TVG Network Quenches Sports Fans’ Thirst for Live Content With Horse Racing From Around the Globe
With tracks primarily still open, TVG is airing live racing and will simulcast races on NBCSN
When it comes to live sports content for U.S. viewers, there just isn’t much to offer right now. With nearly every major league and sports event suspending play due to the coronavirus pandemic, sports fans have found themselves stranded in a barren desert. One network, however, has soldiered on. With many horse-racing tracks still running races (without a spectators) around the globe, TVG Network has continued to deliver live racing throughout the day for sports-starved viewers and bettors.
“We are used to following the sun across the globe, and we hunt for live racing,” says Kevin Grigsby, executive producer/SVP, television, FanDuel (TVG Network’s parent company). “We’re already an entity that is up and running four days a week, 24 hours a day. We air 60,000 races a year, and we are on live 10,000 hours a year. The reality is, if there is some type of horse racing taking place somewhere in the world, we will be broadcasting it. And, while we broadcast all of these races, we will also offer betting on them as we always have.”
TVG programming will be reaching an even broader audience beginning this weekend, thanks to a new partnership with NBC Sports in which NBCSN will simulcast TVG’s Trackside Live. NBCSN will carry TVG’s live racing coverage this Saturday and Sunday at 4-8 p.m. ET, as well as the following weekend (if horse races continue to be held). Although TVG is available in 45 million homes, NBCSN is in more than 80 million homes, which will bring live horse racing to a horde of potential viewers.
Production Studios Practice Social Distancing
TVG’s studios, located at the Howard Hughes Center in Los Angeles, continue to produce live programming, but operations have been modified for the health and safety of the crew. TVG has drastically cut back on its onsite personnel and transitioned to more automated systems, with only one person allowed per room (for example, control room, audio room, etc.). On-air talent is located in separate studios, and any non-essential staff members are working remotely from home.
“We’re definitely focusing on social distancing for the purposes of putting our employees’ health first,” says Grigsby. “We not only want them to stay healthy but also want them to feel comfortable and in their working environment. Our productions have slimmed down a bit, but, every day, we are tweaking and finding unique new ways to add production value to what we do. Our production value may not be at the normal level, but we are constantly inventing new workflows to enhance the show.”
The production facility features two studios, each dedicated to TVG and TVG2 (which launched when TVG acquired HRTV in 2015). TVG’s primary studio features a three-person desk, with a 14-ft. LED board in the background and an 80-in. touchscreen for betting experts to provide analysis via video replays and graphics. The studio also has a second set that is more casual with a couch for its Morning Line morning show, as well as a green screen. The studio’s Grass Valley camera are all robotic systems operated from the control room.
“I like to say that we have one network, two channels, because of how much bouncing back and forth we do between the two channels — TVG and TVG2,” says Grigsby. “We have a lot of multiviewers in place since we have all these track feeds coming into the control room for producers and directors to pick from in regard to what gets put on our linear channels,”
Live Racing From Tracks Around the Globe
TVG has TV rights to 80+ tracks and betting rights to 120+ tracks worldwide. All tracks produce their own program feed onsite and provide TVG with either a dirty feed with graphics or a clean feed from the truck (depending on TVG’s rights agreement). These feeds are brought into TVG’s studios (transmission mechanism depends on the track), and TGN adds its own branding and real-time live betting data.
“As long as these race tracks are running and they are producing their own feeds, we’re able to get those feeds and put them on the air,” says Grigsby, “which is really important right now because a lot of race tracks are running without crowds.”
Teaming Up With NBC Sports, Serving the Mainstream Sports Fan
TVG’s signature program Trackside Live, which provides whip-around of live races on weekends, will be simulcast on NBCSN on Saturday and Sunday. The simulcast model is nothing new for TVG, which often airs its programming on regional sports networks across the country.
“The opportunity to partner with NBC for four hours a day of TVG programming on NBCSN is an exciting partnership for us,” says Grigsby. “NBC and TVG have worked together often in the past since NBC covers a lot of horse racing. We have shared cameras and personnel, traded ideas, and we worked together successfully in the past. So we’re not strangers to each other. It was a partnership that made a lot of sense, and we were able to put it together in just a couple of days, so we could jump into action.”
Although NBCSN will air TVG’s unaltered program feed, each network will maintain its own advertising inventories and insert its own commercials during breaks. In addition, Grigsby says, TVG will tweak its editorial style for these Trackside Live telecasts to appeal to more mainstream sports fans that may not be as familiar with betting on horse racing.
“We are very betting-centric, and our programming is very betting-focused in nature. So, when we go to simulcasts on NBCSN this weekends, we will change our tone of voice a bit,” he explains. “We will acknowledge the fact that our audience is going to be a little bit different. They might be not as well-versed in betting on horse racing as our current core audience. So we are pivoting a bit to inform and educate these new viewers to see if they want to take a dip into betting on horse racing using our platform.”
More Than Just Linear TV: TVG’s Integrated Betting App
TVG Network and its parent company, bookmaker and daily fantasy operator FanDuel, operate their own betting platform for horse racing, which is heavily integrated with the network’s linear programming. Users can place bets on the TVG mobile app (which was the first betting app to be approved for the Apple App Store in 2014), via desktop on TVG.com, or even by phone with an automated wagering hotline. The same live betting data affiliated with each race aired on TVG is integrated into the app up to the second.
“As people watched these live races — and we do anywhere from six to eight, sometimes 10 races an hour — they can bet on every single one with the live betting data 100% linked,” says Grigsby. “It’s a really cool, integrated way of consuming our programming.”
Although no sports events are taking place these days, TVG has its eye on betting-related programming outside of horse racing. Last year, TVG produced about 250 hours of betting content, primarily around the NFL season, and, according to Grigsby, the network’s output will only increase as more states legalize sports betting.
“The more and more sports betting becomes available and scales throughout the U.S., the more we will increase the amount of hours that we dedicate to sports-betting content,” he says. “We believe we can differentiate ourselves from all the other sports-betting shows by integrating our live sports-betting odds into the programming. We actually have access to the [experts and oddsmakers] that price the sporting events. So they can take you inside how the odds change, for example, for the Patriots to win the Super Bowl now that Tom Brady is leaving. That differentiates us in the space big time.”
Carrying On in the Face of Coronavirus
While the future is more unknown than ever due to the coronavirus pandemic, the majority of horse-racing tracks have remained open without fans in the stands. Though noting that he has no way of knowing for sure, Grigsby believes TVG will be able to continue to present live racing for the foreseeable future — making the network one of the only places around where viewers can find live sports.
“We do 60,000 races a year and only a handful of tracks have canceled,” he says. “Obviously, we need to be prepared for if more tracks cancel, but, at this point, the major tracks domestically are continuing to run, and we want to be able to bring those races to our viewers.”