The Daily Racing Form bills itself as “America’s turf authority since 1894” and “the only data provider in the United States dedicated solely to the coverage of a single sport” — that sport, of course, being horse racing.
It doesn’t get any more august or focused than that. On Sept. 7, however, the old mare proved she ain’t what she used to be, announcing the launch of DRF Sports, an online and mobile offering with data and content tailored to sports bettors. In the same press release, it was revealed, “Later this year, DRF expects to release online and mobile sports betting on a state-by-state basis.”
In short, The Daily Racing Form — as it exists online, anyway — is no longer dedicated solely to the coverage of a single sport. Nor will it be exclusively focused on horse bettors, as has been the case with the print edition and DRF Bets, an advance-deposit wagering (ADW) platform launched in 2011.
In the post-PASPA land grab, it hasn’t been unusual for revered sports-media entities like ESPN or Sports Illustrated to either dip their toes or dive headfirst into the burgeoning sports betting industry, usually in partnership with an experienced operator. Nor is it unheard of for a well-known horse racing concern to broaden its offerings to include multi-sport wagering, a la the Churchill Downs-owned TwinSpires, which has seen its handle tick up in Indiana of late after a period of relative insignificance.
So there’s precedent for the DRF’s diversification. The question, however, is whether it’s too little and/or too late in a crowded sports betting marketplace that’s awash in speculative cash.
Crossover ‘going to be difficult’
Terry Finley, president and CEO of West Point Thoroughbreds, told US Bets that he doesn’t see why the DRF’s sports betting product “wouldn’t have at least a very good shot to gain a foothold” because “people that play horses, they’re gamblers.”
But Finley tempered his enthusiasm by cautioning, “Racing is, in some respects, faced with a set pie. The gambling pie could get bigger and bigger. It’s a lot easier to play a football game than it is a horse race.” As far as the viability of a DRF sports betting app, Finley said the critical question is, “How are you guys doing with your ADW?”
A DRF executive declined to be interviewed for this story, but Bloomberg reported that, back in September 2020, when Z Capital Partners was exploring a sale of the DRF’s parent company, Sports Information Group LLC, it had “over 20,000 active betting customers.” At the time, Penn National, DraftKings, and Flutter (FanDuel’s parent company) were all said to be interested in acquiring Sports Information Group, which instead merged with Affinity Gaming to form a new company called Affinity Interactive in July 2021.
“The sports wagering market is dominated by a handful of companies — FanDuel, DraftKings, MGM, Caesars, Barstool, a few others,” said Ray Paulick, publisher of The Paulick Report. “I think it’s gonna be difficult to get a lot of traction for any startup. There’s room for other players, but getting market share is going to be difficult.”
— DRF Sports (@DRF_Sports) September 12, 2021
Paulick — who, like this writer, once covered races for The Daily Racing Form — said of his former employer, “It has been around forever and still has some brand equity, but if you look at the demographic of the sports bettor, it’s under 50. If you look at the demographic of the horse player, it’s over 50. So I think the crossover is going to be difficult.”
That brand equity shouldn’t be underestimated, however. Jordan Bender, a research analyst who specializes in gaming for Macquarie, said, “We actually did a little survey last year that did say the number-one thing people are looking for is brand recognition. People want to go with what they know, but at least in the near term, it’s a little shaky.”
That’s because, as Bender puts it, “As of right now, from what we’re seeing in sports betting and iGaming, a lot of it is about the promotions. Everyone is just throwing a ton of money at the industry. In terms of horse racing, that’s a much more mature industry. If you’ve been betting on horses the last 10 or 20 years, you probably have your platform you want to go with.”
ADW a bright spot for ‘cyclically declining business’
Bender calls horse racing at large “a cyclically declining business,” but points out that on the ADW/online wagering side, there’s been “low double-digit growth on an annual basis.”
“That’s actually a pretty attractive business that they’re in,” he said. “Not only that, but the horse racing industry, you have pretty high barriers for entry. Not just anyone can come in and start offering a horse racing product. There are rights and deals with horsemen.”
Alluding to the demographic challenge Paulick pointed out, Bender said of the DRF’s core customer, “Older males, you say, ‘Hey, you’re betting on horse racing, we’re going to offer sports betting. Another advantage is the cross-sell of, ‘These people are in our database, they’re horse bettors, we’re now launching sports betting in New Jersey.’ It’s a low-cost form of customer acquisition.”
And, at the end of the day, that may be enough to warrant the DRF’s decision to open its paddock to non-equine entries.
“Some of these companies are committed to spending billions of dollars in marketing, but the little guys who don’t have the capital to acquire customers that way are using other forms of acquisition,” Bender explained. “The Racing Form has a website, they talk about signing up [for DRF Sports] before football season, you get a free subscription for their advice. They’re trying to get as many people into their database, so that way when they do launch an app, they can cross-sell this product to people in their system.
“In 20 years, if we were to look back and see what happens, I think all these horse racing products will be married up with online sports betting or casinos. FanDuel has TVG, NYRA has BetMGM — we’re already starting to see these things. I think that horse racing businesses will be an integral part of the growing online ecosystem.”
For his part, Paulick offers a similar sentiment when presented with speculation that DRF Bets and DRF Sports might eventually be fused into one comprehensive app.
“I think that’s possible, and that’s really kind of the hope with FanDuel because of their ownership of TVG: that if you introduce horse racing to this massive audience in the sports betting arena, comparatively speaking, the hope is that some of those people, if exposed to horse racing, get into it,” he said. “Hopefully it works for the DRF and for FanDuel and TwinSpires.”