We investigate the levels of horse-race coverage in 160 different European print and broadcast outlets in 27 different countries at three different points in time. We match information on outlets’ content to survey-based information on the average levels of interest in politics and education of outlets’ audiences. After controlling for the composition of each outlet’s audience and features of the party system, we find, contrary to our expectations, that lower levels of market competition and greater levels of journalistic professionalism increase horse-race coverage rather than decreasing it. More polarized party systems and closer electoral contests also attract more horse-race coverage. Our results suggest that horse-race coverage should not be considered as a ‘low-quality’ form of news on a par with ‘soft’ news or ‘strategy’ frame, but rather as a form of product substitution pursued by more professional journalists.