racing. Internet age? Age of free information? Not when it comes to German racing. By and large, betting information for German races works precisely the way it did 50 years ago: You go to the nearest newsstand that sells the "Sport-Welt", the country’s racing (race)daily, and fork over 2 bucks 50 (Euros, of course) for a paper that can be as thin as a dozen pages, containing nothing more than today’s racecard, the results for last raceday, a news page of questionable value and sometimes an editorial piece about as hard-hitting as an investigative report on Frank Stronach, written by Frank Stronach. Meanwhile, German racing’s web presence is such that it’s still almost impossible to find as much as a pattern race schedule online.

Until last season, at least live streams were available for free for customers of the many horsebetting websites around, that is until the Direktorium thought it should charge those websites several times more money for providing the betting public with the only free means of watching the races, essentially forcing the betting sites to cancel those streams or demand a fee for watching them. The Direktorium's main motivation, I guess, was to increase the income of its own foray into the wild world of the net, where for as little as 300 euros a year (plus taxes) you have access to live streams, race replays and sketchy formcards, all of these a shadow of those that several British & Irish websites offer for free for racing on the isles. Wonder why the off-track handle for German racecourses keeps shrinking?

The only television exposure (except for the Derby and possibly the Grosser Preis von Baden) is a mixed harness/thoroughbred format every Sunday afternoon on a sports channel, which may sound pretty good unless you know that it’s a paid-advertising format sponsored and run by a betting website with so little regard for the presentation of racing as a sport (the actual grade and significance of races goes largely unnoticed) and so transparent a focus on luring in the most dim-witted of viewers, milk them for every cent and move on, that all it does for racing is diminish the public perception of the industry.

It’s not like television hasn’t tried, though. With continually healthy on-track attendances (as mentioned in the post below), there has been many a TV station trying to market the sport during the last two decades. There was Sat.1, one of the country’s major stations, which in the 90s tried to establish a “race-of-the-week”-type format on Saturday afternoons. It failed as decisively as other station’s attempts to broadcast the entire card from 2 or 3 tracks on weekend afternoons or to establish an hour-long format showing the major races from several tracks live. All of these attempts were doomed because of another unique feature of German racing: the delay.

Until very recently, by the time the eight race was scheduled, German tracks would've been glad to have the the 7th started, delays for the last race on a card usually totaled over 30 minutes, thus making it almost impossible for any TV station to fit racing into its schedule. It’s a pain for the on-site public, too. People frequently have to wait 40 minutes or more between two races. On multi-track broadcasts, starting times that were 15 minutes apart on paper would regularly conflict in practice, so either one race couldn’t be shown or that track had to be put on hold, further increasing its delay. I once watched an hour-long format featuring the G1 Europa-Preis, the most important race that program was to broadcast all year. The race was supposed to start at 16:30, but viewers were lucky to even see the end of it, at 17:02. A major handicap scheduled for 16:45 couldn’t be shown. At the end of that year, the TV station struck racing from its lineup.

P.S. Speaking of ugly, Bremen Racecourse once managed to put down an injured horse by shooting it, in plain sight, right in front of the grandstand, on children's day. Ouch.

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