Horseracing Should Be Listening!

Marketing is both a science and an art

At this time of year I like to reflect on goals set and achieved in the past year and on the general state of my life before embarking on the year ahead.

Leon Smuts writes in the Sporting Post Mailbag that this is something that racing could also benefit from, especially given the many challenges faced and the difficulty of the road that will still have to be travelled.

Over the last decade or so I have had the privilege of meeting individuals from all three of our racing regions and I have learned much from these interactions, both good and bad.

2016 Guineas crowd

The one stand out thing which is a big plus, is that every one of these people are passionate about racing and wanting it to succeed, and this is a good starting position in an extremely challenging environment.

On the other side it is obvious that their love for racing is overshadowed by a very limited belief in the product that they have to sell, that very much the result of many years of hardship in a struggling and shrinking industry which has taken its toll on very able group of people.

It has also made them negative towards solutions that are longer term in nature as the dire need for immediate results are so apparent when the numbers continue to paint such an unflattering picture.

In every discussion that I have had the need for diversification of the income stream has always been highlighted by this group, basically a need to subsidise racing for its failure to be self-sustainable.

Diversification is a very necessary strategy and one that should be supported, and I do, but the danger that is already evident is a complete lack of belief in the traditional core product to deliver much stronger and sustainable results.

Mention the need for the tote to grow and it is met with a barrage of resistance, not against the idea, but the feasibility of and potential cost of any such exercise. Not one will disagree that a strong tote is both desirable and crucial from a primary stakes funding perspective but other sources of subsidisation just seem more attractive as they are more readily and more easily available short term.

The bottom line is that racing’s fate is accepted and that years of an inability to market the sport successfully has drained both the resources and the will to do so.

What a tragedy for racing that the current philosophy in place is seeking non-racing solutions for a sport with way more potential than any other form of gambling and gaming to grow into something spectacular.

Looking at the marketing of racing both academically and practically it is one of the most attractive propositions that I as a marketer have seen in a very long time, and one that I would relish to be given an opportunity in to explore further.

What are the main challenges that have to be overcome in order to successfully place racing on a winning growth path?

There are a few things to be aware of and that should be addressed to lay the much needed foundation for the longer term success of racing. It needs to be stressed that there could be some significant short term gains but that most of the considerable benefits will only be in the medium to longer term.

Imagine what racing could look like if the core product could be financially strong and then adding the diversified income stream not as a subsidy but as complimentary earnings.

It would see stakes blossoming and ownership, and especially smaller ownership, becoming increasingly desirable again, which is a fundamental requirement for a healthy industry.

Back to the list of main challenges:

  • How to get younger, pre gambling age people involved
  • How to make racing more entertaining and rewarding for a much wider audience
  • Overcoming the limited race day action relative to other sports and forms of entertainment
  • Developing the learning process to acquire much needed skill
  • Transparency of information
  • The stigma around animal care and problem gambling

From my own marketing and racing experience it is clear that current tote products are not designed with marketing in mind and were not created to solve any of the challenges highlighted above.

This is not a problem, as the offered range of products serves the current client pool mostly well, but as a set of marketing tools they are of little value as they were clearly never designed to do this job.

It is obvious that under the prevailing circumstances diversification is the only reasonable strategy to follow as the tote will not grow with what it has at its disposal, but can racing afford to neglect an opportunity that could see racing breaking new ground and becoming a powerhouse industry again? If the answer is no, and it should be no, then racing has to expand its tote offering with products specifically designed to support and promote the marketing of the sport to a more diversified audience.

Without getting into the particulars of products and concepts that I have already produced and defined let me touch on some very important issues.

The tote, which utilise a pooling of funds model, is the best platform to introduce new products as it will benefit players, operators and owners.

A combination of two complimentary new products should be introduced, one that is non-wagering to reach out to younger players and other enthusiasts seeking an alternative racing involvement, and a second wagering product with similar design features and methodology used to make transition from the one to the other both seamless and logical.

Marketing is both a science and an art and it is all about presenting the selected target market with an attractive, value for money offering that incorporates human behaviour and aspirations with opportunities to benefit from being involved.

Racing would do well to change its current philosophy from being inwardly focused on a shrinking customer base and diversified subsidisation to being outwardly focused and creating a new aspirational image and offering for long term growth of the core racing product.

Do this well and racing will surprise even the strongest sceptics with what it will be able to achieve over a relatively short time frame.

Does racing have the luxury of ignoring outside recommendations and opinions when there are so many good suggestions and people eager to see the sport thriving again?

Pics are for illustration only – kind courtesy of Candiese Lenferna, Chase Liebenberg and JC Photos

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