Back in the day, Bonnie Tyler channeled Rod Stewart and made an impassioned plea via her song, “Holding Out For A Hero”. If ever horse racing needed a theme song, this is it- a sport sorely lacking in heroes, and, at least in one racing jurisdiction that doesn’t need any introduction, where, yes, it’s being crippled by its fair share of villains, a rabid racing media keeps pummelling what it should be supporting every chance it gets. With friends like these who needs heroes?
America has the great American Pharoah, and, with him, the team of jockey Victor Espinoza, and the “dispirate popularity” of trainer Bob Baffert and owner/breeder Ahmed Zayat- and son Justin enjoying the ride that’s come along.
The Triple Crown winner is a rightful hero, and as long as all the media space devoted to him doesn’t quickly dissipate into corny, over-the-top hype, this particular bandwagon looks to have a reasonably long run before the wheels start to fall off. But that eventual fade to black is to be expected.
Over the years, the racing world has seen such greats as Phar Lap, Secretariat, Seabiscuit, Kingston Town, Black Caviar, Deep Impact, Frankel, Silent Witness etc. But, as the history has proven, that was then, this is now, and one is only as good as their last hit. Or win.
American Pharoah apart, who and what and where are today’s racing heroes? Where is today’s Lester Piggott, Steve Cauthen, George Moore, Pat Eddery, Michael Kinane, Brent Thomson, the young Frankie Dettori etc? Or, are these great riders just that- great riders with no star appeal? Ryan Moore, Christophe Soumillon and Joao Moreira are brilliant jockeys and Frankie Dettori is as relevant as ever to those who follow racing in Europe, but are they hero material? Or COULD they be if properly marketed?
This leads to the question of just how good racing is at marketing itself to its current fan base and tapping into the psyche of those who wouldn’t know know Black Caviar from Russian Beluga and Northern Dancer from Tina Turner’s Private Dancer?
Watching various commercials produced recently by racing clubs- some researched to death, which is always a perilous move in today’s social media-driven world where there are no hard and fast academic rules for anything going viral – they appear woefully off-strategy and seemingly produced for those in charge of the internal approval process. Yes, it’s always safe to preach to the converted. They’re going to pretend to understand and approve ‘cos they don’t know any better.
Most of these people are hopelessly out of touch with anything and everything that’s current along with being outta sync with changing consumer tastes and attitudes.
Of course, this brings up the subject of the wrong people in wrong roles- and why- and the increasingly loud whisper in many industries about the relevance of that cutely named division known as Human Resource. Think about this: What actually makes someone a “human resource” person? A PhD in what? What are the qualifications? Who decides to hire an HR person- and based on what criteria? Do they have a track record of hiring their own- cardboard cut-out likenesses in every way, and with spectacular failures?Could they be a major stumbling block in the progress of an industry?
In the music industry, for example, the power of the HR person has been significantly hobbled in recent years due to some daft recommendations for senior executive positions. In fact, one major music company having recently gone through three different heads of HR in less than two years speaks volumes. This is a role whose effectiveness and track record of success is increasingly declining and finally being rightly scrutinized and questioned as an extravagance companies can’t afford, or, at least, needs to utilise more smartly.
Yet, seeing some of the hires in racing clubs, where, more often than not, the hiring process has meant going to the same old well with the Peter Principle being practiced religiously, and incompetence promoted, the role of the HR person is so powerful, they have a say across areas of business that are way beyond their capabilities and with inevitable consequences of making monumental mistakes, which can set an organization on the back foot for a long time.
Is this possibly why the creative product from many racing clubs is the equivalent of Muzak as it’s usually a racing administrator’s idea of what, for example, an “advert” should look like? Imagine the brief to an ad agency: “Give me something safe and a proven success like that old Coke/McDonald’s/Bud Lite commercial!” Frankly, watching some of the recent batch of commercials produced to market horse racing, one can change the end titles to a pack shot for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, and no one will know the difference. It’s the battle of the “blands”- safe, predictable, and where nothing is gained and nothing lost. It’s job safety. And racing is the victim at costs that are prohibitive.
How on earth can racing even learn to find creative ways to market its product and create racing heroes and make the most of magical racing moments when those at the end of the food chain and given titles to do with “marketing” have never ever worked in any creative sector? Wagering is not exactly a creative product and neither is Sales and PR. Neither is HR.
More to the point, how can anyone “market” anything when there is no Creative Director with the support of a creative team on most organisation charts in racing clubs to actually create that something TO market? What does this mean? It means no creative product other than what is created and signed off by committee and which has all the impact of the Teletubbies singing along with Barney.
What does racing desperately need? Let me count the ways, my love, but, more than anything, it needs a new mindset- a far more global mindset with a new racing LIFESTYLE media. Leave the torrent of bad news to those who wallow in it without any sense of balance- The Bad News Bores.
There’s no polite way of saying it, but most racing people are tremendous bores. Worse yet, many of these dullards are actually in charge of managing and “marketing” the sport along with their boffin foot soldiers often suffering from creative menopause, and without a single original thought in their heads. They are Yes People, order takers and toadies who bring nothing to the table. Not even to a rattan table on two rickety legs.
While many believe that the heroes in racing are the horses, what happens when champion equine talent is simply not around? Is the marketing of the sport supposed to be put on hold? Of course, not. So who out there has the job responsibility of having to create something out of seemingly nothing- and make this look and sound attractive?
Horse racing cannot be about any one thing because horse racing is about so MANY things, including the very under-marketed co-mingling, which can bring so much more to the sport than many realise- a strong global USP that’s been allowed to pretty much just meander along.
If the slogan for PayPal is “Want It. Get It”, co-mingling should be a one-click “Know It. Bet It” with all the information a racing fan needs to win at their fingertips, and marketing to create awareness of exactly what it is, how it works and the end benefits.
What’s the bet that co-mingling is a very long way from being understood as it’s Double Dutch to many?
Look around at racing in a holistic manner- the inspirational back stories about jockeys, trainers, horses, owners, stories that need to be revived, product attributes that need to be enhanced- instead of going around in circles chasing one’s tail with the blinkers on as this is how it’s been since the glory days of Methuselah.
Perhaps the real hero of horse racing is horse racing itself- the exciting, colourful, competitive and often inspiring sport that it can be with all the add-ons offering everyone who participates in it the chance to win.
If only those with a voice in the sport remember this, and work towards righting the wrongs, and, along the way, shine a positive light on something they should be supporting and rebuilding instead of tearing it down every chance they get.
Chairman and CEO
We-Enhance Inc, Fast Track Global Ltd