The weekend saw a feast of racing throughout the world- some more important than the others, but all part of the whole in bringing the currently splintered racing world together in order to create a robust industry and where, perhaps, not in our time, there will be takeovers of racing clubs, IPOs coming to the fore and competition to racing clubs- yes, like Napster and music companies- where mergers and acquisitions will take place to create a much-needed new business model.
Again, from the outside looking in, racing clubs continue to carry way too much useless lost baggage, and, despite all the talk about Change, there is none- some cosmetic changes, maybe, but nothing of any great consequence.
It’s all still plodding on looking tired and lost while the recent Noah’s ARC- Asian Racing Conference- with its three C’s doesn’t seem to have yielded any fruit as yet.
But last things first…
Watching the simultaneous broadcast between Hong Kong and Epsom Derby Day on Saturday, we were pleasantly surprised that local terrestrial channel ATV World didn’t, as usual, cut to the Main News exactly at 11pm and when the Derby would have been run.
Gawd knows, all the trouble there’s been in having the English broadcasts on this channel where the hosts have to constantly be on their toes to be “in sync” with everything going on in Cantonese, which has resulted in more daftness than the one-legged Tarzan skit by the Monty Python team.
Instead, this night, the hosts- Jo McKinnon and Jerry Greene- looked far more relaxed, and, instead of leaving audiences to wonder what had won the main event, common sense prevailed with the channel holding off the Main News to show brilliant galloper Australia winning the big race- evidence of growing big new balls and bending the rules.
Rules are meant to be broken and these simultaneous broadcasts are almost dress rehearsals for when co-mingling comes into play- up close, upfront and not something here- but not quite here- and almost hidden away from it all.
News of co-mingling with the US was announced with muted fanfare and some pocketful of mumbles that are sometimes promises by the hard-working Billy Nader, the HKJC’s American Director of Racing, though how it has all evolved since this announcement, what’s being done to move the chess pieces other than negotiations and more negotiations are a tad sparse.
What’s being done right here and now- apart from time-wasting- to have the structures in place from which will come growth- doesn’t seem to be there.
The racing industry is hopelessly behind many other industries- yes, like the music and advertising industries- in being proactive which is why forming partnerships with racing clubs is a tedious process and ignored by many as they don’t see any upside.
Most racing executives are incapable of lateral thinking.
They are stuck in the middle of quicksand with no particular place to go and with a sophomoric view of marketing, creative and communications with those who help pay their fat salaries- racing enthusiasts in all their many guises and constantly wooed by other sports and all the online entertainment activities available today.
Most of these executives are still on the reservation- and happy to be there as it’s safer to fly under the radar than actually DO something.
The business strategy for simultaneous broadcasts, for example, should not only be what is shown on the day of a racing event like Epsom Day.
This is the Main Course and, surely. what’s needed are all the appetizers to whet the appetite for wagering by providing as many “back stories” as possible?
It’s why American Idol is successful: All those back-stories that fast-forward audiences- some with zero interest in music- into connecting with the contestants.
In racing, these back-stories- as much information as possible about the jockeys, the trainers, the owners, the history- are non-existent as there is no long-term marketing strategy in place to accommodate any of this.
It’s all ad hoc, knee-jerk reactive thinking comprising damage control and constantly moving the goalposts, but with no strong beliefs in why one is doing what needs to be done and understanding what the well-bitten racing fan wants other than the obvious.
It’s also about making whatever is visible to this customer segment understood by existing and potential advertisers- Longines, BMW, and, one day, perhaps Ferrari, Red Bull, Cartier and Chanel- who wish to be part of it all which can lead to a better horse racing product using different platforms other than the obligatory racing pages and their captive- and dwindling- audience.
For example, where was the lead-up to Epsom Day- and not the waffling and playing for time during the day of the ‘live’ broadcast and where only Jack Webb type facts are needed by those tuning in?
In other words, as in any strategy programme, there is a need for a pre, launch and post-launch campaign and not just shooting one’s load once- and then falling asleep- leaving the racing fan staring at the ceiling, having a cigarette and wanting more- and with this something more coming from twitter and consumer-generated content.
It’s what’s kept the aftermath of the Belmont Stakes and the back-story of California Chrome still very much alive.
This is the post-campaign and, in many ways, even more important than the Main Event as it’s made the few minutes of that race live on for days.
Same goes for the pre-launch campaign which should offer audiences with something more than form, analysis and all the information needed to win on the day. This is a given.
What’s needed is the human face to all this- the back stories and all the characters behind every single major racing event.
It’s people needing people- or, at least, people needing to know more about the people behind the big races- the reality television of racing- with all it’s twists and turns and fly-on-the-wall footage.
For example, to show the Twelve Degrees Of Separation, why couldn’t time have been devoted before Epsom Day for the story of young horse owner, golf professional and Hong Kong businessman Christopher Tsui, his father, David, mother Ling, their fascinating association with Sea The Stars and their link with the win of Australia in Saturday’s Epsom Derby?
The Tsui family is a racing dynasty with a story that is a ready-made Hollywood script starring David Tsui, who, in the Nineties, founded Sunderland Holdings, the family’s breeding operations and owned 1993 Arc winner Urban Sea, the dam of Sea The Stars, which was purchased by wife Ling, one of the most astute experts in the area of breeding and pedigree who also happens to be a special adviser to the Mainland China’s Ministry of Labour.
Over the years, the Sunderland Operations has bred Galileo, pictured below, see the Australia connection?- Urban Ocean, Melikah, All Too Beautiful, Cherry Hinton, My Typhoon and Black Sam Bellamy.
Of course, Christopher Tsui, 43, came into his own through the ownership of the brilliant Sea The Stars which won all before him- the 2000 Guineas, the Epsom Derby and the Prix de l’arc de Triomphe in the same year- the only horse to achieve this feat- and one of THE best examples of someone with the credibility to speak to those new race horse owners who’ve recently come on board.
It’s bringing all those splintered parts into something whole and turning simultaneous broadcasts into a racing edutainment strategy and not, mistakenly, coming across as a showcase for talking heads.
Fast forward to the win of the powerful Coolmore-owned Australia- named after the business the owners have in Australia’s Hunter Valley- the son of the Sunderland Holdings-bred Galileo, trainer Aiden O’Brien’s 2001 Derby winner, and 2004 Epsom Oaks winner Ouija Board.
Amongst the triumvirate of Australia’s Coolmore owners- John Magnier, Derrick Smith and the always-interesting Michael Tabor- is Malaysian businessman Teo Ah King, who owns the China Racing Club.
Teo is an interesting player and which is why with bringing together the different worlds of racing in mind, and the more far-reaching role of simultaneous broadcasts, there is also a need for something approaching “investigative journalism” to tell the stories BEHIND the racing.
With many, especially in Hong Kong and Mainland China, looking at racing as a business- a new business- there is tremendous interest by the cash-rich New Chinese to understand this business- and the big players like Coolmore, their business plans in China and where architect Teo Ah Hing fits in along with the role of the China Racing Club.
Speak to Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, CEO of the HKJC, and what is constantly mentioned is about connecting and community with and recognizing different customer segments.
Venues being opened by the HKJC to cater to these customer segments along with new wagering options and creating a unique lifestyle experience is, of course, of paramount importance along with constantly policing the integrity of the sport.
There is also the customer segment that is business-driven- cash-rich businessmen like owner Pan Sutong, below, relatively new to racing- and looking at investing in the sport- in breeding, in ownership, in new technology, in ways we’ve never thought about in this constantly changing world.
This is where many in racing clubs fall flat on their faces.
They lose sight of these intriguingly different racing enthusiasts and have little or no understanding of adopting horses for courses strategies, or making the most of the mediums available, or constantly enhancing the products in hand, and realizing that corporate navel gazing will only result in a Them versus Us chasm that might become too hard to bridge if allowed to flounder.
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