WHY HORSE RACING CAN’T KEEP STANDING STILL

“Ideas are the natural born enemy of the way things are”. General Electric

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The good god of horse racing must be finding it tough to swim against the current, which probably explains why there are no signs as to how he’s helping guide and provide direction to where the sport is heading.

Not just that, but he also doesn’t seem to have the balls to smash those irrelevant ten tablets, and start afresh with a different type of tablet more aligned with today’s technology-driven world.

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Listening the other day to a couple of earnest racing pundits provide their post mortem on a weekend race meeting, one had to wonder what a stranger in a strange land who’d just landed on planet earth would have made of it all, or, for that matter, a novice to racing who thinks a Moody Dissident is Kim Dae-jung.

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Despite all the soundbites about attracting “the next generation of race-goers”, the marketing of horse racing to this customer segment continues to plod along the same path, and speak to that same captive audience that’s getting smaller every day.

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Sure, in Australia, come every Spring Carnival, many get excited about how it’s attracted this “new generation”- but this is like premature ejaculation as there is no sustainability- no lasting power.

This “new generation” doesn’t return for even sloppy seconds as they might have enjoyed that one moment- but that one moment wasn’t inviting or exciting or interesting enough to have them Oliver-twisted and wanting More.

Then again, is there more?

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The problem is that as a sport, horse racing does a piss poor job of marketing itself- globally- as there is no global leader with the creativity and marketing knowledge to bring together all the splintered elements into one holistic product.

It’s just one big buffet- or the dog’s breakfast- with scraps and dishes flying everywhere and not an Executive Chef in sight.

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Who IS the Braveheart leading the charge when it comes to making the sport evolve from what it is-and where it is- to what it can and must be to survive and grow?

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As mentioned many times before, the glaring absence of a World Racing Awards, which can only help gain a wider audience that will lead to new brands and sponsors providing racing with a facelift, shows a sport galloping along that road to nowhere with tunnel vision as its guide.

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But even before this, where are the new and more lifestyle-driven programming to attract this “new generation of race-goer”?

Instead of trying to force a square peg into a round hole by including a few token buzz words like “social media” and “going viral” into the hardcore racing world, and thinking this will do, surely now is the time to create and produce far more diverse content- and make this available on different platforms- and marketed in ways to attract and connect with all the different customer segments?

One size doesn’t fit all. Never has, never will.

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Hardcore racing is for the hardcore racing customer, and will always be part of the sport.

But exactly how many NEW hardcore customers is the sport attracting- and what are their “profiles” from a wagering point of view- meaning, how much do they contribute to a racing club’s turnover?

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Horse racing desperately needs to attract marquee value names from that greater pantheon of sports entertainment in order to bring some much-needed pizazz and raise the stakes.

The sport needs someone like a Simon Fuller, who, with his roller deck and own army of sporting star power, can attract this “new” or “next generation of race-goer” we keep hearing about through tired old soundbites.

The problem is that Fuller- and others with his media power and marketing chutzpah- is still to be convinced as to whether he should get his feet wet, and, other than the Hong Kong and Japanese racing markets, fail to see what’s in it for them- globally.

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Asia, today, or to really narrow it down, Hong Kong, is the leader in horse racing with its two racecourses, its facilities, it’s “racing product”, the attraction of its prize money, and the record breaking turnover.

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Hong Kong, or, again, to be more precise, the HKJC, also remains the only possible gateway to legalised racing in Mainland China.

To those who are looking at this mutha of a Motherland, and believing those who are constantly touting about their “first steps” in “bringing racing to Mainland China”, Confucius say, Beware The Ides Of March, and beware of talking through one’s arse, and failing to understand the inner workings of the Chinese Politburo and the end customer.

There is the belief amongst some gullible enough to buy into it that cash-rich Chinese businessmen- and the growing group of powerful Mainland Chinese businesswomen- will gladly open their wallets and buy into anything and everything to do with horse racing.

Not true.

The purchase of wineries, for instance, offers far greater business opportunities for many of these cash-rich Chinese players.

Take, for example, a businessman like Pan Sutong, who arrived onto the racing scene in 2011 like a combination of Zorro, Batman, Flash Gordon and Santa Claus.

He purchased Lindsay Park and owned Gold Fun and the stallion Akeed Mofeed.

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The future looked so bright one needed shades, and Pan Sutong was going to invest even more into horse racing. Or so it was thought.

Some expected him to be the new Godolphin and the Chinese answer to Qatari Racing.

But, things are not going according to script as Pan Sutong has been far more busy with his acquisitions of wineries- a reported US$40m for Sloan Estate in Napa Valley, three wineries in Bordeaux, and now, like the Mainland China company named Perfect, looking at entering the South African wine industry.

Add to this, his huge investments in developing equestrian sports and bringing polo to Mainland China.

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Will he be investing in any new equine talent?

No one seems to know as it appears that, to him, horse racing is something to dabble in as a hobby.

Yes, this is only one man, but, he was seen as a game changer as was Edward Chang, whose Macau-based Sun International purchased Eliza Park.

Meanwhile, all the fawning surrounding his sister- Desiree- and loud sucking sounds by jockeys and trainers trying to have her purchase new horses is nowhere as rabid as it once was for the simple reason that the Changs just might have put a cap on their investments in horse racing.

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As for the “new generation of race-goers”, they are not “trendies” who are the hipsters of racing.

This is where many in the marketing of the sport are getting it very wrong.

This “next generation” comes in many different sizes and ages.

Very frankly, the thirty and fortysomethings who were born into the sport because of the generation before them, remain unconvinced about their role in moving forward.

Despite them being fully-paid for members of the racing world, they remain ambivalent about the sport.

They can take it, or leave it, and many choose the latter.

Their interests- their hobbies- lie elsewhere- like owning the latest Ferrari more than a racehorse, taking a punt opening a restaurant or club as a vanity project, or taking over the family business.

What will it take for a racing club to woo them and win over these immoveable objects?

Part of the problem in answering that question is that though there might be a handful of passionate racing people in seats of power who want to see the sport evolve and develop into something more than it is today, there is an army of Cling-Ons to the past who refuse to see that the wheel is not only broken, but that it’s dropped off.

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These are vastly overpaid Cling-Ons undeserving of the titles they have been given, and who are hanging on for the eventual golden handshake.

Time is money and the longer these Cling-Ons are kept on, the more behind the eight-ball racing becomes.

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While still around, they will also put up roadblocks as they are clueless about what’s new despite pretending to be “agents of change” and, supposedly, in touch with the consumer.

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The bottom line is horse racing remains an also-ran compared to many other sports as it continues to be seen as being all about the punt- that hardcore world made up of the same old racing personalities, who might be very good at what they do, but with their captive market in decline, and too few banging on the door to get in.

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Like television, and newspapers, their time to call it a day is fast approaching for the simple reason that their audience is nowhere what it used to be.

Horse racing needs to reinvent itself- especially in how its presented- everything from far more inter-active programming formats and consumer generated content to graphics, editing, camera work, and how all this is delivered to those wishing to see the sport in a fresh, new light- on-air, on-course and online.

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What racing has is The Old World often masquerading as The New World in every area of its business- and with too many not understanding the business aspects of the sport and the need to be creative and look at all the untapped ways of gaining new revenue streams.

The fundamentals of racing will never change: Great athletes riding great horses to get to that winning post first. Fine.

What’s missing in very many cases is finding answers to, And Then What? Or, And What More?

Where is racing’s Wow Factor?

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Where and how are racing’s heroes promoted?

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Could there be more global co-operation and partnerships to strengthen racing’s creative product?

How does racing “edutain” that customer base standing on the periphery, but not seeing a welcome sign?

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There are a number of other questions one can ask- basic marketing and business questions asked in many other industries.

Where there currently exists a problem-and chasm-is finding those who can actually answer these questions, and then, Just Do It.

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Much of this has to do with the wrong people in the wrong positions, and, most glaring of all a vital position that doesn’t exist in any organisation chart: The Creative Director and their hand-picked creative team.

Simply put, “marketing” or “strategic planning” cannot happen without a strong creative product.

And when this creative content is pieced together by racing executives and their textbook ideas of what “creativity” is meant to be, no amount of “marketing” can help make sense of that Humpty Dumpty product- and how to put it together so it makes any sense and doesn’t look like a very unappetising omelette.

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This entry was posted in HAPPY WEDNESDAY, Hong Kong Jockey Club, Hong Kong Racing, Horse Racing, HORSE RACING AND SOCIAL MEDIA and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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