BEYONCE’S SINGLE LADIES AND HORSE RACING
It’s racing greatest challenge and, arguably, the key to racing’s future and survival in many of the nations where it has a history, and in the new world of the Asian sub-continent, where, thankfully, its youthfulness has enabled it in these early days to kick goals and exceed benchmarks that the more traditional racing nations would dream about.
The JRA’s Aki Akitani delivered one of the more interesting presentations at the Asian Racing Conference in Hong Kong during the week. His presentation and the language he used zeroed in on this challenge.
Clearly and refreshingly, the JRA has articulated a strategy to counteract the effects of an ageing population and a shrinking share of the leisure market- an ageing customer group desperately holding out from Change and with zero understanding, or tolerance, of the business of horse racing which no longer can afford to cater to the two-bit punter.
The JRA’s targeting of ‘single’ ladies is an interesting strategy and reminiscent to what the VRC set up with its very successful Melbourne spring racing carnival.
As with anything, the key is enhancing the end product and having it evolve beyond what it was.
Leaving good enough alone in today’s consumer-driven world is not good enough.
Said Akitani: “Historically in Japan, the main trend setters in our society are young females, and of course boys follow. Our average female attendance is 14% and we need to increase this ratio. Our goal on Japanese Oaks day this year is to attract 15,000 female customers – 20% of the expected attendance”.
It is one of the most simple and proven philosophies. And yet, bewilderingly is that there are those who remain unconvinced – quibbling over semantics and failing to “see the forest for the trees”.
Melbourne’s spring racing carnival and the carnivals which it has spawned across Australia, Royal Ascot and the swag of UK racing carnivals –Newmarket, Goodwood, York, Cheltenham and so on- have cottoned on to the simple, basic, primal trend: Attract the girls and the boys will follow.
Racing must realize that it is one of the few- if not the only spectator sport- which is female friendly.
It crosses the gender line perfectly. It is anything but macho. Its inherent fun element, its almost total lack of physicality underpins its appeal to females.
Racing provides the most fertile environment for engagement between the sexes with no comparison with football of any form – soccer, rugby or AFL. And certainly not with cricket, basketball or tennis.
The racing time clock with its 30 minutes or more gaps between races facilitates interaction between members of the same sex and between different sexes.
It is one of racing and sport’s best kept secrets, and it is never articulated in such simple and basic language- ironically, by many racing clubs themselves and the Kunta Kuntes in the racing media who are happy to fawn along whereas the more ambitious, see this as an opportunity to be seen as young, gifted, but still a hack.
Racing desperately needs a better gender balance in its decision making, management and governing structure and cannot continue to be an old corporate boys club pretending to understand the psyche of the today’s single ladies
In this regard, and at the appropriate time in the very near future, Japan and its neighbours must address this discrepancy, just like many of the Race Clubs and Governing Bodies in Australia have done.
Oaks day in Melbourne and the spring racing carnival attract attendance breakdowns close to a 60-40 split between males and females.
The young members events are sellouts and the economic benefits of the 2013 spring carnival to Victoria have been reported and documented at in excess of $364 million. Yes, $364 million. And not surprisingly much of the economic activity is the fashion and “grooming” spend, hospitality and accommodation.
And no, Lord V’Lundies, the VRC does not get a $10 million handout from its State Government despite what your goonish media underlings might report as being gospel,
The Hong Kong example is telling. The Jockey Club seized the opportunity that was waiting to happen at Happy Valley and, with the Happy Wednesday branding, turned the Beer Garden concept on its head, introduced a host of very upmarket initiatives, integrated music with the very latest technology to complement the demographic at its Adrenaline venue and the results don’t lie.
Happy Wednesday and Adrenaline capture the psyche of today’s racing world so successfully and without getting away from the main attraction- the races.
It’s following the races, yes, but also about having fun and being entertained, and leaving the course at the end of the night with a promise to oneself to come back for more.
Happy Valley is a ‘live’ and successful blueprint for the future of racing and how the sport needs to connect with the generation coming through and counter its “shrinking share of the leisure market”.
CAN RACING EVER CONTROL ITS INTEGRITY?
If only there were a simple answer to this vexed question – not just for racing, but for all sports which can be wagered upon.
The topic was, again, rightly, one of the front and centre topics at the Asian Racing Conference and was the presentation by Nick McKenzie, the award-winning Australian crime reporter from The Age/ABC that raised more than the random eye brow among Conference delegates.
McKenzie took his hard/hitting, hit ‘em between the eyes approach with him to Hong Kong, and much of what he said and discussed made plenty of sense.
One of the most pertinent and practical suggestions from the discussion was the possible creation of a World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) type international body to police sports betting and also address race fixing and all its ancillary evils that have trashed the image of racing since its own “big bang” moment.
Said Father McKenzie,,“Police will never win against drug traffickers and sport will never win against the match fixers, because they are wealthier, nimble, more flexible and operate out of jurisdictions where they can act with impunity”.
A depressingly negative assessment, which, sadly, has more than a grain of truth in it.
Match fixers and drug traffickers are peas in the same pod. The connection is both insidious and interconnected.
Just about every race fixing or drug case in racing has similar and usual suspects.
The relationship is symbiotic.
McKenzie’s assessment is spot on: The scourge is so insidious, and the participants so powerful, so well- connected- and swimming in oceans of cash- that they can now operate successfully in jurisdictions that are first world countries.
Match fixing and drugging horses has never been the domain of the third world.
It has come out of the closet and into the open and infected sports that, historically, were regarded as untouchable and beyond reproach.
Sadly, it is almost impossible for drug testing methodology to keep pace with each and every new performance-enhancing drug that enters the racing market.
The time lapse between the detection of new drugs and the development of tests for new drugs, gives the cheats and manufacturers and traffickers a massive head start.
By the time the tests are developed, the cheats are already well-advanced on to the next new and more effective drug that can be used detection free.
It merely emphasizes even further the need to concentrate efforts on intelligence gathering- to identify the manufacturers and dealers who inevitably will provide leads to the users.
Sharing intelligence between racing jurisdictions has long been identified as a more potent weapon in confronting the problem.
Fixing was once almost exclusively associated with racing. Not any more, and racing cannot take any comfort from it.
The blowtorch must continue to be applied with the highest intensity on the fixers and drug traffickers and their agents in every tier and every stakeholder group in racing.
The grim reality is that if the bad apples among the ranks of jockeys and trainers and their staff and contractors weren’t complicit in undermining the integrity of racing, then racing would not have a problem with race fixing or drugs.
Racing has little to lose by setting up a WADA-type organization to establish international rules and regulations and penalties to address what is a worldwide problem.
What is also well-overdue for greater collaboration between racing authorities- globally- is to tackle race fixing and drugs head on- and why a WADA type organization might be a good start.