The 35th Asian Racing Conference starts in Hong Kong on Monday- a three-day event which will tackle a number of the usual subjects relevant to the industry along with various Speakers- all male- in a sport where the female consumer and horse owner is becoming increasingly visible and powerful.
Having a set agenda is necessary, but let’s hope what is tackled with even greater fervor- and with the blinkers off- is that this industry- and all who sail in her- make the time to look at other industries after the same consumer dollar and how, in 2014, insular thinking and bloated navel gazing does not end up turning this into yet another flaccid conference like the recent one in India attended by obscenely overpaid and ineffective racing executives with a warped sense of their self-importance.
Horse racing might be all about the end game- wagering- BUT, arriving here requires having the honesty to admit and understand that wagering requires how and where the sport is presented- not to those in their ivory towers and part of the same elitist club comprising fawning Yes People doing backflips and agreeing like Noddy in order to keep their million dollar gigs, but to the end customer who pays to keep this industry alive.
As we have been saying since Racingb*tch was launched through a vague idea hatched at the Champagne Bar of the Grand Hyatt after copious amounts of red wine, many racing clubs are made up of the usual suspects in a game of creaky musical chairs and going to the same dank well for hires whose Use By date has come and gone.
What this often means is insular thinking in the hardcore world of that taboo word called GAMBLING and where horse racing remains the bastard child and not invited to be part of the bigger pie of sports entertainment like football, basketball, cricket, Formula One racing, tennis- ALL of which have wagering attached to them, but doesn’t weigh them down.
All these sports are sexy- the players, the games, how they’re presented to consumers, and the money from sponsors to cross-promote them so they are not bound and gagged and relegated to the Sports pages of newspapers which are a dying breed of their own.
Sure, the Asian Racing Conference- the 35th of its kind and held in one of the most dynamic cities in the world- has to follow the topics set down for discussion and neatly follow the agenda.
What would be interesting, however, is for there to be the flexibility for “detours” and breakout sessions for those meeting in Hong Kong to be reminded of the changes rung in over these thirty five years of “racing’s answer to APEC”.
Which Einstein came up with THAT daft analogy- and do they realize that APEC was established in 1989 and is a new kid on the block compared to the annual ARCs?
Do this, and then- honestly- look at the areas in which this industry fails- miserably- through tripping over itself in internal politics, executives being as happy as a Pharrell Williams song to plod along and not make waves while, despite all the talk talk talk of “listening to the customer”, there still existing a glaring disconnect and refusal to admit that when it comes to trends and communication skills, racing remains a blabbering mess of white noise, tepid corporate sound bites and the habit of doing something for the sake of it and with no end game plan in sight.
Racing as a consumer-driven sport is way behind the eight-ball when it comes to understanding today’s consumer- the current and potential and future consumer- by actually getting out there and smelling the dim sum instead of second-guessing their mood behind closed doors- and with closed Old Boys Club minds.
Still, here’s hoping that this 35th Asian Racing Conference will rev up it engine, get its motor running and bring about some positive changes instead of the end result being another talking heads rerun.
RACING IN OZ STILL HAS A PULSE?
To the surprise of many, last Sunday night’s Australian television’s annual Awards event – the Logies which sounds scarily like picking a bogey- delivered to Australian racing what it least expected – an award for the best ‘live’ sports coverage in 2013.
The Seven network’s coverage of the 2013 Melbourne Cup beat a red hot field of nominees including the NRL Grand Final coverage, the AFL Grand Final coverage, the Ashes and the Tour De France. Not a bad field of opponents.
Though hardly like winning a Clio or Gold Lion in Cannes for advertising excellence, you could have had any odds about horsing racing winning this particular award.
What it did demonstrate is that despite what racing continues to do to itself- and to its image and brand- it still has a pulse albeit a very faint one, and that, most tellingly, racing resonates with the Aussie community.
Even more tellingly, the Logies Awards are based on votes from viewers, and not by some dubious judging panel.
The plaudits- and this will no doubt get up the noses and skirts of the Druitt Street heavies like a bogey in heat- clearly must go to the VRC who have single-handedly managed to keep racing front and centre- and relevant- in the highly competitive world of sports and entertainment.
Their Melbourne Cup carnival, which has spawned into much more than just Melbourne Cup Week, keeps going from strength to strength, kicking goal after goal in so many key indicator categories – economic, social and, significantly, as one of the major racing events on a global scale.
That racing can even compete against such highly popular and well established mainstream sports in Oz such as both football codes and cricket is, in itself, an achievement.
To win against them in a contest to do with communications is something far greater.
It’s almost an art imitates life moment. Racing, after all, has always been littered with the amazing against all odds feel good stories . And Real stories at that.
Yes, it has its very notorious tales of the dark side – the whodunnits that will always keep grabbing the headlines. But in a bizarre sense, both extremes of the narrative capture the attention of the community in the same way that the more notorious bad boys and girls in so many sports capture and share the attention of a public that craves both the good and bad side of life and all of its twists and turns.
What the Logie win demonstrates again is that racing still has an opportunity to grow its presence in the very crowded and competitive world of Australian mainstream sports and entertainment.
Frustratingly, it continues to be hamstrung by its lack of vision and the conservatism of its leadership who baulk at the opportunity to roll the dice and drag the industry out of the doldrums and into the new era that we are all in.
The new era is all about being Axis Bold As Love and the blueprint for racing is right before its eyes.
It needs to look no further than how its competitors in Oz have reinvented themselves- how sports like the AFL, NRL, Cricket have captured the attention of new and old fans by challenging the tired and outdated models on which their sports have been based plus identifying the problems and adopting bold solutions.
Winning a Logie for ‘live’ sports coverage has always been the realm of the NRL, AFL, Cricket, or a global sporting event.
It has been persona non grata for racing. And yet, racing has been able to smash through the glass ceiling.
Racing in Oz still has a pulse. It should not need a pacemaker to keep it beating.
HOW WILL THE CHAMPIONSHIPS BE FUNDED NEXT YEAR?
With Australia hell bent on creating its very own domestic GFC and the arch conservative Abbott Government- soon to be dubbed a “oncer” embarking on a monstrous slash and burn approach to all policy areas- you would have to be living in a pre-historic cave to believe that any State Government will write a blank $10 million cheque to any racing State to bankroll a racing carnival like the former O’Farrell Government generously donated to Racing NSW for the Championships.
It’s gone past the warning bells scenario for NSW and the sirens are wailing loud and clear.
The new Baird State Government in NSW is looking down at an electorate that will be completely unforgiving of any political party that promises and funds a racing carnival ahead of education, health, infrastructure etc, etc.
What makes it worse for the cause are editorials such as those written by Ben Dorries earlier this week in Queensland’s Courier Mail on the Championships: “No doubt the concept is a good one and fields and turnover for the two days were excellent. But where were the crowds?” writes Dorries.
“Randwick with its new $140 million grandstand could attract just 25,000 on each day.
“With a population of 4.5 million, surely that figure is barely a pass mark. Ipswich (in Queensland) with its population of 180,000 has attracted more than 20,000 people to its annual Cup Day for around a decade. Oakbank, nestled in the Adelaide Hills, hosted some 37,000 people on the same day that Randwick was giving away $10 million in prize money”.
Ouch! Just hope new Racing Minister Troy Grant and Premier Mike Baird’s media advisers don’t have this piece shoved under their noses.
What makes it worse for racing NSW and for their own Premature Ejaculation moment is that they went the early crow, spruiking to anyone within hearing range how the Championships would deliver a “genie’s wish” of economic benefits to the Flagging NSW state economy.
Forget the benefits to the racing industry.
These benefits would only be eligible to the select group of breeders and big time leviathan owners and trainers who have always “toe’d the company line” of Druitt Street.
Meanwhile, belated congratulations to Racing NSW Chairman and principal of leading NSW Stud Arrowfield John “the messiah” Messara on It’s A Dundeel’s magnificent win in the richest race of the Championships – the $4million QE 11 Stakes.
Thank Christ the prize money stayed on Australian shores and didn’t add to the trade deficit by ending up in the coffers of Queen Betty in the mother country.
Sweet revenge for not dispatching grandson William and his wife Kate to the Championships to give them her royal seal of approval.
Well done, Johnno. It was a great training feat by Murray Baker and a 10 out of ten ride by James McDonald – a real team effort to keep the prize money in Australia- and in NSW- where it belongs.
We’re very careful in making predictions, because we don’t own a crystal ball, but we reckon selling Canterbury is just a stone’s throw away.
Come to think of it, selling off bits and pieces of the family farm is now firmly entrenched in the Australian psyche. And for NSW racing, it’s the ONLY way the obscene levels of prize money for the Championships, and the equally obscene advertising budgets for the abysmal marketing campaigns can be maintained.
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