By Hans Ebert
“Racing To Win”, that Cecil B DeMille of a production from the HKJC starring the Kim, Kourtney and Khloe of racing, is hardly riveting viewing, but, apparently, the programme has a loyal audience. Probably around 28, give or take five, as from what we know, those “racing uncles”, who are supposedly its staunchest fans, run for cover whenever they hear its name being mentioned for fear of being led astray.
As for the new generation of racing fans, they have zero idea of its existence as they no longer watch television whereas even navigating their way through websites has become too time consuming.
“Racing To Win” is not the Must View programme it once was when hosted by Robin Parke- and one day Parkie will be given the recognition he deserves for everything he brought to Hong Kong racing- and my old friend Lawrence Wadey, below, someone who’s always been burdened by his years of intellect at Cambridge.
Parkie and Wadey might have talked shite, but it was entertaining shite in a very different Hong Kong with consumers with very different viewing habits along with a very different approach to horse racing. To have this on Repeat in this day and age, well, it’s as perplexing as the photograph below.
It’s nothing to do with today’s hosts, who do the best they can with what they’ve been given, and, at least, don’t completely balls things up by calling a recent winner at Royal Ascot wrong- they can’t read saddlecloth numbers?- something that falls into the rabbit hole of the HKJC’s Chinese racing broadcast team, which has lost them some serious credibility points judging by the panning they’ve taken on local social media.
More on this sometime later, but whether in Cantonese or English, the basic fact is that technology has made long-winded shows like this irrelevant. Yet, the racing world keeps producing them- hour long programmes featuring 3-4 talking wobble heads, some footage of previous races interspersed with random footage of track work, interviews with trainers and jockeys who are on the bridle at all times and not about to scream out anything regarding their horses’ chances and incur the wrath of owners. Plus, jockeys can’t tip, right? Why not say something in an hour when it could be said in a tweet?
More to the point, in 2017 and when horse racing desperately needs to shed its gambling image starring illegal bookies and scenes from an Edward G Robinson movie about gangsters on racetracks, does programming like this enhance the image of horse racing as a form of entertainment?
As for today’s version of “Racing To Win”, which local terrestrial television station ATV used to apparently pay the HKJC around HK$40-50 million a season to broadcast as it attracted so many advertisers, it’s allowed to plod along, because, one guesses, this is the way it’s always been. And despite all those new hires a few seasons ago, absolutely nothing has changed other than losing that horrendous version of The William Tell Overture. Perhaps those in charge of changing horse racing’s media landscape have no idea how this can be done, and which starts and ends with hosts with a deft understanding of the sport, and creating relevant content and programming around it. Sounds simple enough, but it never is.
Lack of creativity, wrong hires, and the fear of change in any industry creates a mediocre and “fatigued” culture. It creates a flatulent product with the only “newness” to it probably being the use of hashtags without understanding that unless there’s exciting content that can be easily found, who’s to notice a hashtag? And even if they do, then what? It’s lemmings paying lip service and play acting at keeping up with the times.
It’s probably why this supposed tipping service called “Racing To Win” often remains on the HKJC website’s “Multimedia” section days after the previous meeting has ended. No one cares. For example, at 6.03pm on Tuesday, there, on this multimedia micro site, was the same tedious programme covering the races for last Sunday. Why? An oversight? But having the misnomer called “Racing To Win” hovering around after the horses have bolted is a small matter in the grand scheme of things.
Those days of Parkie and Wadey, the best writers in Hong Kong’s English racing media when the English media actually meant something in this city, plus the calculated goofiness of hugely popular and outspoken Chinese racing television personality Tung Biu and his straight man sidekick Carlos Wu, are gone forever.
As Oasis sang, it’s not the time to look back in anger, or drown in nostalgia. It’s time for forward thinking and understanding different customer wants and needs. Today’s racing fans might want to be guided towards finding winners, but not through a television format from the Eighties.
Horse racing in Hong Kong has travelled a long way, and it has much farther to go. It’s how the next part of this journey is made to look and sound attractive and exciting and enticing, not only to racing fans, but to business partners, and sponsors that’s key. By working with them, plus all the new delivery platforms available, will the sport progress. But what and where’s the new original content- entertaining content- that can attract them?
Racing clubs can have armies of people in “marketing”, but what are they “marketing” when there’s no creative product? Gawd knows we’ve asked this question enough of times, but what’s the answer? The same as what the future holds for Racing Victoria’s Racing.com? Surely even RVL caretaker or full-time CEO Giles Thompson has already read the tea leaves and seen the ghost of TVN past?
Or is the answer in how the Singapore Turf Club apparently plans to return to the fold of international horse racing and have the government suddenly give it permission to openly advertise the sport? How? According to the drumbeats, by supposedly set to work with a well-known Chinese “laundromat” service from Macau with tentacles now stretching to racing in Australia? Again, enter the ghost of Edward G Robinson and illegal bookies with noted money launderers in tow? Please. This would make Bet365 look like Hopalong Cassidy.
Compared to many other racing jurisdictions, the HKJC has a superior racing product backed by incredible numbers when it comes to turnover and attendance. For the racing club that’s more than a racing club because of its unique business model that includes its Charities Trust, and without sounding like trying to teach people to suck eggs, it’s about constantly pushing the creative and communications envelopes. Often, they’re one and the same.
In this nanu second world of gifs and vines and short-form programming, content like “Racing To Win” is a slow starter that hardly makes time fly. It plods. Nothing today should plod. Not even horse racing’s Mr Bubbles. And if one were to watch this randomly cobbled together hour of irrelevance, it is hardly worth the time and effort. It certainly does nothing to enhance the image of the HKJC brand as being the best in the world when it comes to horse racing. Tired content like this presented by Not For Prime Time players has a certain Twilight Zone vibe to it, where one expects to see Rod Serling suddenly appear and spook the living day lights out of its audience of 28.
The Club’s Happy Wednesday brand has made horse racing entertaining. On a regular basis. And on an international scale. It’s a wonderful weekly blend of people of all nationalities coming together, sharing and interacting in person on a racecourse and not online. That’s a very very big deal. We all need more face to face communications before we become a world of flatliners making all our online plans for nobody.
Sure, there’s the horse racing and thrill of winning without the hint of that taboo word called “gambling”, but there are also the venues for every different customer demographic, ‘live’ music, easy access to everything, and, as a group of tourists mentioned on Wednesday, “discipline. We don’t know how you do it, but there are no yobbos.There are no on-course bookies. It’s about people having good clean fun without making fools of themselves.” Maybe it’s a cultural thing. Maybe it’s something exclusive to Happy Wednesday that can’t even be found amongst the strawberry and scones of Royal Ascot. It’s a product Hong Kong should be proud to own.
Getting back to content, surely with the sudden explosion of ‘live’ streaming on almost every online delivery platform, a Happy Wednesday reality series is on the way? Or, with the 3-4 years of content produced for the brand, a look back at how we’ve arrived where we are through Happy Wednesday’s Greatest Hits? Why not? What’s there to lose? There might even be something to gain by producing this to attract advertisers.
With content being king, also think about the massive library of footage that the HKJC has and which chronicles the history of horse racing in Hong Kong. Will it be of interest internationally? With the Who’s Who of riders who’ve ridden here, what do you think? Think of the great horses- Silent Witness, River Verdon, Indigenous, Oriental Express, Mr Vitality, Viva Pataca, Good Ba Ba, the often overlooked Vengeance Of Rain and more. These equine heroes were and still are the pride of Hong Kong. With how far the sport has travelled, what an incredible Hong Kong success story this is! Let’s not be shy about blowing our own trumpet. Now more than ever- and with Hong Kong evolving into something we can’t predict- this is the time for strategic and relevant communications aimed at those who might be barking up the wrong tree.
For the HKJC, everything is in place to produce far more relevant and interesting content for racing fans of all ages, who have embraced technology in their daily lives, and programming that shows how far racing in Hong Kong has progressed instead of being here today and looking back and retracing steps back to yesterday.