By Hans Ebert

This might surprise those who talk and write about “gambling mad Asians,” but not all Chinese- and Chinese are Chinese and don’t even consider themselves Asians- get weak in the knees to be part of horse racing.

As has been written here before, Hong Kong Chinese, the Chinese from Mainland China, Singaporean Chinese, Malaysian Chinese, Canadian and American-born Chinese have other priorities and very different and diverse investment portfolios.

Not all are big spending Hong Kong-born horse owners like Albert Hung, the Siu family, Julian Hsu, and a few others who have everything it takes to be part of what is a small and very exclusive racing club for billionaires.

Even in horse racing mad Australia will Australian-born Chinese naturally gravitate towards the sport? Of course not. Neither will those Chinese who have emigrated to the land Down Under. Not even having a bowl of Char Siu Fan and dim sum served at the races and the banging of gongs and the obligatory lion dance will be enough enticement.

Over the years, there have been a handful of Australians who have wondered as to how their racing clubs can attract more “Asians”, meaning Chinese, to the races. Of course, there are a number of Chinese-owned companies involved in horse racing, but these are from an investment and business point of view- Sun Stud, part of Macau-based Sun International, the Yue Long Group, billionaire Pan Sutong and his Goldin Farm, the China Horse Club, the Equus group, and the spooky silence that still surrounds the sale of Tulloch Lodge to “Hong Kong connections.”

These are hardly the people who will take in a day at the races and sit with the plebs on a regular basis. Their interests lie, mainly, in the breeding and bloodstock industries with a few using their spare change to own horses that will enhance “their brand” and pecking order in the global totem pole of horse racing royalty. It’s a Face thing.

There’s also the Australian Chinese Jockey Club (ACJC), which was launched around two years ago, and has been taking baby steps and learning as it goes. It’s too late for looking back, but being in marketing, one has to wonder if the name of what is meant to be creating a community of Chinese racing fans in Australia really needed the word “Jockey” in its name. To some, it’s a tad misleading in the positioning and objective of the Club. To those outside of racing, it conjures up that taboo word called Gambling and all the negative aspects and characters associated with gambling at racetracks going way back to the movies starring Edward G Robinson, James Cagney portraying mobsters controlling the outcome of a race.

Let’s not look back, however. The past is the past and for horse racing to be accepted by a new generation and not continue to be defended by a captive market or oldsters not understanding just how much horse racing is under siege by animal welfare groups and the anti gambling lobby, the global horse racing needs to pull out all stops and give the sport a completely new image that’s much more than Feel Good stories.

The latter is needed, but it’s just innocuous band-aids. Horse racing desperately needs the mainstream media on its side and not continue to be some separate foldout that’s binned. Social media? A completely different beast altogether, but do racing clubs really know how to tame the beast and use it with the future in mind?

Perhaps the Australian Chinese Jockey Club, even though lumbered with its name, can be the little engine that could…

Through trial and error, and huge enthusiasm by its Founder and Chairperson Teresa Poon, below, a number of initiatives have been started to get things moving, some of which have been reported by the Australian racing media whereas others have travelled under the radar.

Having met Teresa a number of times, both in Melbourne and in Hong Kong, there’s no getting away from the fact that running this Club and making it a success is a labour of love and something she believes can only benefit racing in Australia.

Can one woman make this work? Of course not, and which is why she’s continuing to build up her team. Is it the right team? Time will tell. Does the ACJC have the necessary funding to accelerate its progress? Maybe, maybe not, but, more to the point, where’s it heading and who does it wish to attract to come along for the ride? What’s the magnet? What’s the business model?

A scattergun approach never works whereas experience has taught one that when it comes to the hiring process, it’s all about balance.

Have too many hardcore racing people involved and the odds are that one will be preaching to the converted who are very set in their ways. There’s plenty of talk of talk about Change, but nothing ever does. It’s just Corporate Speak that falls on deaf ears.

As with the marketing behind the HKJC’s hugely successful Happy Wednesday brand, these days it’s all about balance. Try to make it look “too Hong Kong” with an emphasis on betting, and it will drive people away- that melting pot of nationalities who come to Happy Valley racecourse on Wednesdays for a night of on-course fun and interaction led by a very international group of regulars. How and why has this happened? Through not being patronising in the marketing of the brand- the content, its tone of communications, the use of social media, and not veering towards betting and that humongous spaceship called The Totalisator that this customer group has absolutely no interest in even trying to understand. They’re not at the races to go to school. It’s not about coming up against another brick in the wall. In many ways it’s been about creating an alternative and consumer-generated media.

Word that MTV, though not the brand it was, will soon join the Happy Wednesday party with YouTube on the sidelines, show how this brand continues to evolve.

At the end of the day, it’s the customer experience that speaks volumes, especially on Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, and for local Chinese consumers, WeChat with consumer-generated content working best. It’s credible. Corporate communications on social media for a young brand like Happy Wednesday often comes across sounding clunky and, well, old. There’s really nothing like word of mouth marketing, but it must start somewhere.

This is something that the ACJC needs to understand as do the racing clubs involved. Become patronising, and you lose your potential new customers. It’s why McDonald’s in Hong Kong succeeded against all odds: Its Chairman, the late Daniel Ng, refused to listen to perceived “logic” from various advisers and research groups. No, he wasn’t going to offer rice, noodles or soya sauce with his burgers. He wasn’t going to “Chinese” his product as Burger King and KFC had done and failed miserably.

For Daniel, one of the smartest and down to earth businessmen this writer has worked with, it was always about understanding his customer and the ingredients for success.

McDonald’s never had “fast food outlets”. Fast food suggested a lack of quality. McDonald’s was always marketed as restaurants with emphasis given to QSCV- Quality, Service, Cleanliness and Value and clever merchandising.

It didn’t take long for McDonald’s in Hong Kong to have the biggest TC- Transaction Count-in the world.

Another thing: Though that clown Ronald McDonald might have worked in the U.S. he was used very sparingly in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, Ronald McDonald scared kids. We discovered the hard way that most Chinese actors didn’t have a strong enough jawline and chin when in makeup to be Ronald McDonald. The various local Ronald McDonalds prancing around trying to make children laugh had the reverse effect. It probably scarred them for life. Daniel kicked Ronald out of McDonaldland and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

As for the Happy Wednesday brand, it wouldn’t have moved from being known as Sassy Wednesday and a Beer Garden with no entertainment without the CEO- Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges- supporting changes and going out of his way to understand the wants and needs of customers as opposed to racing executives.

This is something Teresa Poon, someone who has taken in a Happy Wednesday at the venue known as Adrenaline knows only too well. The question is, does the rest of her team? And even if they do, what’s next?

What are those ingredients for success? Will the younger generation of Chinese, or even a more mature demographic, who are still to set foot onto a racecourse in Australia, be impressed with their on-course experience? Will they feel welcomed? Or will they be relegated to their own little corner? Where and how do the different generations meet, especially those who who are still to be convinced that this pastime is for them and relevant in 2017?

Should the ACJC create and produce more original content and own its own delivery platforms- podcasts, sure, a website, its own YouTube channel etc? But what’s the non horse racing content, and despite its name, should the ACJC be known outside of Australia and with a need to perhaps spread its net and use social media so popular in Mainland China? Let’s not forget that Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are blocked over there. This is about looking bigger than the sum of its equal parts.

As with any business, making any club anywhere in the world needs funding, especially through sponsorship. If the ACJC can attract a consumer brand not associated with horse racing, it could be a game changer for the fledgling club. Apart from marketing dollars, the ACJC can have access to its database and marketing expertise. In return, any sponsor and brand has the opportunity to tap into what is certain to be an affluent Chinese market.

Yes, there’s much more work to be done, but the pieces are coming together. The key now for Teresa Poon is to know exactly where her racing club wants to go- and then be surprised at how much further it can travel. Here’s wishing her and the ACJC the best of everything.

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  1. Keith Lam says:

    Well done ACJC and keep up the good work.

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