When in advertising, a copywriter came up with the tagline “More television than you want” for the launch of STARTV, Asia’s first 24-hour satellite television network.
All of us could not comprehend the logic behind the thinking and the line was killed off internally. The copywriter resigned in a huff. Smart move.
Over the past few weeks and months, racing fans have been served the most expansive and sumptuous international buffets of the sport never seen before.
In a content-driven world, it’s amazing content-almost “more horse racing than you want”from France, the UK, Australia, Japan, the States and much more to come from Oz and from Hong Kong when The Greatest Show On Turf rolls into town in December for International Week. As Mr Creosote might say, “I’m f**king stoofed!”
On Sunday in California there was the running of the Breeders’ Cup while a few hours later in Japan saw another of the country’s super-horses emerge when Spielberg, pictured below, stormed down the outside to take out the Tenno Sho to the roar of ninety thousand passionate Japanese fans.
On the same day at Shatin Racecourse, Hong Kong was witnessing an extraordinaire riding display from Gerald Mosse.
Only the day before when chatting with a jockey friend we had discussed the Frenchman’s aversion to taking any rails runs, preferring instead to steer his mounts three and four wide. We both agreed that Mosse is a world class rider- when in the mood- and how there are also those days when he seems to become a French Hamburglar going out wide looking for the nearest McDonald’s and some pommes frites.
Monsieur Mosse was either eavesdropping on our conversation, or had found his mojo and was back in the mood as, have merci, he forced Zac Purton and, merci, merci, merci, Magic Moreira, two of the best jockeys in the world, to play second banana to him. And The Great Swordsman’s banana is the stuff of legends.
Mosse showed and reminded one and all that he is not a Group One winning jockey with an incredible cv for nothing. Yes, he copped a suspension for causing interference with his winning ride on Terrific Master- a masterful ride, by the way- but he rode superbly throughout the day and racked up a treble with brilliant displays in the saddle on John Moore’s Selkirk Star and Exciting Dream.
In fact, the entire day’s racing was a wonderful show- again, almost “more racing than you want”- with outstanding rides by Moreira and some magic of his own by a re-energised Matthew Chadwick.
Following up from his treble last Wednesday, how he managed to win on the Tony Millard-trained Imperial Fighter was a ride of biblical proportions with Chadwick “doing a Moses”, parting the Red Seas and then finding the Holy Rail and Holy Grail.
On Tuesday, at Flemington when The Race That Stopped The Nation got underway, Mosse was to the fore again when back with his old bon ami- the nine-year-old Red Cadeaux- which ran its heart out again for its third second placing in the Melbourne Cup.
The big race, however, belonged to the brilliance of Ryan Moore, who gave another master class in riding to win on the German-trained and bred Protectionist.
For years, Moore has had his critics in Australia, but with his win on the first Tuesday of November and win on Adelaide in the Cox Plate, he’s not only made his knockers eat humble pie. He’s made them choke on their words.
These are the back stories- the triumphs, the drama, the main attractions, the characters- is what those still getting their feet wet following the sport want to understand so they can sign on to be part of horse racing’s future. They want to know what makes it a good ride from a bad one.
As many start out following their favourite jockeys to participate in racing, they want to know who Ryan Moore is, what Joao Moreira, Tommy Berry, James MacDonald, Zac Purton, or Douglas Whyte etc are like- off the track.
They want to know what makes one horse better than the other. And, of course, they want to know what it take to win in 140 words or less.
Without finding ways to address all this to the new and next generation of racing fans, the future of horse racing will fade to black through a marketing faux pas of communicating only with that ageing captive audience “living the dream” in a hardcore racing world comprising talking heads, 24/7 discussions about “the punt”, and, often, a very addictive and desperate sounding bunch of mumbles that are sometimes promises from the sport’s desperados who won’t come down from their fences.
Where is there anything in racing that, simply and effectively, “edutains” today- and tomorrow’s- new racing fan?
Every app, every racing programme, every racing club website caters to that one captive market. This must change and should have started to evolve into something else a decade ago just as other sports have done, where, today, there is that Cool Factor, which attracts new fans, new sponsors and an Indie racing media that does not communicate about the sport in a “totalisator board” language lost on many.
Australia’s Channel Seven with its more lifestyle-oriented coverage, at least offer overseas audiences with a different view of the big race days whereas Francesca Cumani, for the longest time, the most stylish and knowledgable lady in racing host and seen on The Winning Post on CNN, which really could be promoted far better as the programme has so much potential. Why such a strong supporter of racing as Longines- sponsors of The Winning Post- doesn’t make Franny their racing ambassador and build her into their advertising campaigns for the sport is baffling.
Meanwhile, Gai Waterhouse has created GaiTV- a video diary of sorts, possibly mainly for her owners to see the progress of their horses. Anything new is good for the sport as it inspires creativity.
Gai being Gai, the odds are that Australia’s First Lady Of Racing will eventually take her GaiTV brand out of racing’s small inner circle. But apart from the HKJC’s successful- and ongoing- Happy Wednesday brand with its multi-media partners and sponsors, where is there anything that can bring horse racing, up close and personal, and not be a sport that’s enjoyed only one day of the year- an annual pilgrimage to the one big race meeting- that’s forgotten the morning after the night before?
From the outside looking in, most racing clubs, like music companies, seem to make all the right noises about “social media” and “street marketing”, but these are token gestures to pretend and “inter-act” with this new market- and which they get embarrassingly wrong.
It’s old fashioned thinking in a new-fashioned world without actually venturing out and realising that a DJ is not a deejay, that a club is not a disco, that racing executives can’t be “entertainment directors” just because they watch “The Voice”, and that they are dealing with very creative, tech-savvy, smart, confident and wary young millennials spoilt for choice. They can sniff out phoniness at a hundred yards.
Speak to them, “hang” with them, and they have questions- many questions: Why can’t there be better use of Helmetcam- a Helmetcam app for iPhones to follow the jockeys on the horses they’ve picked- and other technical advances to heighten the excitement of watching races if not on course?
The broadcasts of races remain in the Dark Ages and no amount of slo-mo or aerial shots can help shake the boredom for this new market segment of watching paddock parades and those dated, robotic presentation ceremonies with police bands striking up the brass, and which remain a photo opportunity that’s rarely seen anywhere.
Like the days of Second Life when the online world was starting to explode, why can’t there be a virtual racing club with virtual or, better yet, real time races where players can “ride” with whatever jockey they are following- a product very far removed from those “fantasy racing” games-and where these millennials can “practice” and create their DIY systems for winning.
Last week, Welsh singer-songwriter Ben Semmens bought himself the latest GoPro camera to film his performances at the Beer Garden, and adventures in Hong Kong during those Happy Wednesday nights.
It was meant to be a fun little thing, but what’s come out of this is a very entertaining no-budget reality series called “Living With Bencam.”
If one is forced to “live with the Kardashians”, then Hong Kong racing fans can now live and be part of BenCam.
Working on the edit and seeing the footage in the bag- more footage than we want-we realised that this could develop into something far more than some random home movie.
It can change the ways in which everything that happens at a day at the races into by condensing everything into five to ten Instagram-type minutes of short-form edutainment.
Something like BenCam also shows how an inexpensive piece of technology can be used by racing fans to “chronicle” their days and nights at the races. The creativity is in THEIR hands with no rules and creatively crippling red tape.
Yes, a product like GoPro has said to consumers, here you go, here’s something from our heads and into your hands. Use it anyway and anywhere you want, and own the copyright to the content produced.
From a racing perspective, a product like GoPro can work to create a global online racing channel for like-minded people- young, “new thinking” people who can exchange ideas and information and lead racing clubs into a brave new world that remains undiscovered, and where the sport can be viewed and enjoyed in a different way, anytime, anyway and anywhere demanded by today’s consumers.
Horse racing cannot evolve and grow its “market share” by communicating with this thirtysomething age group by being only about horse racing. It’s way too much of one thing – and not nearly enough of everything else.
It’s this “everything else” that’s interesting as it’s currently MIA in horse racing’s product line.
Yes, the hardcore facts and figures are all there- and should be. But to those who don’t have the time nor the interest to go through this steep learning curve that’s more difficult than trudging up those twelve steps to find one’s higher power, there is very little “everything else” to entice, excite, entertain and inspire them to come along for the long run.
The horse racing industry today gives the avid racing fan “more racing than you want”, but, ironically, often, refuses to see the forest for the trees and everything that can give it a future.
Perhaps this is a role for those not bogged down by the past, Batman- and, instead, able to work with a clean slate and not held back by committees and constipated corporate thinking…