When in the music industry, us music executives would fly halfway around the world to attend Worldwide Music Conferences where the Big Poohbah would make us sit around the campfire and chant the mantra that went, Give them what they want, when they want it and how they want it. “They” were music fans and “it” was music. Of course, this was long after the horse had bolted, the genie of illegal file sharing and downloads had escaped from the lamp and, just as video killed the radio star, technology opened up the ability to keep rocking without paying in the online world- a DIY world where today all the power lies with the consumer, someone the music companies either forgot to talk to, or arrogantly believed would always be obedient and loyal lackeys who would quietly do as they were told by Big Brother.
Fade to black and crash zoom to the racing industry with its captive market- an ageing, dwindling population set in their ways when it comes to how they want it, when they want it and where they want it, while those in the Others category needed for the sport to expand its current base and standing there suspiciously eyeing those bearing gifts, are still to be convinced what they want and even if they need it. And how does the racing industry try to attract and convince this potential market that they should join in and also play? By constantly putting the cart before the horse and dangling the wrong carrots in front of them.
For instance, someone recently mentioned, “I don’t know about you, but I like to figure out which horses to back without receiving tips. Same for you?” Definitely. Friends in Hong Kong, for instance, who dabble in horse racing despite being extremely well-informed about all the intricacies, legalities, vagaries and characters involved in the sport, refuse to watch the HKJC produced television programme that is “Racing To Win” on the grounds that listening to whatever version of The Three Amigos are on camera, their selections can influence their thinking and lead them astray. This is not to take anything away from these professionals doing their best under difficult circumstances- filming a day before the races with no idea of track conditions, no idea what the weather gods might have in mind, no idea if a horse might or might not have eaten up the night before, no idea if a horse might sweat up in the paddock on race day etc etc and a production team seemingly having last worked for Morecombe and Wise.
But because this is how it’s always been, the format is repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and then pummelled without any thought about its relevance other than the belief that this is what “the hardcore punter” wants and needs. Really? From what this endangered and ageing species says, all they might possibly need is footage of a horse’s track work, all the trials, and access to videos of every horse’s last three starts- and not a “show”, or whatever a meeting place of wobble heads brought together before a race meeting is meant to achieve.
What about those on the outside looking in and seeing if there is anything to this sport where must be “in it to win it”, and other old school platitudes? They are too often given tools for fools- kinda like Tears For Fears- concocted by racing executives for other racing executives where these people misguidedly believe will be bought without questioning, consumed like happy pills, and that everyone will be only too happy to throw their lot into the ring and play. It doesn’t work that way.
Ritchie Callander, that larger-than-life character in racing from the land Down Under, and professional tipster, appears every Friday on the very good racing and sports radio programme from Perth called The Big Breakfast.
This programme is hardly for newcomers to horse racing- are there any?- and Callander speaks knowingly, is entertaining enough to listen to, but as for taking on board his free tips for the next day? Thanks, but no thanks. It’s worse than listening to Lady GaiGai going into delusional AbFab mode and waxing lyrical about the chances of her horses- each of them always “working the house down”, looking “absolutely more splendid than fabulous”, and destined to go higher than a shooting star and higher than Lewis Carroll on acid chasing that white rabbit down that magic hole while Grace Slick screams, “Feed your head.”
Last Friday, Ritchie Callander announced his tips. His quinella of Catkins, the $1.85 favourite, and second favourite in the race, Arabian Gold, came last and second last at Rosehill on Saturday. The loo needed unplugging so I didn’t pay much attention to what else he was tipping, but if history is anything to go by, they also probably went down the gurgler. So, who actually follows these tips- the free tips- of someone like Callander, or any and all the other tipping services in racing mad Australia who depend on paid subscribers for their businesses? Certainly not this “next generation of racing fans” that racing clubs wish to “engage”. “Engagement” through bum tips that will have them give up on the sport and game that goes with it even before they’ve got their feet wet? It must mean that this clutter of tips are for all racing fans. How many, however, take these onboard and back them with their hard-earned money is the question in a marketplace where there’s an oversupply to meet demand. And how big is this demand when the “real tips” are surely saved and given to their paying subscribers? Free tips that eat into the very core of their subscription-based business model? What’s the point other than, perhaps even creating false favourites that are then laid off? Curiouser and curiouser, Alice.
In Hong Kong, the rank and file punter follows all those tipsters in the endless supply of Chinese racing publications, and remain glued to the 24-hour racing channel in Chinese on Cable TV where trackwork and trials are repeated via a six hour loop. For the English-speaking racing fan, there are the tips published in the SCMP and, yes, those selections given out on Racing To Win. Sure, it’s a free world and no one’s twisting anyone’s arm to follow tips and tipsters, but, at a time when the marketing of horse racing is supposedly trying to expand its audience and customer base, where do tips and programming promising that one is “racing to win” fit in? Where does anything from the old world fit in?
And if nothing does, where’s there anything new and relevant? Ah, yes, those lazily cobbled ideas by hardcore racing executives who rarely, if ever, even visit the very venues created for this customer segment, leave its marketing up to gremlins and their ideas of what “marketing” is learnt from the Big Bang Theories of Google and other second hand roses without ever working with customers to- altogether now- Give them what they want, When they want it, and How they want it. How, What, When, When, What, How, What, How, When. It’s not that difficult, is it? Not when one makes the effort to get out there and truly engage with the customer- not through Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, but through meeting people face to face as opposed to being wilting wallflowers who only come alive and bloom at all those useless meetings of similar corporate mind where decisions are made by second guessing the customer. It doesn’t work that way.