Where’s the innovation?

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The latest and greatest thing in the world of sports played out just outside Dallas when Ohio State and Oregon played for the national college football championship.

Depending on what part of the country you’re in, or perhaps more importantly if you’ve got the “college football gene,” as ESPN’s Keith Olbermann talked about during his show last night, the game was a pretty big deal. ESPN thought so, hyped it accordingly and utilized four of its channels – the main network, ESPNews, ESPNU and ESPN2 – to broadcast the game as part of its Megacast.

The Megacast wasn’t a new innovation – ESPN has used it before – but the game itself certainly was. The national championship was the third game that made up the college football playoff, a perfect made-for-television event spanning 12 days but talked about and opined on for months. Ohio State won the game and ESPN made out even better, earning its best overnight rating in network history.

College football didn’t really need a ton of extra marketing or promotion to bolster its popularity, considering that it’s undoubtedly the second most popular American sport behind the NFL. College football did recognize the need to get with the times, to innovate and put something out there that its fans have demanded for years.

So what does all this have to do with horse racing and more importantly, why am I writing about it at This Is Horse Racing?

Isn’t the answer obvious?

Watching the game – and the two semifinal contests staged at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl New Year’s Day – kept conjuring up the question, “Where’s the innovation in racing?”

College football, a sport steeped in tradition and rich history, made the effort to innovate and change in the 21st century.

What has horse racing, also a sport steeped in tradition and rich history, done to respond to the demands of its fans and change for the better?

The answers are pretty spotty, at best.

Advance deposit wagering – think online betting accounts – is nice, but they basically just make it easier for existing fans to bet from home and not inside aging facilities or scuzzy off-track betting outlets. What does that do to attract new fans? Not much.

People talk about changing the Triple Crown – shortening the races and lengthening the time between them – but we shouldn’t confuse change out of desperation for innovation.

The Breeders’ Cup was a pretty awesome innovation, but that came about in the 1980s and the changes to that event are not very innovative (see adding too many forgettable and inconsequential races).

Speaking of adding races, since when did adding a bunch of races to a single program become the latest and greatest innovation? Bobby Umphrey called, it’s not the early 1990s anymore.

Racing needs innovation, real innovation.

Is anyone listening?