By Keyser Soze
TELEVISION NETWORKS SET TO LOSE BIG ON WAGERING REGULATION…
To apply a racing analogy, the contraction of the corporate wagering operators market is a “Certainty”, as we have predicted in recent editions. The shrinking of the market and the demise of some of the stand alone brands – household names, thanks to their relentless “in your face” and extremely crass saturation advertising, using every imaginable medium, and every trick in the advertising and marketing manual, keeps grabbing some unwanted (from their perspective) media scrutiny and headlines.
This week, The Australian newspaper reported what many were hearing about British corporate behemoth – William Hill, which in Australia, also comprises their three local acquisitions – Sportingbet, Centrebet and the best known of them all in Tom Waterhouse’s eponymous corporate bookmaking operation. According to the Australian, “Plummeting profits have sparked speculation about the future of the Tom Waterhouse-led William Hill bookmaking operation, though the British owned parent company is denying it is considering selling its Australian assets”.
No surprises here. William Hill would hardly be expected to confirm the rumours in the unstable environment which wagering operators find themselves in. But where there’s smoke, there generally is a something that looks like and smells like fire.
The Australian’s editorial piece paints a grim picture for William Hill’s balance sheet, and for its future, valuing the business at $100 million, a disastrous return in commercial language, on the reported $700 million spent on acquisitions and building up the Australian part of the business.
But it’s not just William Hill who will be dealing with the “Grim Reaper”. It’s every other corporate wagering operator who will need to adjust very quickly to a new and more tightly regulated wagering environment if they are to survive in the land down under.
The Federal Government has already flagged two major thrusts in its legislation to address some of the community’s major concerns with the excesses of gaming and gambling and their impact bon the more vulnerable sections of the community and on punters.
The proposed ban on in-play betting and credit betting – two of the areas of growth for the corporate wagering operators- will blow a sizeable hole in their profit and growth forecasts and, ultimately, on their balance sheets. And add to this, the deafening calls for the restriction of advertising in areas frequented by children, such as sporting venues and during prime television viewing times, where the wagering operators get the loudest bang for their bucks, and the Darwinian challenge of the survival of the fittest becomes very clear.
There is another important sting in the tail of the crackdown and regulation of the sector: the impact on Australia’s three free-to-air television networks – Seven, Nine and Ten. The corporate wagering operators have performed a life-saving role pumping in billions of dollars in advertising revenue at a time when the Networks were on life support and needing more than mouth to mouth resuscitation for their survival.
The Australian quotes a Nielsen Survey showing that for the 12 months recently concluded up to July 2, the corporate wagering operators spent a whopping $154 million with the networks on advertising. Understandably, the wagering operators have an ally in the Networks, who have suddenly become advocates of less regulation and warning of the dangers associated with driving advertising to “unregulated platforms”. Please. The free-to-air networks, just like their cousins in the print media, have yet to come to grips with the reality that their business models are outdated. Technology has forever changed the delivery of news, information and importantly all forms of entertainment.
Such is the size of the tsunami that will predictably confront the free-to- air networks that one of the key players in regulating the gambling sector, Senator Nick Xenophon, has foreshadowed what the Australian describes as a “dramatic cut to the $100 million plus licence fees” paid by the Networks to offset what will be a devastating hit to their bottom lines by the proposed changes.
There will also be a further dramatic impact on the “cash splash” by the sector on the raft of lucrative sponsorships in the sporting sector, sponsorships which again have provided “life support” for many sports, as many businesses and commercial enterprises get caught up in the stampede to retreat from sporting sponsorships.
The appetite for change in the wagering, gaming and gambling environment is irresistible. It is being driven by a community and society that has become exposed to the devastating impacts of an unregulated environment which has produced a legacy of misery and addiction in Australia. And the politicians have turned their hearing aids back on and are getting the message. They are firmly after “wolves of wall street” in the wagering and gaming sector. And not before time.
NOT A GROUP 1 EVENT, BOYS AND GIRLS
It was a bit of an anti-climax for some as gremlins struck and an email with the names of the winners had been sent out (inadvertently?) in the afternoon to a mailing list- certainly not a hanging offence, unless it was leaked, though the televised event was a prime example in shamateurism- everything from the wobblyscope camerawork, a very professional host in the Seven Network’s Hamish McLachlan seemingly cut off in his prime and certainly not given the room to stretch as everything was a very frenetic pastiche of bibs and bobs with some awkward moments thrown in. It was at times almost a tribute to Monty Python’s Flying Circus one-legged Tarzan sketch, but without the biting satire and intelligent humour. And why jockey Craig Williams was filmed in black and white, which made him look scarily like a mascara-daubed Liza Minelli, was spooky. It probably contributed to him losing the Scobie Breasley Medal to Dwayne Dunn.
No, The Victorian Thoroughbred Racing Awards held at Flemington last night was like a school pantomime, and yet another example of the shortcomings of the racing industry, especially in the area of creating and producing quality programming content. Racing Victoria can barely perform its core task of running the racing industry, so why embarrass itself with such a blatant display of Basil Fawltys on a night which supposedly showcases its heroes? We repeat: If racing executives were involved in this production, they should never have got involved. Racing executives can never ever be television programmers. The end result will always be another fine mess, Stanley, And yesterday’s televised event was a mess.
One other thing: For those who ask who our “leak” is, or profess to know who they are, look closer to home. Who needs “leaks” when so many in horse racing in Australia can’t help themselves when it comes to keeping secrets? They just soooooo need to share. And if the “fish rots from the head”, then there are many “hydras” in the Victorian racing industry and in Racing Victoria. They simply cannot or refuse to put a lid on it with “mail” being dispatched all over the place- and usually onto our laps- LOUD conversations in the usual watering holes about who’s zooming who etc, and, of course, Twitter always being another outlet to share supposed secrets.
It all speaks volumes for the dysfunctional state of an industry in crisis mode and how so many in exalted positions have seemingly never heard of the expression, Talk Softly And Carry A Big Stick.
A NOD IS AS GOOD AS A WINX
The stunning return to racing last Saturday by Australian racing’s glamour girl Winx, has gifted Australian racing, and particularly NSW racing, another one-off opportunity to build a marketing and PR campaign around this champion racehorse.
Like the immortal Black Caviar, Winx has begun to capture the public imagination and attention. Like Black Caviar, Winx is a wonderful positive story which encapsulates so much of the hopes and dreams of horse racing. It is the good side of horse racing, which gets front page and lead item coverage in the media and takes the sport away from the tedious negative news stories which racing is famous for creating. As the 2016 spring racing carnival approaches, Winx is the lifeline for racing to cross into the boundaries of a largely apathetic community fatigued by all the negative stories about drugs, race fixing, wars and battles which have scarred the industry.
Winx gives racing a chance to reclaim the attention of the community and showcase the feel good aspects of the sport which have been buried and ignored continually. It’s about the racetrack deeds of the wonderful champion equine athletes which all of us in racing across the world have been privileged to witness first hand. Winx has justifiably claimed the title of “People’s Champion”. Thank you, ball boys, thank you umpires. She took her dominant Cox Plate of the 2015 spring to another amazing level in the Autumn, dominating the Championships and leaving the racing community in awe of her innate equine talent. If Randwick last Saturday was any indication, Australian racing is in for a rare treat this spring.
Winx’s impact could not have come at a more opportune time for Australian and on another front, world racing. While the strategically-minded and destructively motivated animal activist lobby has used demagoguery to its most extreme and largely destructive level to undermine horse racing with their futile end game of banning the sport, it’s the Winx’s of the racing world that almost single-handedly battle the enemy that are the animal activists and provide the racing and non-racing community with the most potent weapon to counter the hollow illogical and deliberate reputational damage that they are so desperately trying to inflict on horse racing.
But with opportunity comes responsibility to seize the day. Carpe Diem! So it’s over to the ATC to get the turnstiles moving for her next two Sydney starts before she moves to Melbourne for the Caulfield Stakes on Guineas day and her Cox Plate mission and possibly the Mackinnon on the final day of the Melbourne Cup carnival.
If Winx maintains her unbeaten record in Sydney this preparation, it is a fait accompli that the Melbourne racing clubs will spare no expense to promote the living daylights out of Winx’s Victorian appearances, just like they did with Black Caviar. From a marketing perspective, the ATC is the only organization in NSW capable of undertaking such a task. Let’s not even contemplate for one fleeting moment Racing NSW being given that task. It’s too scary a thought. Hear those violins from the shower scene from “Psycho”?
The Black Caviar marketing and promotion strategy successfully targeted the wider community of racing’s non-believers who don’t give a toss about racing. They came on board because of the narrative of Black Caviar, which transcended racing. The racetrack was merely the arena where she was able to demonstrate her champion-like qualities and greatness.
Likewise with Winx, who is steadily adding some of Australia’s greatest races – the ones that matter- to her already amazing and glittering CV. The memory of families, members of both genders, and every demographic filing in through the turnstiles to watch Black Caviar in every State and every time she started in a race is an enduring one. Winx can do the same. The racing industry can seize the opportunity it has been gifted. In NSW, for racing’s sake, let’s hope they grab it with both hands and limbs. But let’s not hold our collective breaths.
TEA, COFFEE OR TOFFEE?
So our old mate Peter “toffee tongue” McGauran, Chief Executive of Racing Australia has called time deciding not to renew his contract with the national governing body. The racing’s rumour mill had been in overdrive speculating for some months that “Toffee’s” contract would not be renewed and that he would follow his Chairman into a graceful exit of their roles.
The warm favourite to take over “Toffee’s” role is none other than Victoria’s Bernard Saundry, soon to be racing Victoria’s ex-Chief Executive. We would hope, for Saundry’s sake, that he is spared the herculean task of dealing with the disparate and dysfunctional vested interest groups in Australian racing. Surely, he deserves better???
RAN OUT OF SAUCE?
Joining the exit line at the departure gates this week was Racing.com Chief Executive Scott Perrin. Yes, it’s been the week of CEO departures in Australian racing. Perrin, whose one year contract had not been renewed at the time of his resignation may not be the only executive to depart the shaky racing.com ship. A management restructure is tipped to happen sooner than later.