CHANNEL Seven’s deal with the racing industry this week garnered the network a lot of positive publicity.

Some seemed to laud the network as the driver of a bright new free-to-air future for a sector that, once upon a time, was a big player in the free-to-air market.

The deal is hardly that. But it does perform an important role in that it increases the amount of racing on free-to-air, lifts the credibility of the sport and bolsters its claims to be a provider of premium content for mainstream audiences on days other than when the Melbourne Cup, derby or Golden Slipper are run.

There are few sports such as AFL, league and football where free-to-air and pay broadcasters are happy to spend vast amounts for regular product.

Racing is not likely to gallop into the foreground of the mainstream sports television world.

Small wonder then that racing cannot count on a cash windfall of the kind the big football codes get for broadcasting their product on free-to-air. Save for the Victoria Racing Club, which earns a substantial sum from Seven for the right to televise the four days of the Melbourne Cup, racing is the same. Industry-owned broadcaster TVN will provide some content and staff for the broadcasts from Melbourne and Sydney over the next two years. Seven will contribute some production costs. .

Racing, bar Cup week, may not be a huge rater, but Seven’s number crunchers would have noticed the explosion in the gambling business that has produced a splurge in advertising. One observer this week suggested the wagering companies could be spending a collective $120 million on such marketing. Seven will hope to harvest some of that in advertising.

For racing it’s all about the gambling turnover. If the sport is able to generate a higher turnover as a result of more eyeballs, then it’s a win – and it might earn more through this channel than it could have through a traditional rights deal. It’s also important for public perception. Racing’s core market is people who bet. But sports betting is increasingly popular with younger people, most of who make their first bet on sport, not racing, these days. It poses a big threat.

If racing is to hold its pitch, free-to-air is vital. But so also is building the narrative, the drama, the stories and the context to hook in new viewers and get the next generation interested. If Seven can do this then it will have done a good job.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.