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Horse Racing’s Strange Reluctance To Change...(and join the Netflix Streaming Generation)

In advertising, there is what’s known as Trade advertising and consumer advertising. There is and never has been a blurring of the lines. This would have resulted in very confusing communications.

In Hong Kong racing, there’s an ongoing competition called the Million Challenge which, in very simplistic terms, is, one thinks, to find the most successful horse who’s raced at Happy Valley racecourse during a certain period of the season.

This Million Challenge has now been trotted out for almost a decade with different sponsors coming in and dropping out.

It’s nothing more than some fluff for horse owners with gallopers not in the elite classes and holds very little interest to those Hong Kong racing uncles and aunties who make their pilgrimages to the races and whose only interest is whether the horse they have bet on wins.

Yet, for over a decade, this Million Challenge has been marketed as if something of interest to the casual racegoer- which shows more cracks in the overall advertising strategy of what remains Hong Kong’s favourite pastime.

Because horse racing remains Hong Kong’s favourite pastime doesn’t mean regurgitating the same old same old but now same old older with no extra relish or trimmings.

Earlier this week, speaking to racing writer Sam Agars, Caspar Fownes, the winningest Trainer at Happy Valley, laughed off this so-called “Challenge” referring to the piddly prize money on offer and being nothing of anything much.

When once interested enough to write the Racingbitch column which took aim at the many goofballs, mothballs, hypocrisy and marketing follies of horse racing, especially in Hong Kong and Australia, one of the favourite subjects to tackle other than the usual Divide and Conquer politics at work were the huge egos involved in racing and what was then the CSL Million Challenge.

Nothing has really changed except that there’s no clanging of that goddamn CSL bell.

The bells, Igor! The bells!

The Hong Kong Jockey Club might do some things right, especially when it comes to ringing out humongous turnover numbers and doing somersaults over new turnover records set, but, honestly speaking, horse racing is a bit of an also-ran continuing to feed the forty thousand with the same diet of crumbs and bird droppings backed by a compliant racing media and muchos smoke and mirrors.

Horse racing still hasn’t even understood how, in this world of everything being ‘live’ streamed, it’s common sense that less and less people are going to attend the races on course.

One doesn’t need armies of subservient order takers to understand this.

What, however, needs to be understood is to look at what more can be added to the streaming of races to build up a larger audience- and which might even attract-gasp-sponsors!

Isn’t this what effective marketing is supposed to do- keep evolving and growing one’s market by understanding the wants and needs of today’s customers and how quickly they communicate and engage with each other- and different products?

In this respect, how many below fifty are really interested in watching paddock parades, trying to understand speed maps and believing what tipsters are saying?

They’re a dying breed and possibly something kept alive for racing’s hardcore family of uncles and aunties.

Today’s Spotify and Netflix streaming generations, meanwhile, want a choice. No choice, there’s zero interest and they’ve gone streaming elsewhere.

So why is there still a reluctance to offer this choice of different content that can be streamed during the twentysomething minutes between the races?

Could it be that complacency has set in, and standards have nosedived to a level of creative menopause?

Having this content- tailor made or licensed lifestyle content- apart from softening the blow of hammering those over the heads to keep on betting, just might help to make horse racing more entertaining.

It might also make however racing is viewed these days not look one dimensional, pedestrian and not some old fangled idea from places like the Dead People’s racing and sports radio station and those asleep at the wheel at 1 Sports Road about what’s “cool and happening, baby”.

That type of thinking went out with Kojak, big hair, Bon Jovi and wearing pastel coloured jackets with the sleeves pulled over the elbows and loafers with no socks.

For the Hong Kong Jockey Club, the challenge is to rise to the, well, challenge and show the world that it’s not a one trick pony that’s all about turnover numbers.

It’s 2023 and time to grow some gonads and swim against the tide of mundanity and actually show why it’s not only one of the best racing jurisdictions in the world, but also an organisation with the ability and agility to be a real game changer.

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