By Jenny Bridle
In watching a racing commentary TV show from Australia recently, I was struck by how similar these types of shows are and, really, for non-hard core racing fans, how off putting. Invariably, there are earnest men, typically in blue or grey suits, sitting at desks in front of an appropriate sporty back drop, going on about subjects that have such a narrow, diehard audience: past performances to the nth degree, the Analytics of racing, minute details about individual jockeys and horses and races and on and on. All this interspersed with what racing clubs call “content” – short clips of races and the occasional graphic showing lists of odds. In the end, the question is “Who cares?” Or “Why should we care?”
Some shows do have women commentators but it seems that viewers get an either/or: they are either sort of Margaret Thatchers of racing (as a woman, even if you loved the fact that a woman became Prime Minister of England . . . wow, what a concept! … you were still (and with all due respect) shocked by how “male” PM Thatcher could come across) or they’re in hats and heels to be “eye candy.” Typically, these women (some whose “dresses” do not leave much to the imagination) are not shown watching the racing or even betting. Instead they stand about looking “hot” or “sexy” or something and in one recent North American racing show I watched, a group of four “hatted and heeled” ladies were sitting with a male commentator (in a suit, of course!) discussing how race tracks are great places to see and get to know “stallions” (no, not “studs”) of the human kind… *cringe*
These shows are really no improvement on what is shown on TV on regular race days here in North America. Unless you are a totally committed “old-school” gambler, why, in this day of HDTV and even more impressive technology, would anyone pay to watch film so blurred that you can’t even see people’s faces, where the camera angles are terrible, where a near-empty grandstand forms the dreary backdrop, and if you’re a newbie, there are these little coloured boxes strangely moving on the screen that no one explains?
And, there’s more: viewers are frequently treated to absolute silence when the horses are being paraded before the race and even when they are being loaded in the gate. And, this is the only “live” racing that’s available and you have to subscribe (pay to watch). Really. In this world, where technological progress seems to occur by the minute, the arrogance of believing you can market and capture new customers with this type of programming is mind boggling. You just have to ask, how is any of this meant to do the death-defying task what racing talking heads are on about: engaging the younger generation? How are 4 men in suits, 4 women in hats and heels, 4 races on a nondescript race day at ABC track on the 4th or 40th straight day of racing meant to attract anyone new? And, really, the question is: are you talking to me?
It’s been said a million times and it should be the mantra of everyone in our sport – horse racing has so much to offer. Why is the greatness of the sport, the highs and the lows, the good and the bad, everything that makes it so great and oh so human rarely shown in a way that new fans would enjoy and want. These days, new and potential fans would have to know where to look and how to find these stories and then create their own version of the sport and that is the key . . . that is what’s missing in these broadcasts. The young and the young at heart who are hip and funny and looking to re-package our great sport for a modern audience that has a very different take on life, the universe and, well, just everything. Some in racing marketing may jump to their feet in protest saying but I know what I’m doing, I understand what needs to be done, and I’m young at heart.
Respectfully, you’re missing something.
The current presentation provided by racing organizations is a veritable dog’s breakfast. We’re not saying racing has no creative people or people who believe and are genuinely trying their best. Still, racing and racing marketing is clearly having a Dr. Phil moment.
And the answer is not well, not well at all.
Again, we have to ask: are you talking to me?
There are little flashes of brilliance, of what’s needed, on Social Media but all of this needs to become a torrent. Look at the world of advertising. No, not the corporate structure or any of the mechanics of how media buying works or any of that but more at what the consumer sees. Creativity that targets that golden group of 18 – 35 year olds sometimes misses the mark yet, right now, we’re often watching these ads and shouting, “spot on!” or just laughing to ourselves, wondering whether we (who are not even in the target group) should buy the product being advertised.
Why doesn’t racing look at itself like this? Stop showing us suits, hats & heels. Show us the sad, the happy, the highs and the lows, the quirky and the weird. Stop standing off to the side of the world, of popular culture, of current life, and judging and being judged. Stand up — on the inside of it all — and show us the human side with all its many beautiful, funny, happy, heartbreaking moments
To be fair, we’re asking the powers that be to do two things that many people of all ages find very challenging to do: to extrapolate and to change.
The Scion is not a very fancy car – no offense to Toyota – but this car is on offer to younger people looking for good features at a lower price.
It’s very simple. Read that line again: it’s very simple. Like potential Scion buyers, new racing fans want their experience to be fun and simple. A bonus would be some funny and quirky and/or sad and moving – all very human – moments. Is this what currently happens for new fans? No, most end up sitting in a huge grandstand confronting a tote board. What is that? “E” is for empathy should be our alphabet in horse racing so that we can read the newbie’s mind and truly hear their thoughts: “I come to the track for some fun and now I feel like I’m back in Mrs. Cherry’s Grade 3 trying to do long division on the chalk board in front of the whole class for the first time. A truly horrible experience, which I have striven my whole life not to repeat.”
Surely, there is a better way of presenting the gaming/gambling side of horse racing. There just has to be.
Some people may sneer at the Scion. My dad – all 6’4” of him – would have whinged about leg room and, like other sh*t he said, dismissed it as a “motorized rollerskate.” But “real cars” to him were large, gas guzzling living rooms on wheels. And that is the problem. He was a great guy, like many people in racing – great people working and trying so hard – but he was and they are purists and really, in 2015, purists need to step aside or, dare I say it, be less pure and start thinking of the potential long term consequences of the approach they have taken.
I’m wondering if there won’t come a time when some young or young at heart people will see racing as where they belong – a place of many rooms, emotions, connections and opportunities. And when they do, those suits, hats & heels will wish they had embraced the tube people a very long time ago.