When asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” most little boys have three standard responses:
1) A police officer
2) A fireman
3) A baseball player
As they get older, most kids find other interests and realize that Major League Baseball is probably not in their future. I was not one of those kids. I was 17 years olds and still convinced that me and Kenny Lofton would be sharing the outfield at Jacob’s Field one day.
Turns out I was wrong. Apparently being a 6’2″, 150 lb senior in high school isn’t exactly what the scouts are looking for.
So, like everybody else, I graduated from high school and had to pick a “real” career.
I eventually decide to pursue a career in public relations, with every intent of working for a sports team. Like most people in the world, I couldn’t tell you what public relations did or meant, or how I could apply it to sports, but it sounded fun.
Five years later, I think I finally get it.
Before I explain my revelation, you have to understand my obsession with sports. I watch the 6 a.m., 6 p.m., and 11 p.m. episodes of Sportscenter every day. I have read every single Bill Simmons and Rick Reilly article since the summer of 2004. I love everything about competition, from the perils of training to the thrill of victory. I can rationalize and appreciate just about any form of competition there is…
…Except for horse racing.
I don’t get it. People actually watch this garbage? A little dude rides around a muddy track on an enormous horse for two minutes, and this is exciting? Excuse me? Am I the only person who is completely baffled by this? Am I the only person who was thoroughly annoyed this weekend because ESPN was dominated by the Kentucky Derby? Am I crazy? Here is what’s wrong with the Kentucky Derby:
The Horse Names
Growing up, a lot of my friends had pets, and those pets had “normal” names like “Buddy”, “Nick”, “Scooter” ,”Fluffy”, and “Captain.” You know, standard, one-word nouns that your pet could learn and respond to. My uncle had a Golden Retriever named Nick. Nick new his name, and Nick would respond when he was called.
Well, apparently, the bigger the animal, the bigger and more ridiculous its name has to be. Oh, and they can be entire sentences! This years Derby winner’s name was ” Mine That Bird”, followed by “Pioneerof the Nile” and “Musket Man” Could you image every time you wanted to call your dog inside you had to yell, “HEY! Pioneerof the Nile, get over here!?” Ridiculous.
The Stupid Hats
The Cost of the Horse
Some of these race horses are sold for tens of thousands of dollars. You are telling me that there are animals out there that are worth more money than my car? Some snobby millionaire is willing to pay $40,000 for a horse that he will never ride, never actually take care of himself, never develop a relationship with and probably won’t live more than a decade? You have got to be kidding me.
So now we have a stadium full of snobby millionaires wearing goofy looking hats, cheering for the horse(s) they own, but they are so far removed from their “investment” that they probably couldn’t pick it out of a line up. Thrilling. The race begins. Everybody cheers. Two minutes pass. It’s over.
Lets pretend that I pay my horse $40,000 per race. The race lasts two minutes. That equates to an hourly rate of $1.2 million. Well worth the money…
Say my horse wins. Who gets the prize money? The horse? He did the actual work to win the race. The trainer? He put in the hard work and dedication get the horse into shape. The jockey I paid $11/hr to ride my horse? He guided my horse to victory. No. I get the money. I can chose to do with it as I please, but I get the money…and I did nothing but write a big ass check to some breader in Oklahoma. Fantastic “sport.”
So now we are back to my revelation. In my opinion, the Kentucky Derby is the single greatest sporting achievement in the history of the public relations and marketing fields. You cannot tell me that these millionaires actually give a damn about some mammoth horse, or the mini person riding it. But I bet those millionaires are treated like gold. I bet they feel like they are much more important than they really are. I bet Churchill Downs puts on a quite a show for these people.
The Kentucky Derby is marketed as an experience. By attending, you are considered among the elite, you are treated like royalty and encouraged to relax and enjoy the races. It really is amazing. The public relations work that goes into an event like this is astounding. The marketing is brilliant. The prestige is unmatched. The competition … an after thought.
Five years ago, if you were to tell me that the Kentucky Derby is merely public relations at its finest, I would have introduced you to running water. Today I can accept the fact that I am not going to play Major League Baseball because I can appreciate the affect a public relations practitioner can have on a sporting event, and I can’t wait to have my hand in it.