By Hans Ebert

We’re coming to the end of 2017, and the next year doesn’t offer much hope for many industries that have coasted on their respective gravy trains without reading the tea leaves and seeing what the future might hold. Guess sometimes ignorance is bliss and as long as it doesn’t affect one’s own bottom line, the thinking is that everything is more than awesome.

When it comes to businesses, there’ve been knee jerk reactions to some serious questions involving the very basics of a balance sheet which, more often than not, has to do with “the scale of economics” and understanding how far down the well the end consumer is prepared to go before seeing a profit and for how long.

Truth be told, the time for many industries is up for the very simple reason that they’re irrelevant- and bordering on being obsolete because of having been run into the ground by those who either resisted change or were too damn arrogant to see change hurtling towards them like an oncoming #MeToo train.

Over a decade ago, the fat cats running the music industry thought their powerful army of lawyers would make illegal file sharing and everyone else suddenly rocking in the free world go away. It didn’t work. All that did was unleash the beast within, and unchain Django. With new power, the lunatics took over the asylum.

The music industry, like the television and movie industries are today on life support and have been overtaken by new business models shaped by tech companies like Apple, subscription based music streaming services like Spotify and the sudden emergence and popularity of creative content available via Netflix.

We’re no longer living in the Age of Aquarius. We’re living in the Age Of Entitlement. It’s a time where an entire generation believes that this is the way today’s world works- take everything without asking or even needing it simply because it’s there. Gluttony has never tasted so good and the buffet table of choices keeps expanding.

It’s been building towards this for a couple of years, and last week, E-racing seemed to suddenly become the sport de jour. Why? How? Maybe it’s just me because the HKT E-Prix arrived in Hong Kong with much fanfare. And though there was the embarrassment of the winner being disqualified, no one seemed to mind. The entertainment factor pushed this little mishap into the background. Who won? Apparently the HKT sponsored E-Prix. It was a successful trial run.

With Alibaba’s Jack Ma throwing his considerable weight behind the sport when launched in Mainland China next year, its future looks so bright one will have to wear shades. E-racing is trending. It’s attracting global sponsors like Tag Heuer and new cutting edge brands. It has quickly become the world’s hipster sport. It’s young, and it’s trending.

Compare all this- where and what it is right now and what it could be- with where horse racing is and what it delivers to consumers plus the “entry fee” for the privilege of playing.

Look at what’s referred to as the “racing media”. As has been said here many times, there’s a huge difference between experience and being old fashioned. How has this “racing media” evolved? Because it’s now on Twitter tweeting the same news updates to the same small group of horse racing’s faithful band of twitterers?

That’s fine, but, as someone who’s in marketing and music and has worked in journalism and advertising, how else is any of this helping enhance the image and perception of horse racing in 2017 going onto 2018 so that it increases its customer base? Or is this the job of a racing club and those executives given long titles and leadership roles? Just asking.

Despite all the changes taking place in the world today and exciting new startups with a real pulse, looking from my current small role in horse racing, it too often turns a blind eye to all this “newness” and is still promoted as its always been. Where are the game changers? At last count, there’s only one in horse racing and it’s not The Lord of the Sherpas.

The blinkered thinking and not looking at all these other products competing for the same consumer dollar- repeat, the same consumer dollar- show many senior racing executives rather lost about how other industries work. How many take the time to understand the business strategies and marketing objectives of potential and even current sponsors if horse racing is sincere in building long-lasting win-win business partnerships?

People skills, understanding the other side’s product and knowing where horse racing can play a vital role other than offering “naming rights” is going to become increasingly important, especially in the luxury brands sector. It’s always what happens behind the curtain that brings about change.

The interview below by music iconoclast Frank Zappa is interesting. He talks about how the powerful cigar chomping music executives from the fledgling days of the music industry took chances because there was nothing to lose and how this eventually gave way to younger and more conservative music executive who wanted to play it safe and not rock the boat. Imagine for a moment if Frank Zappa was talking about the horse racing industry.

Has horse racing run its course? In many racing jurisdictions, the Fat Lady has sung, but when the blinkers are on, the truth might be out there, but the Marlboro Man wants no one to talk about it. And so he creates diversions. He wheels in more Trojan horses, dresses them up in Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and dazzles an often naive racing media- those serial twitterers and others writing for the usual fifty suspects- while all the time play acting and waiting for that golden parachute to open.

The inward thinking and clinging onto so much from the past- and repeating mistakes from the past- is what has made too many of horse racing’s current leaders either forget or unable to look at the future. To see how new young upstarts are going after the same group of sponsors, who, in turn, are constantly evolving their own business models. Nothing stays forever.

It’s why horse racing can’t seem to shed that weighty gambling albatross that’s holding it back from becoming part of the much bigger world of sports entertainment.

As has been said here often enough, there’s a reason why someone like Simon Fuller whose X1X Management continues to guide the careers of Andy Murray and Brand Beckham and once managed the career of Lewis Hamilton has always mentioned how he sees horse racing as being “one dimensional” in that it’s solely gambling driven.

We’ve talked for a few years now about him bringing his name, his artists and his marketing creativity to horse racing, but he’s still to be convinced. What does intrigue Simon, a friend from the days when he managed the Spice Girls before creating American Idol, is the popularity of the pastime in Hong Kong- a city where no one grows up around horses or on farms.Those who go racing in Hong Kong are not “horsey” people. To them, it’s either an investment or else an alternative to going shopping or seeing a movie. It’s around four hours of entertainment.

My interest is in the marketing of horse racing- trying to understand the psyche of local race goers of all ages, see the future of bona fide horse racing in Mainland China and not the tinpot meetings in a few provinces- and my respect for the person right at the top constantly pushing the envelope and a number of the HKJC USPs.

Especially attractive to luxury brands are the HKJC members who attend the races. It’s a blue chip consumer group. Racing at Sha Tin, especially, is like the HKJC having its exclusive on-course showcase for a captive market interested in luxury brands.

It’s an area of business marketing that can be taken much further. But to make any of this happen, every leader needs a loyal and strategic army- a business and marketing oriented army. Not Dad’s Army.

New business revenue streams? Where are they? Seen any merchandising from racing clubs you would actually wish to buy and own? Tired of receiving more key chains?

There was always so much one learnt about consumer behaviour through giveaways when working in advertising on the McDonald’s business. The decision on merchandising wasn’t something handed over to just anyone. There was always a marketing and business strategy attached. Another McDonald’s credo: Want to do something properly, work with the biggest and best partners appealing to the same primary consumer market- partners like Disney with whom we tied in especially McHappy Meal promotions with their latest movie releases. It was very smart marketing.

In horse racing, merchandising is often either an after-thought or just something handed down the food chain. It’s like content. Shouldn’t content be part of a new business stream? But first of all, how many in horse racing know what this content can be? And how and if one has the right content, how to protect it through understanding Rights issues, copyright and Licensing?

Content is more than some embarrassing waffle about nothing. If content is king, it can’t be reduced to the court jester. It should be something of value which comes with a price tag. Not all content can be free. This is what made the music industry lose its bargaining power.

Content is also not another “tipping” programme with talking heads handing out various numbers. Have one of these programmes for that “hardcore audience” one has heard about for decades. But has anyone thought about creating racing content with a realistic production budget for a younger age group- programming that brings in new sponsors and helps create partnerships and attracts customers who currently want nothing to do with horse racing because of the way it’s presented- cold, without a pulse and in a language understood by few?

As for all this talk about attracting “the next generation of racing fans”, what exactly IS there to create this “fandom”?

Hong Kong has the very successful Happy Wednesday brand with an important endorsement from the influential Trip Advisor and a regular attendance averaging 11-12,000 for a mid-week eight race card meeting. Average turnover of HK$1.2 billion is further proof of its success. During the recent International Jockeys’ Championships at Happy Valley, attendance was over 29,000 and turnover up 5.33 percent to HK$1,291,949,762. Those are quite a few dim sums.

As for other racing clubs and after Jason Derulo and Paris Jackson have left the building with Elvis, what’s there for this younger consumer group- and on a regular basis? Few can explain.

Of course, those newbies willing to see what horse racing is about always decide to try their luck at winning. Having watched many make that important first decision, there’s much to learn from their thinking- and their winning and losing.

From the mouths of babes are some gems. Again, it comes down to dollars and sense. And if they strike out twice or thrice, the odds of them returning to perhaps lose more are slim shady. They feel they’ve been Oliver Twisted.

What’s the solution, or are there any? There are definitely solutions and business opportunities. But how many racing clubs have those in their employ with the marketing chutzpah and business acumen to see this? Not pretend to see it, but really see it? Not many, Sherlock. Not many.

#horseracing #business #HKJC #twitter #content #customercentric #executive #Eracing #jackma #mcdonald’s #disney #merchandising #marketing #creativity #hkracing #tripadvisor #happywednesday #simonfuller

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  1. lee says:

    On this occasion your post has much credence, although Hans you do continue to ‘monkey’ meaning that you quickly jump from one point to a different tact on another point which sometimes confuses BUT overall I agree with your points.
    My question(again)isn’t an answer but does cause a quandary,similar to Monty Python’s Black Knight no arms or limbs but to the Black Knight it’s only a flesh wound.
    Why does/do HKJC not see their position as such ?
    Why do they ad nausea repeat so many rituals the same.
    I suspect that until they actually see a marked drop in revenues then ignorance is fine.
    The last point is the one that I and in discussion others cannot understand but have reasoned, HKJC bluntly refuse to stand on the other side to view it is,why would HKJC be content to let
    $US50 million per season just go to an unregulated betting agency WHEN the option to allow a product given The Queens Award(not an easy award to gain) Might help reduce the amount and indirect find its way to the HKJC. . .yes Betfair. and wait before Winfried tries to voice again and again and again ‘we won’t be in the business of betting on a horse to lose’ errr, ummm whenever a single $10HK is wagered errr umm the owner of the wager is actually betting on his/her selection winning and all others NOT WINNING.
    It may not be the answer but again why not entertain the possibility of gaining ANY part of $US50 million per season ??.As for integrity well FTSE,ASX listed Betfair have far more advances in integrity that might even alert the ‘darts under the barriers fiasco’s ‘ that may present themselves in the future.
    Strange really i think HKJC see it as only a mirage.

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