By Hans Ebert
Though loathe to use the word viral, Heineken has produced a commercial that has gone, well, viral. Why? Because it tackles a number of subjects that have created much of today’s divisive society- a timely piece of work that attempts to bring those with very different opinions and prejudices together to understand each other. Could the ending to the commercial have been more subtle? Possibly, but it’s still an effective and needed message that has touched the mainstream consciousness. And this breakthrough message has not come from politicians or the United Nations. It’s from a brand of beer.
Perhaps it’s been done somewhere at some stage, but has the horse racing industry ever produced a strategic piece of communication that has addressed, reached and touched the mainstream consciousness? Surely this is necessary to change the perception by many that the sport is “too niche and not big enough” to be welcomed into the big sponsor-driven world of sports? To make the sport grow. To help it press that Refresh button. To keep the animal rights activists and anti gambling lobby at bay. To show those sponsors with their billion dollar marketing dollars and data bases that horse racing offers them more than “naming rights”, but a sport that can help them build on their corporate culture.
Joao Moreira being sponsored by a global brand? Why not? Everyone in horse racing wins. But none of this will happen if depending on wishful thinking, and not having the foresight to see that runaway train heading towards the sport.
This message can’t come from racing fans. It’s not their job, and frankly, few will understand why this job needs be done. Then again, how many, whose job it is to lead horse racing into new areas of growth, and keep those currently in the sport motivated enough stay in it, understand what is being asked? The odds are that it will be very very very few. Why? Most are coasting along and doing as little as possible.
They’re just waiting for that golden parachute to be strapped on, and then open, so they can bolt. Until then, they’ll make use of their positions to indulge in The Long Lunch, travel around the world, where instead of being good ambassadors for the sport, it all dissipates into a tacky episode of “Men Behaving Badly”, leaving those unfortunate enough to see what’s going on to wonder how on earth these people became racing executives and given such grandiose titles?
Could it be because horse racing simply does not exactly attract the more in-demand talent out there? Could it be because the sport often settles for the leftovers- the best they can find?And you still wonder why the global racing industry is in a decline despite some racing clubs furiously trumpeting just how well they’re doing? Please. A more relevant question might be asking which racing club or organisation is actually relevant.
Something we asked on Twitter recently was this: How can those in racing clubs talk about “engaging” with the next or new generation of racing fans when (A) they’re clueless how to even retain its current customer base, let alone get out there and actually even try to pretend to understand these staunch supporters of the sport, and (B) where is the next generation of racing executives going to come from? Ellen Louise Ripley?
But just to backtrack for a while, most senior racing executives are in their fifties and sixties. Those working under them have been created in their likeness- one dimensional, with poor people skills- dullards would be an apt description- and certainly not the type of people who can present the sport to possible new partners in any persuasive manner.
Sorry, but having met many of these executives, they couldn’t pass Go and collect $200 in any consumer-based industry. Simply put, they’re not good enough.
There are, thankfully, some years to go before he decides to move on, but who, for example, can replace Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges as CEO of the Hong Kong Jockey Club?
Hell, the man still remains the best Director of Racing that Hong Kong has ever had. As CEO of the HKJC, he’s irreplaceable. There’s that razor sharp mind that’s able to cut through the clutter, a brilliant example of what leadership skills are meant to represent, and a portfolio of successes that bears all this out. Plus he’s not shy to get onto that dance floor and turn it on whenever the music gets the better of him.
It’s ironic that the CEO of, by far, the most successful racing club in the world, can show such different sides to his personality and makes himself accessible to everyone whereas lesser mortals in executive positions in racing feel they have to behave like uptight hot air balloons. Maybe it’s because they are?
If not for “E.B” would this writer have learnt what he now knows about horse racing? Would he even be in horse racing, where too often one is surrounded by gremlins and sycophantic Yes People? Of course, not.
Sure, someone will be found to be his successor- and good luck to this person- but it will most likely be a stopgap measure. And if it is, we’ll all see through it. “E.B” is a tough act to follow.
So, where IS the next generation of racing executives going to come from? If going to the same well or being promoted from within the various house of cards masquerading as racing clubs, prepare for The Peter Principle, and the usual game of incompetence being promoted.
It all makes for a very grim future for the sport. It’s why the need for those who can head this off at the pass becomes more and more important. And with no more dicking around and thinking we can’t see through the smoke and mirrors and corporate jive.