By Hans Ebert
Of course, everyone has ideas to make anything better, and that’s a good thing. It shows interest to try and bring something extra to the table. Quite a number of people, for example, feel that it would be great- or awesome- if Michelle Payne was riding in Hong Kong during Longines HKIR week. Good idea, but, sadly, this cannot happen as there’s simply no place within the ranks of the jockeys confirmed for December 9th’s International Jockey Competition, or a ride for Michelle on Sunday’s International Race Day. But as an ambassador for racing- a young, gifted rider and the first female to ever win the Melbourne Cup- Michelle Payne would be an outstanding choice. The timing could not be better nor could there be a better and more relevant role model to attract more females to what is still very much a male-dominated sport run by Ye Olde Boys Club.
Let’s face it, for all this talk of “engaging the new generation of race goers”, all too many marketing efforts completely neglect or suffer from brain freeze when trying to woo new, cash-rich females, who might stay for the long run if they came through those turnstiles and enjoyed what they saw- like an attractive young female jockey who’s won one of the most iconic races in the world.
At a time when words like “engagement” and “expanding racing’s customer base” are bandied about with, often, very little thought, Michelle Payne and her fabulous back story- a back story that has it all- would also be an exciting carrot to dangle in front of, especially the non-racing media, which can help bring the sport to a wider audience than maintaining its current status quo amongst its small captive audience of usual suspects.
What should have happened by now, and when everything goes viral these days in a nanu second, is a completely integrated marketing campaign built around Michelle Payne- first, in Australia- and, this is key, allowing consumer-generated content to play its role.
It’s not knowing what to expect from this content that’s created without fear of failure, without preconceived ideas- the result of red tape, tedious (and restrictive) approval processes, and bureaucratic committee decisions- and being spread out there by those who understand the effectiveness of every online delivery platforms that creates the unexpected and original content swimming against the tide of constipated corporate thinking.
By now, consumer-generated content should have resulted in thousands of videos, and original songs dedicated to Michelle and female power other than dragging out Helen Reddy warbling “I Am Woman.” Even Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” would have been better. Original songs would have been best. All this should, and could have, led to appearances on every talk show from The Jimmy Fallon Show and “Ellen” to having Lego create characters of the team behind the Prince Of Penzance and Longines making Michelle Payne their Racing Ambassador. If American Pharaoh is on the cover of Sports Illustrated, why isn’t Michelle Payne on the cover of Time magazine?
As for Michelle Payne in Hong Kong- her brother-in-law is Brett Prebble, by the way- during HKIR week- let’s not forget that she might not have participated in the races, but attended HKIR week two years ago and had a great time- I, personally, hope she makes it up here. Having Michelle out here certainly wouldn’t be a gimmick. It will be seizing a marketing opportunity that doesn’t come along every day. Hell, I’ll be happy to play host. Promise. There cannot be a price tag put on the return on investment as far as awareness is concerned.
Apart from the photo opportunities when she meets Kei Chiong, the first female in fifteen years to be granted a riding license in Hong Kong- the Chinese media will eat this up with their wontons- Michelle Payne would be the perfect person within horse racing to interact with the very international regulars of the Happy Wednesday community at the Beer Garden and Adrenaline- and overseas guests- especially the fresh young faces attending these races for the first time.
It can be a small, but vital step for “racingkind” to take the sport globally- and to all those in today’s huge, often untapped online world, who see horse racing as an elitist sport for the very rich and the very poor with no middle class, being invited to the party on-course. It can also help erase some of the misconceptions held by those who don’t live and breathe horse racing, 24/7, and see the diehards that do as dullards from another century.
Meanwhile, with everything in place for this upcoming Longines HKIR week, what we’ll see should not only be a celebration of racing, but also a celebration of how everything this unique city has can come together to bring an extremely popular sport in Hong Kong to a new field of dreams made up of excitement, colour, a United Nations Of Racing, and positivity. And let this positivity continue long after the last race has been run. It’s time to look beyond the obvious- and not recycle everything that’s come before. We’ve come too far to be planted in quicksand. Press “Refresh”.