By Hans Ebert
Racing.com recently launched a campaign to attract advertisers. Apart from its wagering partner sponsors, Crownbet and Luxbet, and a handful of Race Clubs does it have any? The strategy is that the site and television channel will “increase” the customer bases of potential advertisers. But how? By promoting Crownbet and Luxbet as the jewels in its advertising game of tiaras?
The Racing.com website, like most corporate websites, is like Old Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard. It’s bare. It’s toothless. And it doesn’t have a strategy nor the carrots to communicate with and dangle in front of its visitors. Like other racing club websites- let’s leave the disaster owned by RNSW’s in its own little Jack Horner- Racing.com, a domain name apparently bought for an obscene price, is the result of internal corporate navel gazing that so often results in a dog’s breakfast of feeble bibs and bobs and where navigation is so darn tiresome, it’s not worth the hassle. And often, so called “news” on this site outstays their welcome. They’re there gathering dust. Hardly the characteristics of a dynamic and vibrant website, launched with great expectations, but in an indecent haste, and at a great cost.
As usual, however, many of those who sail in these racing governing bodies are brainwashed into thinking that this is their field of dreams: Build it and “they” will come. “They” will? Really? For what? Where’s this “customer engagement” that’s trotted out by many of these people with increasing two-faced monotony? Where’s the interactivity? There is none. It’s the same group of corporate “content writers” churning out vapid “content” that’s ignored by most, or all, visitors to these sites except for the most hardcore punter wanting to absorb as much racing information as possible. In 2016, is this- and other similar relics- allowed to flounder with no one looking at the price tag, only for historians in the future to study and say, “Man, them racing people were plenty dumb”.
Again, it’s another lesson for both the governing bodies and racing clubs to learn from the arrogance and downright stupidity of the major music companies who, decades ago, refused to see that the online world had changed the viewing habits of music fans forever. And music fans- and fans of ANY form of entertainment- and horse racing MUST be marketed as entertainment- are all potential new racing fans. And these consumers have options. They don’t need to be shackled to an irrelevant past. Many are waiting for horse racing to show some of that Nike “Just Do It” spirit as opposed to a “Might Do It Soon But We Don’t Know How” foxtrot.
Why, for example, would music fans visit a music company’s website when they could go directly to that of their favourite artists for all information- and more? Today, it’s all about offering more. And then, even more. The music company corporate sites were there because it was the way it had always been, and something to keep the bigger parent companies happy. It was corporate laziness. These sites had zilch to do with attracting or communicating with music fans- or expanding customer bases. And so it is with sites like Racing.com. The question is knowing how to attract these customers and not treat them as outsiders. No token gestures. Of course, keep the current customers happy. And even happier. But, at around fifty years old, they’re not going anywhere and are creatures of habit. The $300 punter isn’t suddenly going to change their betting habits. This is where expanding the customer base of any business comes into play. Don’t bother doing this and one might as well close up shop and start up a kebab house in Dubai. Or Newmarket.
Take Kim Dotcom or a dotcom anything onto the online and on-air mediums, and what does this look like, especially if meant to be a racing channel? As a “racing channel”, Racing.com is an empty shell on Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Hellooooo, Adele. Anyone hoooome? It’s very much the son of Melbourne’s Dead People racing radio channel RSN. Yes, it looks and sounds that old. And creepy.
And herein lies the challenge which racing finds almost impossible to overcome: ageism. Racing, and in this instance Racing.com, might pretend that it is targeted to a generation whose involvement it desperately needs to appear relevant, but in reality it is the same old, same old. Racing.com must forget the hype that surrounded its creation and be honest with itself and the customer demographic that it is chasing. Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk without stumbling like a putz.
Put an end to the meaningless corporate rhubarb that comes out of business schools and boardrooms. Forget the clichés of “customer engagement”, whatever that means, and understand that today’s consumer is a lot smarter that they are given credit for. Treat them with respect, listen to what they tell you and then “Just Do It”. But the question here is blindingly simple: does Racing.com have the team with skills to deliver what the consumer wants? If they don’t, why not?
After a couple of hours of watching Racing.com and trying to find something positive to say, all we can come up with is that it’s Greg Miles TV- hours and hours of replays of races called by the best in the business- with some races going back to almost a week earlier. Who cares when the horse has already bolted? Do you really expect the demographic that you are chasing to watch your continuous and boring replays of racing? Do you even know what they want? Or are you arrogant enough to think you can read minds?
There are those involved in racing who also really need to understand the difference between filler fodder and original content. Racing.com has so-called programming- all that filler footage of its wall-to-wall races. But where’s the content?
Sorry, Chris Symons, but the ill-conceived “Ride Guide” might be described by those in horse racing as “content”, but with there being no concept that can be copyrighted, it has no International Property Rights. Interviewing jockeys about their chances for the races on the weekend is not a programme with a USP. And though “Ride Guide” is now part of the past, and should stay that way, the fact that the idea was ever entertained by some of racing’s decision makers is cause for concern. And grief. Dear gawd, how did it get so far? It’s not Chris Symons’ fault if everyone gives it the two thumbs up, and then go hide like girlie men when the proverbial hits the fan. Again it’s the old world speaking to the old world and pretending they know what is “best for business”. Please.
What’s also needed for racing executives to understand is that they’re not television programmers, and that if racing clubs don’t have a Creative Director in their old school organisation charts, they have no one to create and produce original content that can be copyrighted and owned. Some, like what the Melbourne Racing Club recently launched- Chocolate Cookies with a syringe- might be humorous to some, but intelligent humour is based on understanding the current political climate and timing.
What’s more or less, what on earth can so many with “Marketing” in their titles in racing clubs actually “market” when there’s no creative product? And if one wishes to see everything lead nowhere, have these “marketing” people “create” product based on briefs from racing executives, most of whom are hardly in sync with the wants and needs of customers- other than those who are that ageing captive audience. And this is what Racing.com is: A television channel created in haste by racing executives for a dwindling audience that all becomes a tedious exercise in vapidity. It’s their little hobby horse albeit a very expensive one.
As that great poet Oprah often screams, Get with the programme, girlfriend and my peoples. What’s being churned out on Racing.com- and elsewhere- is hot air with no rhyme nor reason and approved by executives who don’t understand the medium, let alone, that as Marshall McLuhan said all those years ago, the medium is the message.
Horse racing desperately needs its own Mark Burnett or Simon Fuller or Simon Cowell or even Ryan Seacrest- hugely successful television executives, who understand the wants and needs of today’s consumers, understand production, sponsorship, ownership, licensing, marketing, creating content, and how it can all work in the online world and every single delivery platform.
Silly as it might sound, horse racing in 2016 needs its own versions of “Crazy Housewives Of Horse Racing”. It needs its own trivial pursuit racing version of “Family Feud”. It might even need its “Racing Bachelor” and “Racing Survivor”- anything to break up all this wall-to-wall racing and talking wobble heads. But to get even remotely close to flirting with such “reality” experiments, Racing needs to establish a modern identity, which will give it a position and relevance in a cluttered sports and entertainment environment, where competition is intense. Misreading and misunderstanding consumer DNA can deliver a mortal blow to its credibility.
Hong Kong racing, meanwhile, is now shown on Racing.com. And so? Yes, it’s an option to having its content screened exclusively on the dog’s breakfast that is Sky, but even if this content is marketed within the confines of racing.com’s website and channel, so what? It’s talking to a captive audience. It’s not taking the product further. It’s not expanding its customer base. It’s maintaining a very limited status quo.
Racing in Australia lost someone who might have brought some change to the sport when bona fide television executive Bruce Mann, below, was hobbled by the enemy within, and TVN became the scapegoat for failure- and a frightening example of what not to do by those who do not wish to see change.
The soft-spoken and very experienced Mann was intimidated, his creativity stunted, he was made to feel demotivated, and was finally cut loose by those who survive on ensuring there is a dysfunctional and fractured industry that’s going nowhere with no relevant mediums at its disposal. Or else do their best to ensure that these mediums are under their control. Again and again and again, it’s the same out of touch usual suspects who keep cropping up with their iron clad self-serving agendas and their “‘one party state” control methodology.
And another thing: Cut the crap out of that cute term called “social media”, which, again, sees an old fashioned industry jumping onto a bandwagon after the horse has bolted and kidding itself that all these “likes” and “followers” are making a difference. They’re not. Most are fake. They also have no bite, no bark and are ignored by racing’s power brokers with their own very well-known self-serving agendas. If you are really looking for a “content” manager, wouldn’t you head hunt the best available person, as opposed to turning to one of your own “hacks” whose use by date in the racing media world has long expired- and who are not exactly Django Unchained when it comes to television programming and general creativity? Quentin Tarantino would have a field day making a quirky little film about the advent and resurrection of racing.com.
How many of these “fearless leaders” in racing give a damn about bringing outside talent into their inner sanctum? Most would s*** themselves. Why? These people could upset all those retirement plans and poke holes in the golden parachutes and reveal all the pock marks that have been hidden for years.
Do these people understand the need to offer new sponsors a different return on investment other than some lame “naming rights”? Do they know that so many of these tipping programmes with its clown posse of hosts laughing at their own jokes are no laughing matter to audiences who are only looking at being guided towards the winning counter? Do they realise that tweets and texts are not the be-all and end-all to interactivity? Heard of SnapChat? Thought about reaching new markets and sponsors through racing lifestyle programming? Who’s running these shows? The Muppets? Basil Fawlty?
Does Australian racing, especially in Melbourne and Sydney, care and know how to reach the burgeoning Chinese market who wish to become involved in racing? How, when there’s little or no Chinese or bilingual content? How, when there’s zero marketing?There’s the potential of the Australian Chinese Jockeys Association (ACJA) and an enthusiastic and smart cheerleader in Teresa Poon with all types of initiatives to move things forward. And she deserves commendation for her foresight in identifying and pursuing an involvement in racing from this target market, something Australia’s racing clubs should have done some years ago. But they didn’t. And belatedly, the ATC in Sydney, and Moonee Valley in Melbourne, through the ACJC, have jumped on a very shaky bandwagon.
The ACJA has now hastily started this initiative in Melbourne, but we must ask, And now what? Who’s coming to the party? Who’s bringing the rattle and hum? Racing always seems to be in an almighty hurry, and it’s because it operates in its own world of thought bubbles. It lacks the intellectual capacity to think things through and own up to the reality that there are Creative people out there who can deliver what the racing bureaucrats and faux content managers cannot.Does someone like racing.com have the production budget to produce and air even one bilingual programme for this market segment? Enthusiasm is one thing. Reality is another.
Too often, horse racing reeks of lip service. It all looks like the blind leading the blind. And without drastic measures taken now to right the wrongs and change the perception of horse racing as being only about the “punt”, this is an industry with not much of a future in its current incarnation, and unable to attract game changers and new talent.
Having said all this, we continue to offer up ideas and opportunities to make the sport bigger and better. We own and control all content on http://www.fasttrack.hk. We are very much part of the HKJC’s successful Happy Wednesday brand. We have more original racing content and delivery platforms that will soon be launched.
We’re also businessmen and women from very different business fields. And though Racingb*tch continues to be published for free for the time being, we know all too well about giving out free kicks. We’ve done this in the past, and it’s not how we operate today. We don’t have time for time-wasters and playing ring-around-the-rosies where we all fall down the same rabbit hole with Alice.