Hans Ebert is the Chief Enhancer at We Enhance, he is the Creative, Marketing and Strategy Advisor to the HKJC and he is also the creative force behind “the most read racing site in the world”, the RacingBitch. The Sporting Post gets to know him a little better.
Who is the RacingBitch?
The RacingBitch is the very complicated piece of work that is Hans Ebert. I am what is known as a Dutch Burgher-Dutch and Portuguese mixed with the local inhabitants of the island of Sri Lanka where I was born a year after my great friend Felix Coetzee came into the world. I did my schooling in Hong Kong, and then Uni in the UK where I took up art, English literature and history, took a Major in Psychology and then Mass Communications which really helps hone your writing skills for Strategic Marketing. Knocked around LA, NYC and Paris before deciding to grow up.
How did you get into music?
My Dad had his own radio programme in Sri Lanka called The Melody Maker. He sang and played piano with his musical guests, so I was surrounded by music and musicians at a very young age. In my teen years, I had a cousin who was a popular radio DJ for Capital FM in the UK who introduced me to a number of artists. That led to trying my hand as a Rock music writer. I am also related in some way to Cat Stevens.
How did the racing bug develop?
Racing was hugely popular in Ceylon and after my family settled in Hong Kong, they became friends with people in the racing world. Through a girlfriend whose dad was a big Chinese horse owner and punter, I met a number of trainers and jockeys and saw the dark side of racing which, I must admit was intriguing. Many of the boys riding here got to know me as “the man with the tickets” for shows as I was with a music company. Just as I admired them as jockeys, they liked hanging out with me and hearing about the entertainment world. It was a mutual admiration society.
How did you get into the music business?
I was doing journalism and advertising when I met Polygram’s worldwide head of marketing at a dinner. We got talking about how sponsorship marketing was part of the future for music companies. He ended up offering me a job! I eventually left to run EMI Music in Asia and I now run We-Enhance which is a one-stop creative and marketing shop that works independently from the music company.
You are Creative, Marketing and Strategy Advisor to the HKJC – how did that happen?
Winfried Englebrecht-Bresges, CEO of the HKJC and I got to know each other when I wrote a song about Silent Witness. We met for lunch and discussed their Wednesday night racing initiative (still called Sassy Wednesday back then). We both knew there was more that could be done to reach the younger racing fan with music being key to reaching this demographic. The Happy Wednesday brand is a perfect way for racing’s hardware- the venues- to marry the software- the music of these artists- and bring all this to the ready-made audience of thousands of racing fans.
Do you find music / racing a successful pairing?
Definitely. Apart from writing songs for our champion sprinter Silent Witness, and songs about Dougie and Joao Moreira, with my friend Welsh singer-songwriter Ben Semmens, who has become the regular performer on Happy Wednesdays, we have written and recorded songs for the brand. And with accompanying music videos and the power and reach of social media, it has attracted that important new racing fan customer segment as well as enhancing and introducing the HKJC brand, globally, to racing fans, yes, and also to new sponsors.
Tell us a little about the Happy Wednesday concept?
In very simple terms, Happy Wednesday is a mid-week break for all of HK to meet up at the Happy Valley track and inter-act with each other. Racing is the star attraction with this experience embellished by ‘live’ music, introducing the sport to those new to racing through the different venues, the various learning tools like the IBU board, the Racing Touch app etc. It’s giving them a buffet of choices and for them to decide how THEY wish to use these. You really need to be at a Happy Wednesday to understand the incredible vibe- a safe, fun, happy vibe for everyone there- a VERY international crowd including many tourists and where we bring the excitement of racing within touching distance.
What makes Hong Kong racing such a success?
Leadership. Without Winfried placing so much emphasis on the customer experience, nothing would evolve. But he has a vision, he listens- especially to the customer- and knowing the culture of this city where horse racing is more than about the punt, but is part of the lifestyle, he has ensured that there are venues for every customer demographic and has a very holistic way of looking at things. This works for me as all those years in advertising taught me a discipline about being very focused when marketing any product- even a racing club.
Why is Hong Kong so special to you?
Convenience, safety, the opportunities to do anything you put your mind to doing, the cosmopolitan USP of the city and the resilience of its people to get off the canvass whenever Hong Kong is knocked down. I co-wrote a song called Home which came out as this stream of consciousness love song for Hong Kong. The moment you bitch about it and leave, you know you need to get back to its safety. I love this city. It’s part of my DNA.
Have the recent riots affected racing?
These students can protest all they want for universal suffrage or whatever they’re protesting about, but they know not to mess up a race meeting. That’s when they will lose the support of HK people as horse racing is four hours of stress free entertainment before getting back to the realities of life.
How did the RacingBitch come about? (and how did you choose the name)
During a very drunk night with two jockey mates where we made a list of the most overrated riders in the world. The name came about because I originally intended to write it in an AbFab format.
What does RacingBitch bring to the table?
I think RB has made a difference by showing that it has balls and takes no prisoners, which is why I refuse advertising on the blog. It’s also evolved from being about hardcore racing news. With www.fasttrack.hk we can now promote the sport in a more cool, entertaining way. RB is constantly evolving. There have been offers to start up RacingBitch bars etc, but I first wish to take the brand into the world of online television. From there, other opportunities will open up. When the blog stops being fun to produce, I’ll stop it, and that might happen when RacingbitchTV happens and becomes guerrilla television, or when RB evolves into being much more involved in the global marketing of the sport and working with, for instance, the various tourism industries where there is racing.
Standout moments from your time racing in Hong Kong?
Way too many. I am very proud of the Happy Wednesday brand, I love having written Home with Ben, love the fact that after years of playing to drunks in pubs in Cardiff, Ben now performs to thousands, whereas racing has introduced me to a very interesting group of people I would never have met in the music industry. It’s also taught me about an industry that I never knew about- all those checks and balances. Thanks to Winfried, I am also learning that a racing club needs to work as a business and the importance of turnover and attendance figures and what it takes to make these numbers.
Tell us a little about the SA influence on Hong Kong racing over the years?
I am a huge fan of South African riders. Apart from their riding style, when trainer Brian Kan brought Bart Leisher to Hong Kong, it broke the stranglehold Aussie jockeys had on racing, which was welcomed by local racing fans and the Chinese racing media for reasons too complex to get into here. Bartie Leisher was extremely popular with local racing fans and riders like Anthony Delpech, Anton Marcus, Glyn Schofield, Jeff Lloyd and of course Felix, have all been hugely successful here. What few realise is that until Zac Purton won the Jockey Premiership in HK last season, South African jockeys owned that title for a phenomenal twenty one years- seven of those titles belong to Basil Marcus, one to Robbie Fradd, and then thirteen year reign of “Sir” Dougie.
I am very good mates with Dougie Whyte and Felix Coetzee. I was out with Deep Purple one night, when Felix happened to join us and it turned out the bands were fans as they’d seen him ride in South Africa. The next day we travelled with Deep Purple to their concert and they got us up onstage with them. I hear Felix has a picture of him onstage I took, blown up, framed and hanging in his home. Dougie always teases me for introducing Felix to the music of Bob Dylan. He’s just jealous as he doesn’t understand the meaning behind all those deep words! Dougie is a musical sprinter, not a stayer.
Why is it do you think that Hong Kong fans take to your racing personalities so strongly?
Over the years, the local racing media has done much to glamorise the sport, especially when Tony Cruz was champion jockey. It was a ‘local boy makes good’ story and Tony’s popularity reached rock star status. Interest in the top jockeys has grown from there. Almost everyone in HK enjoys the sport- there is zero elitism- and know everything about their favourite jockeys- their birthdays, girlfriends, wives- and admire their lifestyles. When someone like Tony, Dougie, Zac or Moreira, Ollie Delouze, Mosse, walk into a bar or restaurant, there is a WOW factor. They dress extremely well, and they ooze confidence and class.
Hong Kong demands that if you’re in the spotlight- and horse racing is always in the spotlight and has many groupies- there is a need for style. The way you’re perceived off the track is extremely important and, here, Dougie has it down pat. He works it, baby- the way he dresses, where he goes, who he’s seen with- it all adds up to being the David Beckham of racing.
Joao Moreira is the jockey I would be watching as I reckon he can take the sponsorship of jockeys into another sphere. I would love to manage the guy and create the Moreira brand.
I am good friends with Simon Fuller who has moved from managing the Spice Girls and creating and owning the American Idol franchise to managing the Beckhams, Andy Murray and Lewis Hamilton. I would dearly like to be his equivalent in the racing world and believe I can be. I am very prepared to move into the area of global sponsorship, the creative marketing of horse racing, creating and owning content along with the proper management of those jockeys with commercial appeal.
You had a birthday recently – how does the RacingBitch celebrate a birthday and what are your hopes / aspirations for the year ahead?
As my hero John Lennon said, “When at school, the teachers asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said, Happy. They said, I didn’t understand the question. I said, you don’t understand life.” If you’re happy, it means all the pieces fit, and you can build from here on how to be, well, more happy.