By Hans Ebert
There’s a long train running coming towards the horse racing industry with all systems go named Content. And before this becomes a runaway train, the subject should be tackled now and not when those ARC- Asian Racing Conference- and ARF- Asian Racing Federation- people woof together again in some exotic location for their annual junket for corporate junkies.
The use of content, who owns what, content providers versus partners from bigger industries and how these partnerships might be structured, must be discussed with very clear “rules” put in place before the genie escapes and the racing industry ends up where the music industry currently finds itself: dazed and confused and subservient to technology companies like Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal etc and in Mainland China, Baidu, Tencent, and it has to happen- Alibaba.
When the music industry stopped file-sharing site Napster in its tracks by taking legal action, there was much whooping and hi-fives by music executives caught up in the moment. But winning legal skirmishes don’t mean winning wars. MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, Apple Music, Spotify etc arrived and created such a huge paradigm shift- and changed copyright laws overnight- that music companies are still recovering from whiplash.
Before the racing industry starts to believe that there are more pressing problems to tackle, think again. The entire business objective of expanding racing’s customer base has everything to do with content. And here, we don’t mean the obvious- the ‘live’ streaming of races. On this subject, it must be made available- for free- to everyone- and on as many delivery platforms as possible. If not, those welcoming arms of all those friendly illegal off-shore betting sites will open wider, and invite everyone in to enjoy all that they offer- for free- and at the click of a button.
Forget the Philippines as the epicentre for illegal betting, though no racing club or legal betting operation can as this is where there are no rules, and what’s offered is a giant gumbo buffet of betting opportunities open 24 hours. One of the biggest illegal betting operations is said by those in-the-know to be in Sri Lanka, where clients are offered free access to watch- and bet- on every sport anywhere in the world, anytime, for free through all the technology at their fingertips.
In Hong Kong, meanwhile, around HK$2,000 buys you the magical “black box” that brings you ‘live’ streaming of horse racing from wherever these are being televised. Around the world, there are different versions of the “black box”, and no one needs to be a Julian Assange, Anonymous, or Edward Snowden to break down firewalls and hack their way through “foolproof” security systems.
How, for example, could simulcasts of races compete with all this when looking down the road even as soon as a year from now, and the horse racing industry is faced with its own version of Pirate’s Bay which has decimated the television industry? Through content- different and more informative content that is enticingly and simply presented. One doesn’t have the time nor the patience to be a Harvard Graduate- often as overrated as having gone to the Berklee School of Music- to make a bet.
Another thing: In today’s everything-for-free world, potential or new racing fans will never accept having to pay an admission fee to the races, and, after they’ve been sold on this experience, have to pay for the privilege of watching the results of their bets. This is flawed and old-fashioned thinking. They don’t need it, especially if they feel it’s a mug’s game, where they don’t understand pari-mutual betting, believe “the house always wins”, and that they’re doomed to be on the losing side of the ledger. They have hundreds of other offers on the table- and many being more attractive to them as the “entry fees” are flexible. It’s not having to beg to get past The Velvet Rope, and go home empty handed.
What racing clubs should be doing- and this will happen to those with the vision to see past the tired and obvious- is working with third party partners who know their way around the current very grey online laws on content- and what this content could be while taking a horses for courses approach when creating it. It can’t be the age-old practice of throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks- often, horse racing’s idea of “marketing”.
One size doesn’t fit all and what this content is, and where and when and how it will be watched and- key- be inter-active- will differ from one customer group to the next. Again, remember expanding that customer base. Putting all of one’s eggs into the same basket over and over again will eventually create a Humpty Dumpty business model. Even the most hardcore racing purist knows that this is 2016, and wants at least SOME newness to stop any rut setting in.
There are then the younger racing fans who want to be as far away as possible from the racing purists, their uncles and the Old Spice generation.
Then, there are the more elite race goers who find it beneath them to be seated with the plebs. Again, all this shows that it comes down to creating very strategic content for different consumers- new, relevant content that’s also a very enticing carrot to attract new sponsors to the sport.
Of course, in today’s world where nearly everyone wants everything for free, not all content can come without a price tag. Apple, for example, creating a racing app with someone like a Taylor Swift, won’t be doing this for the kindness of their heart. Neither will the very business savvy Miss Swift be involved because of her love of horses.
Contracts and very clear definitions must be put in place, and the racing industry must have those with the skills to close a deal. Too many times, doors are open, but no one from horse racing walks in bringing something relevant to the table. Most are busy talking to themselves and thinking they’re game changers. They don’t get it. And never will.
This is not only Big Picture stuff, it’s a million miles away from companies and pea-brained media giants sharing content on social media, and then being Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch-type bully boys by wanting to get paid when this is shared in other areas of social media and delivery platforms. That’s just not only stupid, it’s not understanding that what’s been given free and to be shared belongs to the entire online world. For free.
Content is king. For horse racing, the challenge is that the industry has barely scratched the surface when it comes to this subject, whereas its customers are way out in front and making up their own rules and are ahead of the game. Always remember the music industry’s hollow victory over Napster- and everything that has followed.