For decades, music companies have tried to find sponsorship for their record releases and promo tours by artists whereas promoters, who are still in this game of chance, know that without sponsors underwriting tours, their concerts will not only be bereft of cash, they’ll fall on deaf ears, and is one of the reasons why so many acts have played in so many markets and so many have asked, “They did? When?”
In a far more creative-driven industry than horse racing as there is a need to appear relevant and cutting edge to music fans and artists, so-called “sponsorship marketing” in music companies plods along.
This is for the simple reason that average promo people from, especially, music channels have been hired and given senior marketing titles, who are only capable of presenting potential sponsors with the obligatory “naming rights”, a possible after-show party, and some horrendously blatant attempts at “product placement” in music videos- far worse than all the brands that made “Sex In The City 2” one tedious commercial.
The creative gun has got rusty from not being reloaded with any new bangs for a sponsor’s buck and continues to shoot blanks.
Happiness is not a warm gun- bang bang, shoot shoot.
The flip side is that while music companies are lost in consumer translation, and trying to find sponsors, artists with strong management and creative and business independence, have an open thoroughfare to sponsors.
They’re more creative and, literally, “more giving” in what they can offer, which is why “celebrity endorsements” have evolved from the obvious to being a fleeting trend a few years ago when artists like Lady Gaga became “Creative Director” for Polaroid, Dave Stewart, formerly with the Eurythmics named “The Agent Of Change” for Nokia- mostly, publicity bollocks to look relevant- and to where today, products- new, dying, or even dead- have a chance of survival by standing out from the clutter through celebrity branding.
Is this “celebrity branding” another con? Often, it is.
A celebrity- and sporting stars are celebrities- sells their name to the highest bidder, or most hip brand, and in the cases of Beyoncé, David Beckham, 50 Cent, Gaga, Rihanna, Dhoni,Tendulkar etc, become walking human billboards for a number of products.
Does it work when there is often no exclusivity and only excess?
That’s one for Brand Managers to answer.
A one-trick pony?
With all this in mind, what can horse racing offer sponsors?
Or, are “naming rights” and “branding” all that can be served up as a buffet of very meagre choices?
Or, has there been no real thinking beyond the obvious as this might actually mean having to think outside of the stables, and even, perhaps, work, in an industry where many highly-paid executives in racing clubs can only juggle one ball in the air- and even manage to drop that.
Multi-tasking is like speaking in Swahili to many of these also-rans with their glib Corporate Speak and always wanting to take it “off-line”.
Still, for years, they’ve been obscenely over-paid for this no-balls-no-glory work ethic for survival. And with a golden handshake around the corner from Easy Street, why should they care?
New Thinking from new players must come into play, organisation charts need to be re-shuffled, academic approaches be “de-academised”, and pseudo intellectualism “outlawed” as every day of every week of every month or every year, sponsorship marketing dollars are going to, not only all those other industries out there, but also other sports- basketball, football, Formula 1, golf, cricket, the fight game, rugby, tennis etc.
Attracting sponsors means marketing one’s self as being exciting, innovative, and knowing that being in sync has nothing to do with an old boy band.
Yet, horse racing continues to market itself to that same old captive audience and with cosmetic changes so shallow that the pock marks can be seen.
It’s nonsensical and another exercise in doing as little work as possible to maintain the status quo.
In other words, it’s The Fear Of Change, and that other paranoia of being seen to have passed the Use By date.
Looking beyond the obvious
So what CAN a racing club offer sponsors and, at the same time, create new revenue streams and new ways of ensuring nothing swims upstream?
Looking at racing’s answer to “celebrity endorsements”, in Hong Kong, if one had to pick three racing personalities with sponsorship appeal, I’d definitely lean towards Douglas Whyte, Joao Moreira and Tony Cruz, the latter having actually appeared in a television campaign for local sportswear brand Giordano when Champion Jockey.
In Australia, Lady GaiGai stands head and shoulders above the rest, and can sell anything put in front of her. The Gai Waterhouse brand is hugely marketable, probably more so than the great Lady even realises. But who’s there in racing to tap into all this potential?
In another league is Francesca Cumani- not that she needs the money or, possibly, even cares- and standing in the shadow as his turn will come sooner rather than later is Tommy Berry.
Of course, at the end of the day, it all comes down to the creative concept- and the product.
If the creative director working on Strepsils or Lozenges, who knows, using race-callers Darren Flindell or Rick McIntosh could work.
The point is to give sponsors something- one thing- that surprises them and where they see an ROI- Return On Investment- by buying into an idea that has that other ROI- Relevance, Originality and Impact.
Those ponderous, obligatory presentation ceremonies, the fireworks displays, people in horse costumes prancing around like clowns, the talking heads racing programmes etc- most have run their course. Some ran their course decades ago yet are allowed to limp along in their outdated formats and media platforms less and less people watch.
As someone far more knowledgable about leading a successful racing club recently explained, there is the wagering side of the business, and then there is the need to create the experience to attract that huge market out there that still doesn’t come racing.
It’s not top of mind awareness.
In Hong Kong, apart from the Happy Wednesday brand- and it must and will continue to evolve, there is world class racing in two great racecourses with their own USPs that house venues like Hay Market (two words?), below, The Chalk, Adrenaline, Millions, Gallery, the Beer Garden and more- all building blocks to create one exciting multi-faceted picture of the sport- a picture as exciting as a tight finish, and one which sponsors will look at and say, “I want to be part of all this. Where do I sign? Who’s gonna work with us in this partnership, close the deal and create some history?”
Next month in Singapore is a worldwide conference called Sports Matters where the Keynote Speaker is Sir Sebastian Coe and every sport is represented. Except horse racing.
I want to be part of changing this perception that horse racing is not a sport, that jockeys are not “real” athletes and, by going it alone, beat the odds, and surprise the naysayers by staying with the tried and true, but adding all the new ingredients that have yet to be put into the blender, mixed and served.