By Chris Daley
Like most horse racing fans I was eager to watch the pilot episode of Luck when HBO gave a sneak preview of the show in December. Luck boasted great writing and an all-star cast, with horse racing footage that would keep you on the edge of your seat. After one-and-a-half episodes, I feel asleep.
I tried to keep an open mind, but the show just didn’t do it for me and I didn’t think it would last very long. Taking the horse racing scenes out of it, the story lines weren’t captivating, and I didn’t feel like wasting hours of my time waiting for characters to develop.
But there was some hope as I followed along people in the horse racing industry on Twitter. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) hosted a successful #LuckChat on Twitter each Monday night with actors from the show and fans of horse racing. Although I didn’t participate, the discussions were fun to follow and more interesting than the show.
This week HBO pulled the plug on the Luck, they say, as a result of three unfortunate horse deaths behind-the-scenes. The news has caused quite a stir from animal rights activists, horse racing fans and other people that have no idea what they are talking about. The story put horse racing in the mainstream for the wrong reasons. People who don’t normally follow the sport are now captured by negative headlines, and people have been coming out from everywhere calling for the sport to re-evaluate all of its safety measures.
It’s pretty clear HBO was trying to pull a clever PR maneuver and use the accidental horse deaths as a way out so they wouldn’t have to say they were cancelling the show because of its declining ratings. As someone who works in the industry of horse racing and public relations, I didn’t like this strategy at all and felt it was a little sleazy. The irony is that in the pilot episode of Luck, the show glorified a fatality on the race track, and just a couple months later the creators of the show cancel it because of accidents they couldn’t control.
When the show first aired, I heard many people say that Luck was great sports marketing. Yes, to have a show about a sport that needs help drawing the mainstream audience can be a good thing. However, in this case the attempt to create a mainstream television program about horse racing backfired, which hurt the sport and gave a bad impression of what public relations professionals do for a living.