It was a tweet sent out from here recently and after the races at Sha Tin half in jest. But also in all seriousness. It was about how horse racing needs a Roger Federer if it’s ever going to be more than what it is today.
Today is an important word, because today isn’t yesterday and nothing can afford to be stuck in the past as there’s so much of everything today and easy access to a buffet of choices called-wait for it- competition. So much competition for the same consumer dollar. Often, many in horse racing seem to think they’re the only game in town and not having really thought through what it takes to be in the game.
Realising that people have more and more choices coming on stream every day is something every industry must face. For horse racing, a key concern should be falling attendances- a very loud signal that the on-course experience must be more than what one can be seen via streaming or television. And even more than that as, gawd forbid, horse racing is perilously close to being one big yawn. Just read 99.9 percent of the tweets. They’re corporate puffery.
Why did RB- Racingbitch aka Reality Bytes- close down its Twitter account and go walkies? Boredom, dealing with the usual Twitter trolls who appear on your timeline with tiresome conspiracy theories, regurgitating the same old same old and sounding like the boy who cried wolf one too many times.
After listening recently to Amanda Elliott, Chairperson of the VRC, below, being interviewed by Matt Stewart, though probably a very nice lady, she wasn’t exactly excitement personified while trotting out all those numbers that have supposedly benefited horse racing and tourism in the South.
While Matt, who, more and more, is telling it like it is and asking the hard questions others pussyfoot around, showed considerable restraint or had tuned out while doing the maths, dear Amanda, talking from Los Angeles, sounded like the boring old rich aunt who everyone has to be nice to in case you’re in her will.
With Canterbury now also jumping on the Friday night racing bandwagon along with Moonee Valley, time will tell whether this has any longevity or will only result in a hangover for racing the next day with how to ensure that the dreaded burn out factor doesn’t happen to those lower down the totem pole. Didn’t slave labour leave the building with Elvis and Kunta Kinte?
Horse racing in Singapore and Malaysia, meanwhile, will join Macau and become an unusual triumvirate best left to their own unique business devices next to Hop Sing’s laundromat. Despite the PR coming out of the Singapore Turf Club about “returning to international races”, horse racing is not even allowed to be marketed in the hypocrisy rampant Lion City. Weird or what?
What’s more important is that everything is held hostage to that old term known as “It’s the economy, stupid” and with new government legislation coming on stream in Australia in mid February and eventually elsewhere that certainly looks like hobbling corporate bookmakers.
Perhaps somehow all this problematic “stuff” should have been thought through and with creative and strategic marketing “provisions” made before reaching the point of no return all or many racing clubs face today- working on attracting people back to the races, especially to those race meetings where there’s a Clash of the Titans in Cup races between Group 1 horses ridden by world class riders and primed for the occasion by their trainers. But where are those who can create this excitement in new and relevant ways? Reminds me of that song asking where all the flowers have gone. It’s something dark anyway.
Even supposed racing fans would rather watch the races on television or their iPhone from the comfort of a sofa or the pub next door today than make the pilgrimage to where the action, excitement and competitiveness of the sport can be enjoyed, appreciated and shared.
This might be stretching it, but it’s not unlike attending any Pop or Rock concert though horse racing hardly has marquee value names like Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga or Tash Sultana. Still, nothing beats being there and there’s nothing better than saying, “I was there”. For horse racing clubs, the question is not only, But how, but also, With what?
At a time when when many are chanting the mantra that if you’ve been to one race meeting you’ve been to them all while those customers who don’t read the racing pages and follow racing writers on Twitter, what needs to be done to create that feeling of missing out on something special?Giving out plushies, key chains, brooches and caps and the mediums way too often used for the message are part of the marketing clichés John Malkovich raged against the machine of corporate mundanity recently in that brilliant piece of advertising for CBS.
Horse racing can do without clichés. But, most of the time, it is exactly that: a cliché. Someone show those gremlins propping up Racing.com that commercial for CBS.
Before trying to convince customers that the main attractions are Must See events, what about the entire on course experience? What more can be added to the sticky toffee pudding other than the one or two big races that last a few minutes? If without a vested interest in one or more of the horses participating, or a current or potential sponsor, it’s the age old question of, “What’s in it for me? What’s the return on my time and financial investment?” Hear the wrong answer and they’re gone.
Raising prize money? What also that to do with me? What’s the answer to dwindling field sizes? From seven runners in a race, it’s coming down to a “capacity field” of four. Think the wagering landscape is not under threat with races like these?
The biggest problem horse racing as an industry and racing clubs face is a very rapid loss of trust in many of those running the show. In very basic terms, they’re just not good enough. Unfortunately, there’s not exactly a queue of new talent wanting to be part of something they see that has no legs.
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