Racing is for everyone
Mike Deasy on the promotion of racing, where it leaves a lot to be desired and how it can be done better
Racing is promoted by a number of bodies and commercial organisations. Very little is coordinated, there’s no consistent theme, no universal branding, and the activity is, primarily, for the benefit of each of the different organisations’ priorities.
Those with the most to gain are racecourses, and some of their marketing is of a high standard. Think Jockey Club Racecourses and Ascot. Some smaller racecourses do a good job promoting to their local community.
And there’s some cooperation, such as Go Racing in Yorkshire, but it’s limited.
Bookmakers, too, promote racing with a notable angle of pushing the excitement and glamour of the turf. Their aim is to attract punters betting on other sports to add the racing to their punting portfolios and to attract new customers.
In the respect of racing, the messaging is positive notwithstanding associated problem gambling issues.
ITV Racing, keen to expand their healthy viewing figures, come close to promoting racing in order to attract an across the board wider audience. As the second biggest network and largest commercial broadcaster their reach is enormous and priceless.
If these are the main promoters of the sport, where’s the activity from racing itself?
It’s in the hands of the BHA funded Great British Racing (GBR) which has a wide brief, not only to sell the sport to the British public but, for example, to attract new owners and encourage overseas trainers to run horses in Britain.
It’s too wide a remit.
GBR is just about the only centralised promotional body, but it barely scratches the surface, not least because of limited resources.
Naturally, it has a website. The content is hit and miss. It’s current lead item, posted on 21 October, is about the return of jump racing, centring on Cheltenham’s now completed Showcase meeting, with more on the upcoming appearance of Jump racing superstars, and the new season’s jockeys’ championship.
Still posted on the GBR website is a preview of British Champions Day which took place over two weeks ago. A preview of the St Leger also lingered after the Classic had been run.
Perhaps the most important item is upcoming fixtures. The highlighted link goes no further than 28 October. But it does have a nice pen-picture of each of the tracks staging the week’s racing and links to their respective websites.
However, there’s no content setting out the narrative of the season, highlighting the major meetings and festivals. That was something the Racing Posts Big Jump-off 72-page supplement did so wonderfully well this week.
And there’s limited racing news save for items on landmark wins achieved by jockeys.
Interviews with racing personalities are few and far between and the sport’s heritage is pretty much overlooked.
Wealth of features
Compare that to GBRs opposite number in Ireland, Horse Racing Ireland (HRI), and you’ll see a wealth of features, not least advance news of entries for feature events and previews closer to the day’s racing. Plus, there are interviews with jockeys and trainers, often on video.
They also feed content into the Irish media.
GBR is also responsible for the Champions Series and Ascot’s Champions Day. But there’s a separate website for the season’s finale, diluting its impact. It should be all in one place.
Wherever there are resources for expanded content, principally racecourses, they should be feeding into GBR. And it should be about the equine and human participants, and not PR for the tracks’ catering and hospitality facilities.
There’s a wealth of content on racecourse website setting out where people can buy drinks (ever more resulting in obnoxious behaviour) but little about the races and the runners and riders.
Two websites offering such content are the sister sites Sporting Life and Timeform. They in turn source much from the Press Association. That’s where a good deal of the content can be obtained.
With 112,000 Twitter followers, GBR make better use of social media, concentrating on “soft” news. But, even here, there are frustrations.
A recent Tweet said: “Racing in the Autumn. How great is this time of year?” There was a link, to a very evocative picture of a horse surrounded by autumnal colours, but not to a website feature on autumn racing?
Racing is for everyone
There was phrase used recently that went “Racing is for Everyone”.
It’s a strong statement and one that can be substantiated, whether the sport is watched at the racecourse, in betting shops, in pubs or on TV.
Why not make it the sport’s rallying call with an accompanying logo used consistently by GBR, racecourses, websites, racecards, bookmakers and the media. It’s all-embracing. It’s positive. It’s about what we are.
It wouldn’t be a bad thing if it’s used on racecourse hoardings, giving the sport a valuable shop window. Why isn’t this medium used more for the good of the sport?
There’s another squandered opportunity to promote the sport. Racecards. Ok, you’ve already got the customer to the track, but the sport has a notoriously bad record for achieving repeat business.
A day at the races tends to be just that. One day, probably the same day, every year.
Do racegoers receive discount vouchers (perhaps when they book online) to incentivise them to return to a racecourse. It can be done – witness Rewards 4 Racing, which is more for the frequent racegoer.
But do those who book with R4R racecourses see information about the scheme? Do they leave a racecourse with a fixture list supported by racecourse information across the country?
Is there a link on racecourse websites to GBR, where there should be better content on when and where people can go racing?
I think we know the answers to all of these questions.
There is some incentivisation as I found out recently when I made enquiries about becoming a Newmarket annual member. The price was £510 but I already knew existing members paid £470.
Why the discrepancy I asked? Newmarket likes to reward its existing customers. But it’s a marketing dichotomy. Reward existing customers, or incentivise new ones.
Existing customers are cheaper to keep than acquire new ones, so there’s merit in keeping annual members happy.
The question is, do existing members realise they are being rewarded? Personally, I found £510 a little too warm.
It’s also an example of racecourses looking at customers on an individual track basis. I have annual memberships at Newmarket’s sister tracks in the Jockey Club Group, Cheltenham and Sandown – no incentivisation there for the money I’m already spending with the Group.
At least Arc, with the exception of a handful of race days, offer reciprocal entry across all their tracks.
Book online with a racecourse and, providing you consent, you’ll receive emails from that racecourse about forthcoming meetings, sometimes with early booking incentives.
But, again, it’s on a racecourse-by-racecourse basis. Data, as far as data protection laws allow, should be shared.
Are racecourses scared of a central online marketing effort where there can be increased awareness of when and where other tracks race? Are they worried that they’ll lose business to a rival?
The rivals are more likely to be other leisure pursuits which, like football, cricket and rugby, as well as theme parks and cinemas, offer more frequent opportunities and greater awareness of where people can spend their money.
More should be done to promote racing on a regional basis. After all, there can be long intervals between fixtures at specific racecourses. Might people go racing more often if the profile of surrounding tracks is raised.
Surely the racecourse experience is good enough to attract repeat business, albeit regardless of venue, but it remains elusive whilst courses operate independently of each other.
Annoyingly, racecards tend only to promote their own fixtures and sometimes, like Ascot recently, not even that.
There’s little by way of information about other racecourse or major events, whether regional or nationwide. Sure, there are rival operators, but can’t they see the bigger picture?
Does the Racecourse Association have the buy-in to progress this?
Much of a racecards pagination is made up of the runners, riders, and necessary associated details. There is an obvious cost associated with additional content on the sport’s human and equine athletes.
So, why not introduce a quarterly customer magazine. There’s plenty of available content and, put into a contract publisher’s hands, costs could be covered by advertising.
Bookmakers, sponsors, fashion retailers, hospitality operators, racecourses, syndicates, memorabilia, arts, brewers and distillers are all potential advertisers. There are many more.
RacingTV already has a regular online magazine, GBR produces one for overseas owners and trainers, and Cheltenham recently sent out their Kalendar magazine (I haven’t met anyone yet who knows why it’s called that) which is also available online.
Racegoers at the recent St Leger festival could pick up the latest glossy regional magazine which had a racing theme.
There’s plenty of data gathered by racecourses so there’s a mailing list ready and waiting for both posted copies and online access, plus copies distributed at racecourses.
It’s an ideal opportunity to interview racing personalities and raise their profiles, look behind the scenes, include a regular high-profile columnist (Ed Chamberlin?), map out the quarter’s big events, profile a region’s racecourses, provide a racing glossary, talk to racing staff, feature Injured Jockeys Fund merchandise, look at equine welfare, dig into the archives, have recipes from racecourse chefs, spend “a day in the life of” and include the fixture list.
People leaving racecourse with a decent magazine will see it as added value. And it could be called Racing is for Everyone.