There’s a scene in The Godfather 2 where the character of Michael Corleone, who wants to get away from the pressures of being The Don and keeping the mafia Family together though knowing it’s a role he’s inherited, screams out, “Every time I try to get out, they SUCK me back in!”
It’s Al Pacino at his tormented best in, what is to us, THE best film ever made.
Don’t laugh, but that scene came to mind watching Joao Moreira ride his fourth winner of the night at Happy Valley on Wednesday- the fourth winner on an eight race card since his surprise arrival in Hong Kong two months into the current racing season.
It’s tough being saddled with pressure, and it must be tough for the brilliant Brazilian having to live up to labels like the Magic Man, tough to keep coming back from suspensions on careless riding charges and tough where even riding three winners on an eight-race card is often not enough for HIS family of fans, but the jockey keeps going and has given the HKJC with an USP- a Unique Selling Point- which the Singapore Turf Club had- and never ever utilized.
How the HKJC will make use of this USP which has seen a significant increase in turnover and interest in the Jockey Challenge, remains to be seen.
For example, the upcoming series of Magic Comes To The Valley events has Moreira stamped all over it.
It all comes down to promotion and marketing, and horse racing in this day and age needs to do so much more to reach that point which one of our more learned readers with years of experience as a punter wrote in to remind us about: How nothing beats “holding that winning ticket in your sweaty hand.”
Well, to us, we’d rather be holding the money from having that winning ticket, but let’s not split sweaty hairs here.
Perhaps winning is everything to many- and that’s fine as it’s the main reason for a race-goer to go to the track- but if the sport- as a hardcore business- is to ever extricate itself from being labeled a mug’s game, or, as a casual race-goer told us last night, a “game for losers,” well, as Oprah would say, get with the program.
Hell, playing the stock market is a gamble. Playing the property market is a gamble. Love is a gamble. Marriage is a gamble. Life is a gamble.
Yet, somehow, horse racing is perceived as being the biggest and- most desperate- gamble of them all.
For how long is the sport going to be the pariah and bastard child of other sports- and what are racing clubs doing to erase this perception and elevate racing to its rightful position of being one of the most dangerous positions and starring great athletes- a sport that, one day, should even be part of the Olympic Games. Why the hell not?
Are racing clubs with their present organizational charts, and almost de facto marketing teams, capable of doing this or happy still seeing racing looking like Napoleon exiled to St Helena’s while speaking to a captive market getting older every day until, one day, they’ll look around and, like dinosaurs, realize this market is extinct?
Every sport, every business, needs promotion and marketing to stay profitable, relevant and competitive, and horse racing needs to enter a far bigger media space than the racing pages of a newspaper and other aspects of a dated and, often, incestuous, overrated and blinkered racing media.
Use all this new technology around today to sermonize to a small captive market that is getting older every day- and with many being nickel and dime punters?
The ways forward for racing clubs- as a business- is for the next generation of racing fans to hear about this sexy Brazilian jockey known as The Magic Man who, in Singapore, won all ten races in one meeting, who, in around three years will be to horse racing what Fangio aka El Chueco was to Formula 1.
It’s to make them known about the South African jockey that is Douglas Whyte who has won a phenomenal thirteen consecutive jockey championships in Hong Kong.
Why are these incredible accomplishments not even in the Guinness Book Of World Records- and promoted elsewhere other than being relegated to racing pages- and only read by aging captive market?
Is it insular thinking or not even entering the mindscape of looking at the future of the sport?
The great horses, the riding talent are the main attractions of the sport- other than winning which is the end game- so, why not look at promoting USP’s like those identical twins- and very good young guns in the Berry brothers- or the role model to young girls that Kathy’O Hara is in Australia?
Doing this through calendars and some posters might be for good causes, but these are predictable, short-term and dated examples of marketing to all the different customer groups of potential race-goers the sport desperately needs along with possible new sponsors like Ferrari, who, during the upcoming Chinese New Year of The Horse might be looking for a different type of horsepower for their famous prancing horse logo.
Sorry, but most marketing efforts- like racing programs and the broadcasts of racing- are not good enough.
It’s marketing by numbers, it’s boring, and does nothing to the bottom line of racing clubs.
It also does nothing to win over new sponsors and business partners who. in turn, can increase prize money, help increase the marketing spend and impact and cross-promote the sport to bring in those NEW race-goers through the turnstiles so they will UNDERSTAND the thrill of winning- and get “sweaty” at the prospect of it.
Why has someone like Simon Fuller gone from managing the Spice Girls and creating the Idol franchise to managing the careers of David Beckham, Andy Murray and Lewis Hamilton?
Why? Because sports sell and the sponsorship of sportsmen brings them into a wider world of entertainment where Becks is with Posh Spice rubbing shoulders with Hollywood and Lewis Hamilton is with ex-Pussycat Doll Nicole Sherzinger- all of which has broadened the appeal of soccer in America and Formula 1 racing to many music fans.
It’s a domino effect that horse racing needs if it’s ever going to crawl away from the rock it’s currently buried under.
In any business, it’s all about gaining a bigger and diverse customer base- and in horse racing, this customer base cannot survive with that captive market of racing tragics that gets smaller and smaller every fiscal year.
Heads of racing clubs and their highly-paid executives with their fat cat salaries and titles- like any other business- are held accountable.
If they don’t make the grade and are ineffective, the exit door is to the right, baby.
Imagine a game changer like Simon Fuller entering the racing world.
How would he change it?
Who would he choose to manage amongst the jockeys?
Joao Moreira? Douglas Whyte? The Berry Boys? Kathy O’Hara? Richard Hughes? One of the young guns from Europe? The brand that is still Frankie Dettori?
What new, credible and relevant sponsors and business partners to the sport would his roller deck and CV bring- and how might this change the image of horse racing from that of blinkered racing tragics whose universe goes from heretohere- and stays there- and a different and also cash-rich group of investors to the sport who wish to add racing to their business portfolios- businessmen like Pan Sutong, who has come out of nowhere to purchase Lindsay Park, and is destined to become one of the biggest players in the global sense of the sport.
We’re not just talking about music at the races, fashions on the field and caps and keychains as merchandizing.
We’re talking business, business, business- the bottom line and how racing clubs ALSO need to feel the thrill of “winning” by making a PROFIT and meeting various KPI’s- Key Performance Indicators- to KEEP the sport alive.
The $64,000 question is how many racing clubs and those who sail or coast through them while, in reality, engaged in navel gazing, are really capable of pushing the creative- and marketing and business- envelope to attract the other Pan Sutongs and people like the Cheng family behind Sun International who bought Eliza Park and, almost overnight, are one of the biggest buyers of good equine talent?
More to the point, how many are clueless and simply going through the motions of pretending to do something by trying to cram irrelevance into mailboxes when there are few or no mailboxes around today, anyway?
Extinction is catching in many areas.