By Hans Ebert
“Racing is in a quandary, Empty racecourses except for those employed to be there and a couple of die-hard old diggers who miss the glory days of Phar Lap, Tulloch and the like. Short sighted racing clubs still charge admittance to something that is shown onfree to air TV and charging ridiculous prices for very unhealthy unattractive food. Racing Victoria shutting down hobby photographers to be able to drip feed their own approved images. Proper knowledgeable racing writers that live and breathe racing sidelined by more attractive less knowledgeable young guns that leave the serious punter cold! So many things left to fix, but racing is thriving ( supposedly) due to the almighty turnover. Such shortsighted , consipated views are the deathknoll and needs to be addressed by some new knowledgeable blood.” – Russell Keating
And so with the news trending on social media that the very knowledgeable and popular Sammy Hyland had been let go by Racing.com where his unbridled enthusiasm in post-race interviews on horse back will now be in the hands of former jockey Dean Petit, RSN’s Michael Felgate invited the racing platform’s CEO Andrew Catteral, below, to explain the thinking behind this decision.
It was obvious that Andrew Catteral had heavier subjects weighing on his mind despite trying to put a positive spin on everything only to make a U-turn and temper this with factoids how sometimes one gets it right, and the other times, it becomes a learning experience. Yes, but we’re not talking about rocket science here, Einstein, or producing The Ten Commandments. The reasons for replacing Sammy Hyland were just plain silly, and the subject turned to how well one covers horse races, especially on a Saturday.
Knowing some in charge of producing the racing product, very few think about this from a customer point of view nor have any thoughts of going out on a limb and taking even any baby steps to improve the situation. Cosmetic changes are not exactly providing the facelift horse racing needs as we approach 2018.
Listening to Andrew Catteral talk about pre-recorded segments and ‘live’ segments and delayed ‘live’ segments, one had to wonder if heeven knows the rudiments of production and broadcasting, the different microphones available today and the creativity that makes content king. And if he doesn’t, does he have the right team?
There were moments when the head coach of Racing.com appeared to still be stuck inside of Mobile with his Nokia while the rest of world had graduated to iPhones. It was embarrassing listening to a drowning man going further and further into the deep end.
It was tough going trying to understand where Andrew Catteral was heading as it wasn’t exactly raining men, but it was bucketing down words that didn’t really lead anywhere of any significance.
With Racing.com now also showcasing racing from South Australia, one was hoping to hear something about how Racing.com was going to streamline the clutter, and how much importance will be given to the coverage of the races from Hong Kong, or whether, as on the crowded Sky, these will fall through the cracks and be another also-ran.
The problem faced by every racing club is when there are racing executives too set in their ways. Despite references to “technology” and “going digital”, it’s still only about feeding the hunger to gamble. It’s not a good look to those looking in. As one former jockey put it, this makes horse racing look “grubby”. Not once have any of these executives uttered the expression known as “consumer generated content”, what this could be and, as weird as it might sound, how it just might make gambling more “consumer friendly”. One can only live in hope.
When Giles Thompson, the CEO of Racing Victoria, another guest of Felgate’s, mentioned the “quality of the attendance”, one thought this was leading to some exciting new uncharted waters.
Alas, it was just more corporate waffle which might have sounded good if doing the ironing, but made no sense to what was served up next. And what was this? A confusing mélange of words about supplying sectionals and more data driven information overload to help on course participants win. Huh? And this was described as “on course entertainment”?
Perhaps I’ve got it completely wrong, but the hardcore punter usually has all the information they need from a racing club website which they download and then create their own data driven programmes. Some do this more successfully than others and one really doubts this is worked out as part of “on course entertainment”. One even wonders the last time this particular group of customers have actually been to a race meeting.
Listening to all this must have given Michael Felgate brain freeze as he suddenly started talking about Black Caviar when he meant Winx and it all kinda dissipated down that black hole of Calcutta.
As a casual listener to the Dead People’s racing radio channel, I tuned out and thought about dear old Louise and how she loved her kaftan and dancing naked to Santana as the scent of incense and peppermint wafted through a purple haze of Acapulco Gold.
As with depending on the old school majors in the music industry, horse racing will never change as 99 percent of those running it are dazed and confused and only running it into the ground today. They’re not exactly a Jeff Bezos or a Jack Ma or a Susan Wojcicki.
With races like the Pegasus, the constantly evolving Everest and the Singapore Turf Club introducing some seemingly new initiatives on the surface that should see international races return to the Lion City, it’s obvious that horse racing is trying to ring in changes. The question is, are these changes big enough or are they variations on the same old theme? Is it Django unchained?
Personally speaking, real change will come from the Indies, or, when it comes to horse racing, the consumer-driven online world led by those who understand the basics of horse racing and the huge importance of turnover and can assimilate all this into new relevant thinking.
This is where the only rule is that there are no rules and with a sport more than ready to have a 24/7 online horse racing lifestyle channel that will impact horse racing much like the way MTV changed the face of music forever.
The business model is already there. What’s now needed is funding- and, with it, a new breed of racing executives- not inherited, not borne out of the Peter Principle, but hand picked, along with new sponsors and their marketing teams and data bases backing horse racing- sponsors that are not corporate bookmakers and who are willing to back the sport because they really believe it can work for their products. Add to this content providers from successful consumer driven industries.
It’s only by taking this route that horse racing can become part of the much bigger world of sports entertainment and with this being the really effective use of social media.
Right now, no matter what’s discussed with who, it’s the same old same old by the same old and none of it attractive enough to expand horse racing’s dwindling customer base.
There must be a brave new world that can coexist with the traditional world of horse racing and where turnover and the entertainment factor come together…like, yeah, Ebony and Ivory, but who live and work in two very different worlds. Compromises only show up leadership weaknesses.
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