By Hans Ebert
Often, and recently, more and more often, one has to wonder how many in horse racing truly understand what really are “good initiatives” for the sport, and what is breakthrough creativity and effective, strategic marketing to take things further. This type of questioning might just offer up some reasons why horse racing is struggling its position as a mainstream popular sport.
Racing must operate from a position of strength and respect, which has been claimed by its competitors who understand the dynamics of creativity and innovation. This is what a society and its younger, and spoilt for choice generation demand. The truth hurts, but this is a fact: Horse racing is the Rodney Dangerfield Of Sports. Guess if drinking from that half full glass, this could be seen as being “niche”.
Not to be a naysayer who can criticise but offer no solutions- that’s a job for some in horse racing’s twitterverse, especially when they’re having a meltdown and tweeting through their pockets- but having been in the advertising and music industries and having cut my teeth on everything from launching McDonald’s in Hong Kong and Mainland China to working with and marketing artists like Norah Jones, Bowie, Gorillaz, Robbie, Coldplay etc, what I’m saying is, Convince me.
Convince me as to what makes something a “good initiative” for the sport, so I can convince, not the diehard racing fans with very set ideas and stick to these- and well they should- but those looking to be convinced about being part of horse racing going forward. That’s the challenge. That’s what makes my mojo rise and climb The Matterhorn. That’s what keeps me involved in and still have an interest in racing.
Everyone is different, and it’s what makes the world go round along with that elusive butterfly called Love. Knowing what I have learned about the sport as a business over the past 4-5 years, thanks to a great mentor, and why it’s still not part of the much wider world of sports entertainment, staging races by increasing prize money to obscene levels are not “great initiatives”.
One racing jurisdiction upping the ante with a copycat version of another race that has come before and wasn’t original, anyway- except for the prize money- does nothing for the sport other than making it even more elitist than it already is, and just another very expensive private tea party for the Kings, queens, sheikhs and shake your money makers of horse racing. That’s just my opinion. Rage against the machine as much as you want. I’m not budging from this stance. Racing should not need any convincing. Just look at where it has ended up in Europe and the USA – reduced to an elitist level with a complete disenfranchisement of the middle and grass roots layer, which once was the strength of racing’s appeal.
If this- the constant increase in prize money- is part of a racing club’s business strategy- and the only one, with no thought of there being a balance such as ways of expanding its current customer base or bringing the commoners into the game, so be it. Wheel in the Trojan Horse, hype it to the same old choir by dressing it up in new swaddling clothes borrowed from Joseph And His Technicoloured Dream Jacket and sell it to the highest bidders- all 4-5 of them.
If one uses the words “initiative” and “new” and “creative” enough, those paid cheerleaders, and others who have never contributed one iota towards the progress of horse racing will, like lemmings, whistle and applaud, because of being easily dazzled by bullshit. And in horse racing there’s an awful lot of bs going around that few can see through. Challenge these people to do the maths and use a word like “rebate”, and a term like “creative accounting”, and the tough talk- usually via a tweet- just might result in immediate shrinkage setting in. It just might separates the men from the boys and the fakers from the fakirs IF they can see through the bs and stop being corporate toadies.
When it comes to creativity in horse racing, nothing compares to to the great work produced by France Galop. France Galop produce consistently brilliant award winning work.
Racing fans applaud the work, and, even more importantly, it captures the imagination of new sponsors and non racing fans. It’s brilliantly emotive, superbly crafted original creative work. The work takes horse racing to another level. Can the average racing executive appreciate this? Not sure. Sadly, many wouldn’t know originality if it were to gallop over them? Why? Because producing anything new is too risky. It’s the fear of the unknown. It’s like the Beatles being turned down by the head of Decca Records because “only instrumental music sells today.”
Not because some of us are behind it, but the HKJC’s Happy Wednesday brand, which has evolved over the past four years. and will continue to evolve, is a great initiative. It has brought in new market segments to Happy Valley Racecourse and has made horse racing more approachable, younger, relevant and has helped attendance and turnover grow.
Happy Wednesday is an ENTERTAINMENT option which has been embraced by the next generation. If racing administrators don’t understand it, it is because they simply don’t understand Entertainment. It’s more than a start. It’s a future.
Just think of the racing products out there that have not changed with the times, but are allowed to plod along. In Australia, look at Tabcorp and all those who sail in this Good Ship Lollipop. Where’s it heading? Does anyone really care, or, like much in racing, does it survive despite itself? What’s the end game to those steering it? Don’t make waves, keep your head down, indulge in corporate speak, and make hay- and then more hay- while the sun shines and before anyone sees through the scams and pockmarks? Maybe.
Where in horse racing are the great initiatives in this consumer-generated world seen in nearly every other industry? Twitter and the avalanche of illiterate and embarrassingly befuddled thoughts of angry bottom feeders? Those who are bitter that they’re not more than they believe they should be- very often those with an axe to grind after having been shown the door, especially, during that war of attrition in the land Down Under known as The TVN Horse Opera?
Remember that? The TVN saga is in many ways the catalyst for the troubles crippling racing in Australia today. This was where the capable and experienced television executive Bruce Mann, hired to make this product work, was cut off at the knees and rendered useless by Australian racing’s very own version of Donald Trump, the serial bully. He’s managed to bamboozle so many in the guise of this and that being “great for racing in Australia” when all the time it’s always been about him. Well done.
Some of us were recently jolted out of the somnambulism of letting Louise and Nanna take us on a tour of retirement homes while listening to RSN, Melbourne’s radio racing channel for dead people, when we heard a familiar voice mention that Racing in New South Wales is “on a roll”. Really? A sausage roll maybe. But when those in racing in Victoria have virtually handed everything to the serial bully in the other state who thrives on diversity with the Trump-like skills to lie, cheat, and lead through fear and loathing, there’s some truth to things out there being “on a roll”.
He’s the emperor, and the sycophants around him take pains not to mention his new robes and parrot the mantra that here’s the saviour that’s going to make racing in Australia great again. How many “saviours” have Australian racing had to contend with? It’s like what religion used to be like. Remember, convince the population at a young age that they are in dire need of salvation and then pretend, yes pretend to be the saviour.
Where does he fit in the global scale of things? He doesn’t. He’s shrugged off as inconsequential. The global world of horse racing has far greater priorities to focus on. This might surprise and absolutely horrify some, but horse racing is not the epicentre of the universe. It’s still knocking on the door to even get into a world of equals with popular mainstream sports and has even lost position to many of its equestrian sports cousins like polo and eventing.
Can horse racing ever reinvent itself in the way that cricket has? And let’s not even add the various football codes to the comparison equation. How, when the sport is really not that different to the Ben Hur chariot race? And that was a long, long time ago when Charlton Heston came down from the mountains carrying those tablets with Ten Commandments.
So, where’s the sport in 2017 other than in trouble? Other than the complete horseman that is Joao Moreira, who in horse racing is truly marketable, and of Nike-level sponsorship interest, who and what else is there?
Imagine having a global brand like Nike and its fantastic creativity being part of horse racing through the pulling power and marquee value of The Magic Man. And why not add the brilliant Winx and the team around the mare into this mix? For a sport that’s much about speed, horse racing is often horribly slow to embrace change.
Working towards achieving an objective like this is showing REAL initiative. It’s not about raising prize money and being held hostage to this business strategy. Instead, it’s about spreading the net- taking the blinkers off, looking at every other industry competing for the same consumer dollar, and reading The Art Of War. Over and over again.
In order to move forward and break into even a light canter, those leading the charge when it comes to horse racing must look beyond that horrible word called “the punt”. The appeal of Racing has long transcended the punt, it is one of the few sports that is truly social and non-gender discriminatory in its appeal. Relying on the “punt” to sell it is a turn-off, and insult to the market it is targeting. It’s hardly a magnet for success. Understand that today’s consumer who’s been spoilt, and has easy access to Netflix, free ‘live’ streaming of concerts and every sport, Spotify, and other music streaming sites, Google, YouTube, and every type of app when it comes to discovering everything out there, are far more selective in deciding what they buy into and will support.
Will horse racing rolling out racing apps that are more of the same be welcomed or ignored as just more clutter? Guess. Horse racing has a captive market and this market and the racing media that communicates to them is not going anywhere. Perhaps it’s for this market that there are still talking wobble heads appearing on the same old format for “tipping programmes”, and tipping sites and “new” betting/punting initiatives. Fine. One cannot teach old dogs new tricks, nor young pups who have inherited these traits from old dogs.
What, however, can be done to entice and attract the millions of others on the outside to come in, and, at least, see if they like what they experience? Perhaps give them the tools to create their own DIY world which just might surprise the old school? Perhaps there’s something, or even many things that racing’s old guard can learn from those working with a blank canvas?
The iPhone, Facebook- every part of social media came from those who saw what was missing, and created this missing link. They made it affordable, made it easily accessible and gave the consumer the freedom to take this and create how THEY want it to work and when and where.
In today’s world, no one can be force-fed to accept what they don’t want. To reach this still untapped market, horse racing doesn’t need more of the same- especially more softcore ideas from hardcore racing executives who don’t get out too often and live in their one dimensional universe thinking everything revolves around betting. Wrong.
Ironically, these and their underlings are those keeping racing in the barriers by wasting money on producing “racing products” no one wants and which slowly fade away because there are no takers.
What’s the point? Where’s the beef? Where are the new ways of attracting (new) sponsors and selling them on why horse racing can work for their business and give the sport their databases and marketing knowledge?
Raising prize money: What does this achieve? This is the future of horse racing? The past is not the future, you know.