Watching Joao Moreira, Zac Purton, Douglas Whyte and others inter-acting with racing fans lined up along the rails at Happy Valley Racecourse as they jog their horses back to the winner’s circle, brings home the point that these jockeys- and this unique venue- literally brings the sport closer to those who are the present and future of horse racing.
In a city where the top jockeys are treated like rock stars, even to the most casual race goer, having this connectivity, no matter how small it might be, adds to that on-course experience which is key to those return visits.
Winning, at least to these newbies, is something else altogether- a bonus. But it’s that on-course experience of being surprised to meet like-minded people, surprised to find venues offering a variety of cuisine, and ‘live’ entertainment plus being able to say, Joao Moreira, or Zac Purton or whoever else, gave me a hi-five, goes a very long way towards creating a sense of belonging, and that horse racing is not only the happy hunting grounds for racing’s purists.
Is this fleeting “brush with fame” a “Hong Kong phenomenon”, or simply that human love affair with celebritydom? One might, for example, have only a passing interest in Formula 1, but spotting Lewis Hamilton even in a crowd means something. Same with not knowing a thing about cricket but being awestruck to meet or catch a glimpse of Shane Warne, Kevin Pieterson or Sachin Tendulkar. Hell, say what you will about them, but even meeting a Kardashian brings out the groupie lurking in many of us.
It’s the same thing when being able to have the opportunity to be ascloseasthis to those athletes that are jockeys with the star power of a Moreira, a Purton, a Ryan Moore, Frankie Dettori, Christophe Soumillon or a Douglas Whyte. Along with the equine stars, the promotion and marketing of the most popular jockeys- anywhere- gives horse racing a strong USP, possibly the only other USP other than what makes the sport what it is- a combination of medieval knights, the romantic notions of the image of the cowboy and that special bond between man- and woman- and horse.
The question is whether this USP is realised by many racing clubs and being promoted and marketed as well as it should? Does it even feature in any marketing strategy? One is tipping it does not.
In Australia, there are blazing young guns like Tommy Berry, Brenton Avdulla, James McDonald, Jye McNeil, Brandon Stockdale, Chris Parnham etc and Western Australia’s golden girl, Lucy Warwick. All are young, gifted and, with the proper marketing, can appeal to those outside of their captive audience- and those in the age group. After all, jockeys are people, too, with their own favourites when it comes to music, actors, actresses, fashion brands and other sporting heroes.
Add to this list, the attractive Kayla Nisbet, who, together with her very good riding skills, can be used in the marketing of the sport as both a jockey and an onscreen personality. Horse racing in Australia needs a New Face, and one would be hard-pressed to find a more wholesome one and a better role model for young girls with a love of horses.
Kayla Nisbet would certainly be a welcome new addition to the somewhat tired and Merle haggard gaggle of faces on “racing programmes” down under with formats seemingly created by Methuselah and Company.
It’s bewildering in a sadly amusing way that despite all the talk of “engagement with the next generation of racing fans”, there’s such a barren field of dreams in order to whisper, “Build it and they will come”. It’s yet another glaring example of an industry that so often talks the talk, but where nothing changes as either the wrong people make themselves out to be “agents of change”, or those geniuses in Human Resources have put forward the wrong names for the job. And the less one says about the very lopsided influence and power given to “HR” in every industry, the better. It is a silly position where way too many wrong hires by management to, ironically, head up “Human Resources” has seen the hiring of some equally overpaid dolts.
Getting back to marketing, in Hong Kong, there is “The Magic Man”, “The Zac Attack” and “The Durban Demon”, part of racing’s United Nations of Racing starring Brazilian Moreira, Aussie Zac Purton and Douglas Whyte from South Africa, three gifted jockeys with three different fan bases and very different- and inspiring- back stories.
As longtime friend Simon Fuller, below, who created the American Idol franchise repeatedly says, these back stories are critical in winning over new audience. Those back stories of AE alumni Adam Lambert, Carrie Underwood etc are proof of this and a key component in creating strong loyal fan bases- and quickly.
In a sport where speed is a key driver, many- too many- racing clubs have proven- time and time again- that they’re painfully slow to ride on the coat tails of trends, or, gawd forbid, even try to create a trend- a reason why so much advertising for the sport is often a committee’s idea of what it thinks “advertising” should look and sound like.
The courage of Tommy Berry, the rags-to-riches and fame stories of Joao Moreira from being a poor kid in São Paulo to champion jockey of Hong Kong, Dougie Whyte losing his father in a joke that went tragically wrong at nine, the determination to succeed from Zac Purton, the fierce sell-belief of Gai Waterhouse, the low key charity work for the City Of Hope by Victor Espinoza- and there are so many more back stories- they’re all there, all “public domain” for those in charge of moving the sport forward and, yes, “engaging the next generation of racing fans”, to use and bring these personalities into the marketing mix of the sport and provide it with a face- and faces- as opposed to a nameless and cold, calculated totalisator board screaming out, “Feed me”!
When, however, will this happen- and how and by whom?
The video below might be about how technology is making creating music easier, but it should also make those who are truly passionate about engaging new racing fans and expanding the sport’s fan base realise than anything and everything is possible.
Nothing, however, will happen unless all the talk, all the What Ifs are turned into reality. They might not work right away, but a start means that the wheels are in motion and the journey has begun in earnest.
Chairman and CEO
We-Enhance Inc, Fast Track Global Ltd
Love this! Thanks
Call me naive but I had to ask myself why there isn’t a longstanding solid effort to market jockeys as celebrities/personalities. At one of those interminable government meetings I mentioned, someone asked a similar question and was basically ignored. I just keep thinking of Victor Espinoza and the amount of work he’s doing away from the track — he’s such a great ambassador for the sport. There must be a way to “bottle” that and really do something with it.
Well said and it’s sad that Australian Racing does not promote either the jockey OR the horse. Over the years I have tried to introduce new people to racing and the general feedback varies from “Oh it looks so complicated trying to find a winner” and “I don’t understand all those silly stats in the race book/form guide” to “All I want to do is find out what is the best horse and jockey combination in 10 words or less!”
This is why HK racing succeeds especially Happy Wednesday. The fans are up close, superstar horses and jockeys are familiar to the punters and a downtown venue with an atmosphere that satisfies both the racing uncles and more importantly, does not intimidate the casual fan.
As I have said before it is the equine Premier League.
Unfortunately in Australia, and more so NSW, the breeders are running the show and are more concerned with lining their bulging pockets than actually formulating a strategy to engage with the general public.
These old men think it is just a case of inflating the prize money, setting up a Twitter feed, make a few lousy TV commercials that do NOT feature the mighty skills of the jockey & power of the horse and people will just turn up.
It does not work like that fellas.
They don’t care as long as they are comfortable in their private boxes and kidding themselves that the sport is growing.
It is ironic that the Sydney jockey room is home to some great jockeys, unfortunately nobody besides the avid punter would recognize them if they walked naked down the middle of Pitt Street Mall.
Hans I’m sure everyone have ideas on how to get more people interested in racing but who would listen?
In the meantime I’ll stop throwing money away on the Australian mid winter donkeys and start the countdown until the next Hong Kong racing season and Spring Carnival.