Happy New Year to all our followers. I have taken some time to detail my thoughts around where Racing can make improvements in 2014 to make our brand competitive in the sporting marketplace. You may not agree with everything I say, but I hope you take something out of it anyway! I have come at this from a Victorian racing point-of-view, but it is pretty much applicable across the board.
1. Get some personality online
The use of online media by the Racing industry has a lot to desire. One area in particular is Social Media. The current @RacingInsider handle has no personality at all and is a reflection on how racing in Australia is currently run. Going back through the @RacingInsider feed, the majority of the posts are links to articles or news, while there is the occasional retweet from a different Racing Victoria account, someone employed in the industry or a media personality. To be fair, there has been the recent addition of a Twitter Q&A every week during Spring, but this seems to have died out. As a comparison, @CricketAus is full on personality. Sure, when you add this personality combined with the Ashes series, you can have a social media manager go overboard and post an offensive tweet (which really wasn’t). The @CricketAus feed is filled with links, news, retweets of fans, retweets of current and past players and during the #ashes series, has been running a successful hashtag. Give the person in charge instructions on how the account is to be run, but let them reply to fans, retweet fans and make the account more fun.
While we are on Social Media, the Racing Industry is fairly disappointing compared to the opposition. Whether it is AFL, NRL, A-League, BigBash, pretty much any top 10 sport in Australia (hardly ever see NBL trending), you will see a hashtag start trending on Twitter in that state, but not with Racing. Just check out Twitter tomorrow and you will find no hashtags being promoted or any trending happening for the event. Considering how all the talk over Spring was about how Michael Owen was great for Racing in Australia because of his social media presence, you would think they would have more interest in actually doing Social Media well. I can hear the people with knowledge in the industry saying ‘Wait a second, we trended during Melbourne Cup’. Well good on the industry, but a lot of that was promoted tweets paying $$$ and Racing is year round, not one week in November. We don’t need to do anything with the Spring product, it’s getting people to turn up on track mid-week and on weekends throughout the year that is struggling. Create interest by getting the industry trending and relevant.
Cool, you created a slogan, but is it working? Why would we get back on track? What are you doing differently to change the current practices that see many people including myself stay at home instead of turning up to the track? The simple fact is, nothing has changed. The administrators really don’t get it. Let’s address just a few areas of improvement
The level of food delivered on course at country and metro meetings outside of the Spring carnival is generally poor, especially for non-members. My last visit to Caulfield Racecourse as an example revealed a total of three eating options. I do appreciate the fact that I can bring my own food in, but it would be logical for the clubs to start pricing their current food selections fairly and to allow traders to come in from outside the venue to sell their wares. If you take the Geelong Cats home games down in Geelong for example, they have a wide variety of sole traders with different types of food for sale that work well alongside the venues foods. My visit to Moonee Valley on Manikato Stakes night saw me purchase a hot meal in the Members dining room with two guests, walk around for 10 minutes due to no available tables (most were not eating, but staff did nothing to move them on) and resort to arguing with a staff member to be allowed to take my meal outside into the grandstand (by this time it was cold).
There has been a lot of talk over the past month that the prize money needs to be increased for Summer Racing to get better horses going around, but I have to disagree. Australia has some of, if not the best, prize money going around. We don’t need to invest in increasing prize money, we need to invest in promotions. Take that $1,000,000 (random number) you were looking to hand over to the Owners and instead invest it in getting people back on track through promotions. Whether this is the ‘golden ticket’ promotion where one lucky person on the day is awarded $50,000, where a 10% share of a promising 2YO is awarded in a similar fashion or like has been previous run, where 8-10 random people are selected from a draw and given a horse in a race, resulting in a great prize win. Advertise the chance to win $100,000 on a less than average metro Saturday meeting and drop the entry fee to nothing. Take a chance. Do something. While we are on that, any family day should be free.
I went to the Melbourne Stars vs Melbourne Renegades game to open the Big Bash season and what did they do? They gave away a $30,000 car, they gave away $3000 for the best dressed fan (they actually allow people to have fun and dress up in funny uniforms and embrace this culture) and they gave away a $5000 entertainment package for the photo which received the most ‘Likes’ on instagram. They even gave away a prize for the person who tweeted in the closest answer to the crowd attendance. They also give away an Xbox to the first five people to catch a six! What do we have in Melbourne Racing? The best around is the Essendon Mazda sponsorship which gives away one car per year at the Moonee Valley Racing Club to a random member.
This is a simple one. Create an all-in-one membership that allows entry to EVERY track in a state, or even in all of Australia. Sure, make it general admission, we don’t mind. Frankly put, most GA areas are better than member areas anyway for watching the races.
D. Dress Code
This is 2013/14, not 1914. If it’s hot, as in 28’c+, no tie, no suit jacket for men. Simple. If a lady is wearing something respectable, then it should be acceptable. The below example of Sam Thomson’s girlfriend being asked to leave Moonee Valley Racing Club’s members area is an absolute joke and stinks of how ancient some rules in the industry really are. That being said, the people enforcing these rules also need to be trained to have a bit of common sense. We go to the races for a good time, not to be harassed for such idiotic rules.
3. Punters are the No.1 product, not Owners
In the end of the day, the bulk of the money that comes into the clubs and the industry is through punting. Yes, we wouldn’t exist without owners, but as long as we provide the prize money, they will forever be around. The current on-course product is a disgrace. There is no other way to say it. The bookies are struggling themselves with the online opposition being given much different laws to what they are held to. An on-course bookie HAS To bet to a minimum loss from any person on course. Online bookies close winning punters accounts. It’s that simple. These rules either have to be removed (I don’t think that is the answer), or the industry needs to enforce a minimum required ‘to loss’ amount. This would essentially mean that these bookies cannot fully shut down any persons account ever as by law they have to take the bets. Let’s be serious here for a second or two. An online bookie taking a $500 bet on a $3-1 favourite isn’t bad, if anything, they should be asking for this bet. They are making a % chunk along the way with the odds they put up, it should be win win, but because this punter has won $30,000 over the past 3 months, they are banned, regardless of that online bookie MAKING that 5% along the way. It’s really a disgrace.
It was made very clear to me (if it wasn’t clear already) that Racing Victoria do not see punters as their key product. After 3 months and 4 days of waiting for Racing Victoria to access my application for Media Accreditation, my application was denied due to our website being devoted to punters and not a news website. See point 1 RE: Social Media and also see the 14,000+ followers who are updated with news. It was quite disappointing after following up their media department several times over this period to get this result, especially considering my write-ups receive more views on a Saturday than an article published in a top newspaper’s online section which is all but hidden unless it is a big news story about Jimmy or a certain punters club.
4. Give the YOUTH a go
Where is the youth in Racing? I actually can’t see any apart from those behind the scenes. Take a look at TVN as a prime example and you will see the same old people, week in, week out. New shows pop up and what do you know, the people already employed are given another segment, or someone employed by a sponsor is put into the show. When the person giving mail from the ‘yard’ is sick or has the day off what happens? Instead of giving someone a go, we go to a suspended jockey to take over the job. There are so many talented lovers of racing ready to be given a shot, so why not give them a go? I can’t believe that it is a money issue, so what is stopping us? I’m not entirely sure. Take in some interns, give them a go with the social media accounts, making videos, interviewing jockeys and even give them a go on TV. What do we have to lose?
5. Ditch early 2YO races from metro meetings
I’ve been watching the TAB turnover on these meetings closely this year and I can tell you there isn’t much bet on these races which generally occur as the first race of the meeting. Not only do these meetings reduce the total turnover for the day at courses such as Flemington on a Saturday which is head and shoulders the biggest turnover event of the week, but it also means a lot of patrons turn up late to the races. We simply have no form to go off of, so we don’t bet. It’s all about insider knowledge on these races. I’m not saying we should lose all of them, but we shouldn’t be opening every Saturday from August onwards with 2YO races. Throw them back to a Sunday meeting at Cranbourne as an example for the same prize money and put them in the middle of the card (just before the Quaddie I suggest).
So there you have it, my top five suggestions of improvements we need to see in Racing throughout 2014. I do have a few other quick items worth mentioning if you are willing to continue reading!
There is a distinct lack of interaction between Jockey’s and the race attendees. I have been covering Racing for the past 3 years now and I have never spoken directly to Luke Nolen apart from ‘having a go’ on him at Twitter or a poor ride, or complimenting him on a good ride. The simple fact is, we don’t promote jockey’s at all. I don’t have the answer on how we can do this, but it would be nice to send jockey’s out into the crowd to meet and greet people, allow a photo to be taken post races etc. We lack that interaction and it is a factor missing in the industry. I think if we get that going, you will find a lot less ‘sledging’ will occur at the jocks and we will have a higher youth following going forward.
Bookies should no longer be betting with cash. To bet on course with a bookie, you should require either a TAB card or an easy to get card on-course that is loaded with your money. This would make the process so much easier and payouts of all tickets will instantly be put back into the account of the winner avoiding tickets not being collected or lost.
The industry needs to understand that sports are only going to continue to grow in Australia and when our laws are updated, in-play trading will take over an ever larger portion of gambling in Australia. Instead of resisting, the industry needs to embrace these facts. If there is an A-League game on at 6pm on a Saturday, then we need to start the meeting at 12pm instead of 1pm. We need to do everything in our power to be sports friendly, that includes BIGGER screens all around the course for the watching of sports. The area below the Black Caviar stand at Caulfield Racecourse is a prime example of an area that could include two to three projector screens with different sports and racing from around the country.
Do you agree or disagree with any of my points? Share your views below by commenting!