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  • Writer's pictureJack Mullaney

The Horses and the Cars are Ahead

Just over three years ago, Louisville's Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, played host to the NCAA Cross Country Championships Banquet. Sitting beneath the spires in a spacious banquet room, having walked past luxury suites and various statues of horseracing greats on the way in, something felt odd. As I scanned out at the oval-shaped track, I couldn't help but notice that what brought people to this venue wasn't all that dissimilar from what our sport brings in the spring and summer months. Sure, track & field omits the horses, but lining up scores of competitors to race in circles is just as much a summation of our sport as it is theirs. And yet, the finances couldn't be more different.

World Athletics brought in a total revenue of $51.114 million in 2019.


During the same year, Churchill Downs brought in $1.329 billion, or roughly 26 times more money. And that's just one horseracing track alone.

Let's pivot to some other lap-racing competitors: cars.

NASCAR's 10 year TV deal brings in $820 million on an annual basis.

Formula 1 reported a total revenue of $2.02 billion in 2019.

Sure, total revenue doesn't tell the full story, but the narrative is clear. The horses and cars play in the billions or hundreds of millions. The runners are left with far less.

You can bet on horses.

Racecars are moving billboards.

You can occasionally bet on track & field. Limited to two small sponsor logos, runners are not moving billboards.

There's no denying that in an actual race, the cars and the horses would put a gap on the runners. But when it comes to generating revenue in the sport, does the story have to be the same?

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