I was wondering if this would be a horse racing story or a music story before deciding that horse racing really is part of entertainment and it’s only the hardcore racing media and having the sport pigeon-holed by those within racing clubs is what still keeps this sport insular and in the Dark Ages- except for Hong Kong.
What makes horse racing in Hong Kong successful- an average HK$1 billion turnover EVERY race day, its Happy Wednesday brand, ‘live’ music at these mid-week race days, new ways of attracting the younger and casual racegoer- has much to do with a CEO with a vision and who gets it. Completely.
And I am proud to be described as the Club’s Cheerleader-In-Chief. It’s better than being called a useless prick.
This week, the Hong Kong Jockey Club and sponsor Longines host Hong Kong International Week, which, to borrow a much-used term, really is The Greatest Show On Turf.
But this very special Week apart, the HKJC has made some very important breakthroughs.
The Club is hardly perfect and like music companies and ad agencies, there is dated, overpaid baggage holding it back, which is why critics of the Club keep chanting the same mantra they have done for years like lost Hare Krishnas: “The HKJC succeeds despite itself”.
Yes and no.
Sure, Hong Kong Chinese and Chinese almost everywhere including those over the border get weak in the knees at the thought of racing- and think of it as another form of “investment” just as they invest in the property, wines, antique and stock markets.
This aside, the Club’s Happy Wednesday brand at the unique Happy Valley Racecourse has seen attendance and turnover increase PLUS attracting a new, younger consumer and the Next Generation of race-goer who, a few short years ago, would have given the thought of even stepping onto a racecourse a very wide berth. And why would they? What was there for them?
Today, a Happy Wednesday night means a combination of horse racing, sure, but also enjoying venues like The Beer Garden with its different stalls serving food and drink.
There is Adrenaline with more ‘live’ music which houses the inter-active IBU tables that make understanding the sport easier, The Gallery with its dining, unique racing experience and spectacular view, plus the various marketing efforts to promote the athletes involved- and jockeys are great athletes- competing in one of the most dangerous sports- and with various promotions like Fashion Styles The Valley and Music Rocks The Valley being important elements in creating the Cool Factor.
Sure, when it comes to bringing music to the races, a Happy Wednesday night is not Knebworth or Fuji Rocks or Glastonbury- but it’s a start.
To get here has meant fighting racing tragics from Ye Olde Days plus a short-sighted government and its various blinkered departments that, on one hand, want the huge taxes the Club adds to the coffers each year as well as well as benefitting from the work of the HKJC Charities, but still insists on short-circuiting many ideas that could help Hong Kong as a city and tourist destination through other ways in which the Happy Valley and Shatin racecourses can be used.
The Hong Kong Government is really biting the very hand that feeds it very well and helps keep the wolves at bay.
Even with these road blocks and red tape, the Club has shown many samey same clubs, bars and restaurants that things need not take on a lemmings approach when it comes to providing entertainment.
From performing between races, an artist like singer-songwriter Ben Semmens from Wales, for example, has built up a fan base through his Happy Wednesday appearances and has now seen his music released on iTunes via Universal Music.
One of these tracks is Giddy Up, an original song about horse racing- not exactly the easiest thing to sing about without sounding like a right twat.
How many other racing clubs have had a theme song released by Universal Music? None.
As Semmens says, “I’ve been back to Hong Kong four times in a year and it gets better with each visit.
” The HKJC venues are great, the audiences are fantastic and this new deal with a music company like Universal Music is something a new, unknown artist from Wales can only dream about. And now, well, dreams really do come true.”
This week, Semmens and his new band perform during International Week whereas the HKJC launches a racing app based on the IBU board with a campaign aimed at novice race-goers who wouldn’t know a quinella from Quentin Tarantino and a Six Up from a 7UP.
It’s the quality of the app and the tone of the communications that makes it work- informative and entertaining- but also edgy and credible.
It’s not the usual corporate bollocks that is launched for the sake of being launched and which has the impact of a flea having sex with an elephant.
In a world where often there is much talk and no action- or else action that is inaction- the HKJC is proving that horse racing is not some mug’s game and has elevated the perception of the sport. And Perception is key.
What’s next for the Club? Mainland China awaits, the intricacies of co-mingling await whereas for the New and Next Generation race-goer, they are waiting to see what will be offered to those who like to rock over on a Sunday afternoon to Happy Valley and cross-bet when racing takes place in Shatin.
I wait to see how these consumers are reached through clever use of social media and in partnership with the right sponsors and their data bases, advertising based on the KISS Theory and doesn’t treat consumers as if they are complete dullards and- key- turning the broadcasting of horse racing on its head by moving into the online world with creative programing that doesn’t plod along like a very slow horse wanting to have a damn good dump instead of running in some race.