Triple Crown TV Deal Should Work On Incentive Model

141st Running of the Belmont Stakes
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141st Running of the Belmont Stakes

Did you know that the Belmont was on this weekend?

Even if you are a sports fan who enjoys the Triple Crown, we forgive you if you forgot. Neither the winner of the Derby (Super Saver) nor the Preakness (Lookin' At Lucky) is even running in the race.

It's not a good thing for the struggling horse racing industry, especially for the three groups that run the three races and have to sell TV rights after this go-around.

Hurting for money and wanting to get a bigger share, the New York Racing Association sold their rights to ABC from 2005 through this year in order to get more than the 25 percent cut of the rights they were getting from the previous five-year deal from NBC.

Sure, NYRA — filled with ego after it got nice ratings from three straight Triple Crown attempts (all which obviously failed) got a 55 percent boost in rights fees — but in the process it destroyed the continuity of having the entire Triple Crown on one network. NYRA must have believed that people would be able to find the race on ABC, even though the first two were on NBC. That might be true. But with a three-week gap in between the Preakness and the Belmont, they must have forgot about the fact that if one network had all the races, there would be no promotional gap.

While NYRA's choice to go with another network was a horrible idea, I understand why they thought they deserved more. In years when there was a Triple Crown hopeful, they were outrating the Derby. The difference is that the Derby, being the first race, is a guaranteed rating, while the Belmont is not — as you'll see with bad ratings this weekend. Even NYRA execs now agree that the goal is to get it the Triple Crown on one network.

And they should be. So here's my solution. The winning bidder pays a guaranteed fee — let's call it $10 million a year. If the same horse wins the Derby and the Preakness, which has happened 11 times since 1979, the Belmont — and the Triple Crown races for that matter — becomes more valuable. (Big Brown's Triple Crown attempt at the Belmont rated worse that the Derby that year but I blame that partly on the disunity of the TV deal). Therefore, the winning network will give a bonus payment, which will be shared among the three organizations and a larger cut going to the Belmont, if there's a Triple Crown hopeful.

That's the solution. Pay for what you get. The masses don't love the sport. They love the chance for the Triple Crown. Accept it. The other sports leagues don't get paid on who is playing in the Finals because they can afford to have the networks take the chance. Horse racing can't. Case in point, this weekend.

Questions? Comments?