What does it feel like ? That’s what everyone wants to know. What does it feel like to have a winner? Amazing. Incredible. Indescribable. You stand there, grinning like an idiot, quite unable to put it into words and your eager well-wisher drifts away, dissatisfied, feeling somehow cheated.
But those disappointed folk have not been cheated. Not really. For how DOES one put it into words? How DO you describe it ?
It is a feeling quite unlike any other. I confess that my story has a somewhat self-serving motive which is to show off a little (although not me mind you, my horse!). Lady Luck in her capricious way recently favoured me with my second winner. It was an un-hoped for treat and dream come true – I own a 2-time winner ! Not much to some perhaps, but a lifetime’s achievement for someone of my modest ambitions and talents. As those guys in the interviews say – you really can’t describe the feeling. Some unknown reserve of joy suddenly balloons out of nowhere and forms a little insulating layer of happiness around you. For just a little while, reality takes a polite step back and really lets you bask in the glory. For me, that meant bursting into tears right then and there in a grubby betting shop. Oh well, each to their own, eh ? The nicotine-stained, flannel-wearing, myopic customers looked on, perplexed and, it has to be said, a little nervous. Finally someone plucked up the courage to ask how much money we’d won.
And with that single incomprehensibly thoughtless comment, the world rushed back in on my happiness and the moment was over. I could cheerfully have bashed the man, but tried to answer as gracefully as I could. It wasn’t his fault after all. How does it feel? Good ! Really really good. The betting patrons smiled vaguely and went back to their beers. He didn’t know. And how could he ? A quick head-on and then it was on to the blue betting screen and racing in another centre. But I’d had my moment.
The reason for sharing (other than just to say that I have quite the most fantastic horse on the planet), is Tellytrack. And actually, the marketing of our sport / industry / call it what you will in general. With the recent addition of American racing to our already rather cramped viewing schedule, I have had occasion to watch rather more Tellytrack than usual lately.
And watching the new, revised racing merry-go-round, I had to marvel at the disproportionate divide between betting odds and stats and actual racing. It would be interesting to get a techie to do some analysis of exactly how much time is devoted to the actual racing and how much on the betting odds, because it feels more like the gambling channel than the racing channel. I was struck by how bland and uninteresting it is (sorry guys, but really, it sucks). It’s like a never-ending porno which never quite gets to the money shot and just leaves you exhausted and quite frankly, very turned off.
There is a lot of talk about marketing our sport and attracting new blood, and every industry buzzword under the sun is bandied about – cohesive strategies, above the line campaigns, below the line campaigns, black diamonds, etc.
We should be purveying happiness, not peddling bets. And extra ‘all to come’ is not going to make a big difference in the greater scheme of things. Sure it might add another digit here or there to the meeting turnover, but we all know that punters lose more often than they win, and without anything more than the gambling angle, people will eventually drift away to other things. A new owner however, helps support a stud farm, a trainer, an assistant or two, the feed merchant, the bedding guy, the grooms, the work riders and the jockeys. Now that’s a little more bang for your buck, isn’t it?
I was interested to note some recent coverage of the BMW show-jumping series, which filled in some of the dead air time between meetings. What a great use of the time and space. The riders were all neatly turn out in show-gear, the show-grounds were smart and tidy and it was an international competition between South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The presenters took pains to explain the competition, the jumps and a little information about the riders and the ponies. In short, it was really nicely done. Unfortunately it wasn’t particularly well advertised, but what a great way to get non-racing folks to visit the racing channel. Now if only we could get them to stay a little longer….
But How Do We Do It ?
Why do people buy things? Envy. We want to ‘keep up with the Jones’s’. We covet our neighbour’s house, car, wife. And if the bastard seems to be enjoying it, we endeavour to go out and see whether the same formula will work for us. We also want to buy into that slice of happiness. Why do companies spend millions on ads with pretty girls in expensive cars? The inferred message is ‘buy this car and you’ll get the girl’ (ie you will be happy). So we try the house, car, wife (preferably not someone else’s though!). Surely it stands to reason that we could market horses and racing the same way?
Sell the good stuff. The stuff everyone secretly suspects is there anyway. That awesome, amazing, indescribable winning feeling. When our horse wins, we want to be able to say – Look !! Isn’t he fast?! And clever? And beautiful? Because by inference, WE are fast and clever and beautiful too. Ok, sometimes it may not be the most textbook of races, but isn’t that even better, because then our horse was lucky. Which means we’re lucky. And isn’t that just about the best thing to be ? I think that’s probably what having a winner feels like most. It feels like being lucky. So why don’t we sell THAT? Who WOULDN’T want that?
We all know that any form of equestrian sport, but racing in particular, has a rather exclusive, expensive, privileged air about it (I know, haha, right?). And yes, of course there are the dreary, boring, lengthy, expensive, seedy, shabby bits to it. But there’s more. Oh yes. So much more. And with the advent of syndicates, everyone can now enjoy their moment of privilege. The winner’s enclosure is more accessible than ever and whether you own a nostril, a tail hair or everything in between, that feeling is the same. That indescribable feeling. The absolute conviction that we are in on the secret. That we are the chosen ones. That THIS is the horse.
There is an interesting phenomenon (mostly used in learning theory) that humans are quite unique in being able to learn by observing others. Clever scientist folk have monitored brainwaves in test subjects and noted that watching someone perform an activity stimulates the same areas of the brain as if you were doing it yourself. Interesting huh ? So why not show the owners interviews afterwards? I know we do this on the evening replays and I’m very grateful, but seriously, how difficult would it be to cut a few minutes of the tedious ringing down at the starting stalls (or that blue screen misery) and substitute it for the live owner’s interview after the race? Surely that’s where the good stuff is ? I don’t know about you, but I don’t switch off my TV after Federer has won the last point, or Alonso has crossed the line – we stay tuned in for the tears, the trophy kissing and the champagne showers (yes, yes, ohmygodYES!). Not to put too fine a point in it, THAT’S the money shot. That’s what keeps us glued to the TV, or frivolously pick up a tennis racquet next time we’re in Sportsman’s Warehouse. We want to know what it FEELS like.
Word Of Mouth
I wrote some time ago about word of mouth advertising being the most believable and the most effective. Here we have untapped (and even better, unpaid!) marketing staff (ie owners) on a daily basis who would LOVE to tell the world how fantastic racing (and their horse in particular) is. Not the bet, or the prize money (when have you ever heard an owner say, well it was a good race, but by golly, I’m chuffed about the very glamorous R28,351 EFT I’ll be receiving shortly). It is (for most of us anyway), a leisure pursuit. And while I agree that there are people who buy modest horses and expect the earth, surely anyone with a modicum of sense realises that you don’t buy a horse to make money any more than you buy a tennis racquet along with an entry form to Wimbledon. We play for fun. And you don’t have to be on centre court to have fun. With race horses, you don’t even need to know how to ride !! It’s not about the money. It’s about the feeling you get when your horse wins. Because even though someone else has fed, trained and ridden it, when you do get that win, it feels bloody AWESOME ! Why not shout THAT from the rooftops ? Surely that’s a better marketing strategy than ‘hey, come racing, we have a fun new bet’?
I get told off for romanticising, for being too optimistic, for not being realistic enough. But isn’t that why I have horses? Isn’t that really what I bought into all that blood, sweat and tears ago? I made a deal with the devil that I would grit my teeth and put up with the hard times, because of that sliver of hope of a payoff. Hope bought that ticket, because the grand prize it promised was happiness.
And surely that’s a gamble worth taking?