Horse racing in Australia is made up of numerous industry sectors across six states and one territory.
To anyone outside the industry, horse racing in Australia is the sum total of all its parts. A mention of the sport in general terms includes the racedays, training, wagering, breeding, bloodstock sales and ownership, at every level, in every state.
For those of us working and participating in horse racing on a daily basis, it can be hard to evaluate the industry at a macro-level. We get caught up in our day-to-day lives within our industry sector and state, and struggle to see the forest for the trees.
It’s an easy trap to fall into. At the end of the day, we’re all simply trying to be the best at what we do, and make a dollar in the process.
But this inward focus causes us to look for our threats in the wrong place. We get caught up debating details among ourselves and neglect the bigger picture.
Micro-level factors like programming changes and stewards’ inquiries appropriately matter to us within the industry, of course, but they’re irrelevant to the majority of Australians that racing doesn’t reach.
The public judge the racing industry by completely different standards. So from time to time it is important to take a step back and assess horse racing as non-industry people assess it.
No part of the industry stands alone.
A weakness in one sector affects the overall health and performance of the national industry ecosystem. Conversely, with an increase in general popularity, the entire industry grows and everybody benefits.
A couple of weeks back, Punters.com.au posed a challenge to its readership: ‘Why do we let the public get away with thinking [horse racing] is nothing more than a breeding ground for chronic gamblers?’ Interestingly, the Isentia research conducted around the 2016 Melbourne Cup found that, again, it was the younger demographic (18-24) that had the highest proportion of engagement with negative posts about gambling.
How Australia’s wider society views horse race wagering is crucial to our industry’s future. Less wagering means less prize money. Less prize money and bloodstock investment falls. Without owners, trainers have empty stables, and breeders have no buyers for their yearlings
There are no tangible borders that separate racing in one state from another either. A horse breaking down in the Melbourne Cup and the media aftermath has as much impact on the general perception of horse racing in New South Wales and Western Australia as it does in Victoria.
That’s why we must tackle perception issues as one industry, at a national level.
We can tap into innovation & creativity.
There are wonderful examples of creative marketing by companies that have recognised the challenge to reach beyond our current pool of participants.
One of the best at producing content is Godolphin. Their short form social media videos are both educational and entertaining. One of their recent videos featured an off the track racehorse going through a programme of re-training to join the police force. Another showed the fostering of a young foal onto a nurse mare.
Likewise, the sales companies have been innovative in their efforts to reach new audiences. For example, Magic Millions has invested in ownership incentives, like the women’s syndicate bonus; fan experiences, such as galloping horses down the Gold Coast beach for the barrier draw; and alignment with other equine sports, like their polo day which now forms part of the wider Magic Millions Carnival.
Marketing initiatives, such as those facilitated by Godolphin and Magic Millions, create positive horse racing experiences that have the potential to reach a broad audience. But actually reaching the masses – the millions of Australians outside the industry that we do not currently engage – is outside the marketing budget and scope of any single company.
The effort of individual organisations can only go so far.
Magic Millions Managing Director, Vin Cox, has recognised the most significant future threat to their business is the overall appeal of horse racing to Australians:
“We identified several years ago that the demographic of the domestic bloodstock investor was particularly narrow, and getting narrower. Since then, we’ve been looking specifically at how we can broaden the profile and attract the next generation of Australians to invest in thoroughbreds.
The Magic Millions Women’s Bonus was introduced to help open horse ownership to females, a sector of the market that had been neglected. We started the polo event this year to widen the appeal of the Magic Millions carnival, and hopefully it is a way for horse enthusiasts to engage with Magic Millions and eventually horse racing.
Historically, the biggest challenge for the Australian bloodstock market was attracting overseas investment. It took time, and significant marketing effort by breeders, Aushorse, Inglis and Magic Millions to show the world that we bred and sold top-class racehorses – as good as you could find anywhere on the globe.
Our next challenge is a domestic one. It’s something we’ll continue to tackle at a Magic Millions level, but our success will no doubt reflect the appeal of horse racing as a sport. If the industry can get organised at a national industry level with a comprehensive plan, we are far more likely to be successful than if we rely on businesses trying to address it individually.”
A national challenge requires a national solution.
Facilitating a national promotional strategy for horse racing is not as simple as handing the job to the state Principal Racing Authorities (Racing Victoria, Racing NSW and so on).
Their duty of care is to the state governments who appoint their boards and to racing’s stakeholders in each state. Their list of responsibilities is already enormous: they regulate, administer and co-ordinate racing every single day.
It’s not the responsibility of Tabcorp, or the corporate bookmakers.
It’s not the job of owners, breeders, trainers or jockeys, or their representative industry bodies to fund and implement a solution.
It’s everybody’s job. Isolated initiatives launched by individual industry sectors or states without the support and input of all will not achieve the degree of cut-through required.
The solution requires a holistic, integrated, well-funded and long-term commitment by all parties to develop a national brand that re-positions thoroughbred racing within Australian society.
It’s our best opportunity to get back on the pace, and ensure that Australian racing’s future is as long & illustrious as its past.