It was raining men and million dollar, horse racing-friendly East/West celebrities plus the Kent & Curwen brand at Shatin on Sunday.
Onstage, together, were Chinese martial arts actor Sammo Hung whose horse Amber Sky had just spread-eagled a strong field of runners in the Kent & Curwen Centenary Sprint and the sponsor’s brand ambassadors, Aaron Kwok from Hong Kong and Mark Owen from the UK, both horse owners, together with the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s biggest drawcard- ever- in winning Brazilian jockey Joao Moreira aka The Magic Man aka Moreirarus, all of which made us think about the sponsorship of horse racing and just how much of a game changer it can be IF those in charge of marketing- on all sides- truly knew what to do.
It’s a big IF, of course, as to whether those in marketing and others working with sponsors in the horse racing industry think and look beyond the obvious, and realize, that in 2014, sponsorship can’t just be a logo stuck somewhere the sun refuses to shine or a daft consumer-unfriendly concept like the CSL 1010 Million Challenge at the Happy Valley Racecourse which is as weird as thinking Africa is a big market for Coppertone- or skin whiteners.
CSL 1010 are staring at a sponsorship goldmine- the now vastly popular and “sponsorless” Jockey Challenge- but can’t see it.
Perhaps it’s years of listening to the clanging of that goddamn bell that’s freed those bats in the 1010 belfry, but Hong Kong’s Jockey Challenges led by Joao Moreira, Zac Purton, Dougie Whyte, Matthew Chadwick and Karis Teetan and soon, Tommy Berry and Hugh Bowman, are ripe, both for sponsorship, and expanding this bet to include a Trainers Challenge and jockey-trainer “quinellas”- which means even greater sponsorship appeal and, eventually, bigger prize money.
For years, music companies worked with “sponsorship marketing” which never meant anything more than that old chestnut known as “brand awareness”- lazily taking the sponsor’s money and sticking their logo onto some tickets, the back of a CD and the backdrop to a concert by an artist.
Just as lazily, the marketing gurus on the client side agreed to this while some might have wanted the photo opps of an after-show party where a visiting artist would show up for a few minutes and pump the hand of the brand’s Mayor McCheese and Mrs Big Cheesus.
Did any of this have an effect on sales or changing the perception of the brand? Of course not.
The music fan either never noticed or couldn’t care less if it were Chivas, Martell, Hennessy or San Miguel or Heineken or Carlsberg or whether Whoflungdung were sponsoring an event.
The marriage of product and credibility wasn’t there.
It was a lazy marriage of convenience between two parties who never looked at any long-term strategies.
It was quick fix “solutions” with no added value for anyone- and why “sponsorship marketing” limps along today to the beat of its own drummer and minus any music.
In many ways, horse racing and sponsorship is still going through a cross between a honeymoon period and that flirtatious Dance Of Salome.
But soon, it will become a tango and a foxtrot as no sponsor can hitch their horse to the same wagon without seeing changes in the racing landscape, tangible results and this thing called “added value” that the marketing of any product always needs.
The HKJC is already a game changer in many areas- turnover, technology, attendances, the importance of its Charities to Hong Kong, venues, the quality of the racing, the improvements in integrity and security compared to the Larry Wong, below, CEO Years, to where the Club is today- lengths ahead of other racing clubs.
Let’s just remind ourselves again on Sunday at Shatin and an ROI- Return On Investment- the Kent & Curwen brand received from sponsoring this one event and how, perhaps, it could have been leveraged even more by using all the social media at our disposal to turn all this into a wider media event despite a turnover on race day of over $1.3 billion.
Right now, the HKJC’s annual racing calendar attracts sponsors like Audemars Piguet, BMW, SaSa, Longines and others.
We are now also seeing “cooler” products wishing to be associated with the Club’s ultra-successful Happy Wednesday brand and its younger generation of followers- but all this is just an appetizer before a main course still to be served.
Celebrity-driven racing syndicates, for example, can happen in a bigger way by bringing together Michael Owen and Aaron Kwok- that East-West strategy mentioned earlier- and which can “travel” further from a mass media point of view.
Imagine the marketing potential of this for Kent & Curwen- on and off-track- and tied to horse racing which can be part of a great game changer in how racing is still perceived by some- a mug’s game.
Take this idea of celebrity syndicates further to include, let’s say,Victoria Beckham plus savvy and fashion-conscious Hong Kong horse racing enthusiast owner Canny Leung, below, remembering the rise and rise in Greater China of Female Power in the sport- plus the popularity of equestrian sports and polo.
If a brand wishing to quickly communicate with a captive audience through so many outlets and other ways, horse racing in Hong Kong offers “top of mind awareness” and not just something exclusive to the racing pages in a newspaper.
Horse racing in Hong Kong is another “luxury item” with an HKJC Club House in Beijing and Members who are the rich, famous and powerful- and as they do in a game of mahjong or the purchase of a rare Margaux or any Cartier, Hermes, Prada product, more than willing to purchase a horse- the best money can buy as “face” is at stake- and have a fair old crack when it comes to having a bet.
As a “luxury product” and with aspiration being the USP of any brand, now is the time to promote the sport in different ways to different brands and actually spell out what horse racing can bring to the table in the area of ADDED VALUE sponsorship.
Naming Rights are all well and good as are the brand ambassadors- though some have us baffled- but where are the pre, post and sustaining campaigns?
Where’s the beef?
Where’s the credibility and relevance?
Where the connect with race-goers?
Where’s the connect with the non-racing media?
Who’s on first, what’s on second and is Why stuck on third?
The sponsorship of exotic bets like the Six Up, the Triple Trio, the use of the word “horsepower”, tie-ing in with the Chinese New Year of the Horse, working with new partners like Ferrari and its Prancing Horse logo, partnerships with every music company in the world and its artist rosters, well, the list of To Do’s is endless in giving horse racing the facelift and “refresher course” needed.
Having said all this, it’s up to racing clubs to lead from the front- and promote the sport as if it’s never been heard of before and with a clean slate.
Old baggage and follow-the-dots formulaic thinking will only slow the process down.
This requires a different set of presentation skills, new marketing and promotional tools and the ability to seek out brands that are credible with the different demographics that, at least, exist in Hong Kong and, let’s not forget, it’s where jockeys and trainers are celebrities and treated like Rock Stars whereas the hugely influential HKJC’s Charities is, often, not part of any sponsorship programs.