In Depth: How Daily Racing Form Combined Content & Data to Become Indispensable to Its Audience

Daily Racing Form CDO and CMO Todd Unger explains how the horse race betting site grew its subscription revenue by developing a content-as-a-service strategy that put its betting data to work for readers.


The Setup

Daily Racing Form (DRF) is a media brand dedicated to helping horse racing enthusiasts learn more about horse betting, improve their wagering skills, and win more often. Spanning a print publication, mobile-optimized site, webinars, betting platform, and native app, DRF produces a lot of pure data (like downloadable PDFs of racing stats) and a lot of content (reports and analysis of racing results).

When Todd Unger joined Daily Racing Form as CDO and CMO in 2010, he realized that there was a disconnect between the racing data it sold and the content it published on its site and in print. The publisher still approached its site as a reproduction of the print newspaper. It covered past racing events, instead of combining its valuable data and content analysis to help readers place bets for upcoming races. The brand wasn’t taking advantage of the new opportunities digital had to offer, says Unger, by providing real-time reporting, combining content and data to provide greater utility to readers, and developing online tools that could improve readers’ betting.

That inspired Unger to lead a new strategic initiative at Daily Racing Form, which strove to eliminate the division between data and content. Unger wanted to bring the utility of Daily Racing Form’s data into its content and develop a premium product that readers would be willing to pay for. Unger presented DRF’s strategy revamp at FUSE: The Convergence of Technology & Media.

Todd Unger explains Daily Racing Form's digital strategy and multi-platform business model. Watch Unger's complete FUSE session here.

The Strategy: Thinking of Content As a Service

The first step Unger took to align the Daily Racing Form’s content and data was to look closer at the brand’s readership. By analyzing reader behavior on the website, Unger gleaned several key pieces of information that would lay the groundwork for the brand’s content strategy going forward.

First, it was clear that readers were passionate about horse racing and viewed it as an enthusiast hobby. They were willing to spend a significant amount of money to learn more about their “sport” and improve their “play.” In light of this enthusiasm, Unger dubbed the audience “Players.” Second, because players wanted to win more often, they valued timely and insightful content that could guide their betting. More importantly, they were willing to pay for it. As a result, Daily Racing Form began integrating its racing data and content and delivering it in a way that could immediately inform readers’ bets. Unger describes this strategy as “content as a service.”

One of the great side effects of creating a premium content subscription model is that we not only have that new revenue stream, but we also drove people to buy more plans. DRF Plus helped us move people away from buying a done-day racing form and got more people on our betting platform.

—Todd Unger, Daily Racing Form

Solution #1: Bundling Data & Content for Premium Subscriptions

In 2013, the content-as-a-service strategy culminated in the launch DRF Plus, a premium subscription that put all of the Daily Racing Form’s data, timely reporting and analysis, and betting tools behind a paywall. An annual subscription to this bundled content costs $226 a year. If players subscribe to Daily Racing Form’s betting platform or racing forms, they also have access to this content. “One of the great side effects of creating a premium content subscription model is that we not only have that new revenue stream, but we also drove people to buy more plans,” says Unger. “DRF Plus helped us move people away from buying a one-day racing form and got more people on our betting platform.”

A couple years ago Daily Racing Form expanded this subscription service to include live updates from the racetrack. Considering that 80% of all bets on the brand’s betting platform are placed just five minutes before a race, it was clear to Unger that the Daily Racing Form’s content, particularly it’s betting advice, was most valuable to readers immediately before a race. But up to this point the publisher was still following a print production schedule for its web content. The insights reporters gathered at the race were shared a few days later in the print publication and on the website. These insights, such as a reporter’s observations on the track conditions or the behavior of a horse, are invaluable to players especially if they are placing bets online and not physically at the track.

“These are the kind of insights that are actually like gold to someone who bets,” says Unger. “It’s an extremely important advantage for our content to be immediately available to our readers.”

As a result, Unger and his team launched DRF Live, a feature that is now bundled into the DRF Plus subscription. DRF Live shares real-time updates from reporters at the racetrack. The content is short—about 100 words in length—and is published on a continuous stream under the DRF Live section of the site. The Live package now also includes streaming video reporting, which players can watch minutes before a race.

To deliver this timely content, Unger and his team initially used Scribble Live, a live news storytelling platform, because it was easy for Daily Racing Form’s reporters to use. “Some of these folks have been at the Daily Racing Form for 40 years, so this is not a bunch of 22-year-olds that are used to the latest technology,” says Unger. “We were very surprised and happy with the uptake on this.”

Once the concept was proven through reporter adoption and a warm reception from readers, the Daily Racing Form’s development team created a modular CMS in-house to manage DRF Live content. The CMS allowed reporters to post articles and videos to the site quickly, from any device. The CMS also featured a social media component, automatically tweeting out previews to reporters’ latest updates. Those tweets then drove players directly to the DRF Live feed, growing awareness for the premium service.

Solution #2: Using Free Content to Drive Ad Revenue & Convert Players

Daily Racing Form also wanted to better monetize its free content. Site analytics revealed that roughly 50% of the Daily Racing Form’s traffic went to its “Entries” pages, which are data-heavy pages that list what horses are racing that day, race odds, and the weather at the track. “These were completely unmonetized areas and devoid of any content besides the numbers,” explains Unger. “We asked ourselves, ‘How about we build our ad model right into the most heavily trafficked parts of our site?’ And that’s exactly what we did.”

Some of the Daily Racing Form’s biggest advertisers are horse breeders. So if a horse in a particular race was bred by one of these advertisers, a link appears under the horse’s name that directs readers to the breeder’s website. Unger said this has driven a ton of traffic to advertisers’ sites and has proven to be a more effective way to capture readers’ attention than a standard banner ad.

DRF monetizes its entries pages with links to select breeder websites.

Daily Racing Form also uses these entries pages to promote its subscription content. Above the racing data, readers can see callouts to view “Analysis & Picks” and “Closer Looks.” This is DRF Plus content that offers readers more pointed guidance on wagering and DRF wisely markets this premium access at the same moment that they’re considering placing a bet.

To spread greater awareness of the many tools offered behind the DRF Plus paywall, the Daily Racing Form began hosting free webinars for players interested in learning how these tools can optimize their bets. “We figure that it takes about 20 minutes to convert someone to our handicapping product because it is pretty complicated,” says Unger. “So we look for little opportunities where we can get 20 minutes of somebody’s undivided attention.”

Unger also sees these webinars as an educational opportunity that can help grow the horse race betting universe. “We need to bring new players in and we need to teach them how to play better,” says Unger. “Our marketing is very much focused on developing new players.”

Key Takeaways: Focus on Timeliness & Utility to Become Invaluable to Users

The Daily Racing Form wanted to develop a premium content product and drive greater revenue from the content and data it produced daily. But its data was isolated, lacking the contextual analysis and insights its expert reporters could lend the numbers. And its content was stale, published far too late to influence players’ bets. By combining these two offerings, and always holding up the “Player’s” success as paramount, Daily Racing Form was able to transform its content and data into a valuable (and profitable) subscription product.

Daily Racing Form added even more utility to its offering by taking advantage of the speed and timeliness of web content. As a result, its “content-as-a-service” model has grown into an invaluable tool for players. That, ultimately, should be the goal of all publishers—to become invaluable to their audiences. Revenue opportunities will naturally follow.

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