By Hans Ebert

Think about making music. It usually takes days and months to write and record 4-5 songs. And then what? Where and how is it going to be heard? Sure, there are so many delivery and distribution platforms- music streaming sites, downloads, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter etc etc- but how is this music going to be heard over all the other music recorded and using the same marketing and distribution strategies?

Would a music company want what you have? And would they pay for your product and put money behind marketing you as an artist? The last time I looked, the major music companies were busy pruning their artists rosters to focus on the proven and time tested established names whereas newer artists might get signed if there were perhaps some touring guarantees. If not, they might go the Indie route with a smaller label, or decide to go their own way via that DIY route with no safety net under them.

What’s any of this to do with horse racing? Probably everything and nothing. The hardcore racing professional- fans is not the right word- will tell you to forget about marketing and “engaging the customer” and “all that rubbish” as it’s all about getting as many people as possible to bet as much as possible. That if the mantra for opening a successful restaurant is location, location, location, the mantra for racing clubs is turnover, turnover, turnover whereas for the professional gambler, there’s only one chorus and it goes like this: punt, punt, punt.

Maybe, but that’s pretty much a one dimensional and defeatist attitude. But to each their own. We should by now know when to jump off those runaway trains heading nowhere.

If horse racing is to be this basic and hardcore, it’s pretty much like saying to racing clubs, just put on race meetings for that captive market to bet on without any need to expand customer bases, and stop thinking about enhancing this thing called “the customer experience”. Leave good enough alone. But is it “good” enough? Really? Surely, it’s like anything in life: Striking that right balance and not only being a “slave to the system.”

Others will tell you that the sport is all about the horse. But in today’s hard assed, cynical world, that’s like being a bleeding heart liberal or suffering from Pollyanna-type thinking. The wonderful mare Winx will bring racing people and non-racing people to wherever she makes an appearance. But how many times is that?And how does this really add to turnover other than being a great endorsement for horse racing?

This is coming from someone who comes from a creative and marketing background. And coming from this background and the advertising and music industries, there’s a world of difference in the marketing of horse racing to new customer groups, yet also certain similarities to do with breaking artists and any new product. It’s an intriguing challenge.

The rapid success and acceptance of hugely original Maltese-Australian singer-songwriter and one-woman band “looper” Tash Sultana, who first broke on YouTube with her bedroom sessions, shows that one size or one strategy doesn’t fit all. Formulaic thinking attracts no one. Just ask Pepsi and its public relations disaster in using major “influencer” Kendall Jenner in a new commercial that was quickly pulled.

As for Tash Sultana, she’s happened because she dared to be different and make music under her own terms. Her musical bravado and raw recordings clicked with others.

The thinking of how to market horse racing to new customer groups by many in racing clubs is often rigid, and hardcore despite the nattering about “social media” and other buzz phrases. It’s not only contrived, one doubts it’s really a priority. If anything, it’s an add-on- an unnecessary evil because the person at the top has the wherewithal to understand its importance. Why people who barely know their own product become involved in the creative process and marketing-making decisions remains another of those corporate talk mysteries.

Frankly, one wonders how many racing executives even try and understand these customers, and see what they can bring to the sport. This won’t happen while they bumble bees through tunnel vision with blinkers on listening to Adele singing “Hello”. This won’t bring these customers to The Winning Table. More on this later.

This morning, I was texting someone about the irrelevance of racing tipping programmes. This is a personal bugaboo. We moved on to discussing how one can interest and attract those new to horse racing to participate in the sport. Participate.That’s such a keyword in the marketing of everything to do with horse racing, especially when it comes to participating in the different betting types available in Hong Kong.

Being someone who enjoys analysing races and working out “stats”, my texting friend from Australia was veering into hardcore land and more of what happens when caught up in the mire of having access to racing seven days a week. All there was to say was, Yeah, but I am talking about customers in Hong Kong who want everything made as simple as possible- those people who don’t wish to “learn” about “stats”. They simply wish to participate even when it comes to racing a horse with friends, and participate as simply as possible. But how? How does one manage to get anyone to participate about something they know almost nothing about?

It’s like marketing and trying to sell a new artist like Dua Lipa to the music fan who only wants to listen to Rihanna and Drake and Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, and Adele. But that’s always the challenge of marketing: to break down barriers. To connect. Sometimes, to reconnect.

At least in Hong Kong, attending the races, especially at Happy Valley, is a casual social occasion. Remember fun? Going racing at Happy Valley is fun. It’s inter-active fun with an added element of friendly competition even amongst friends.

All the venues at Happy Valley- Adrenaline, Gallery, Millions, the Racing Club, the New Owners Club and, of course, the Beer Garden, provide a great night out. It’s the people who makes this happen. The designs of the venues and what they offer help create and heighten the experience.

While the professional punters might be at home or wherever they congregate betting into the tote and being the key drivers of turnover, on track are those who, yes, watch and dabble in the outcome of the races, but still wonder what more there’s to do during those twentysomething minutes between each race. The Beer Garden provides one answer through the ‘live’ music, booths selling all kinds of food and drink, and enough space for a very international group of people to connect with each other. It makes those twentysomething minutes fly.

All that talk for television audiences filtering into venues like Adrenaline, that’s just an unnecessary and unwelcome distraction. It only results in people either turning a deaf ear to what’s being said, or trying to hear each other over all these other voices seemingly coming out of nowhere like an attack by a murder of crows.

The breaks for ‘live’ music between races create an atmosphere and adds to that “customer experience” while the dinner buffets available with a nice glass of red means you’re set for a night at the races. It’s civilised fun from around 7pm to an hour after the last race has been run.

This is where something as simple as The Jockey Challenge based on a points system is a strong product to promote to create inter-activity amongst friends- and something that everyone can participate in.

And though champion jockey Joao Moreira is almost always the favourite to take out the Jockey Challenge, at Happy Valley, he’s not the dominant force he is when riding in Shatin. Why?

Though both of his biggest supporters have runners at Happy Valley, the very powerful John Size and John Moore stables don’t have the strength in numbers that they do at the smaller city track.

This opens things up for trainers like Caspar Fownes, known as “The King Of The Valley”, pictured below with Zac Purton, local trainers like Me Tsui, Almond Lee, Dennis Yip, Danny Shum, Chris So, Benno Yung, Peter Ho, Manfred Man etc.

It also offers greater opportunities to win for lesser known jockeys like Vincent Ho, below, Alex Lai, Ben So and Keith Yeung along with the apprentices Kei Chiong, Dylan Mo and new kid in town Matthew Poon.

Its interesting to note that though Joao Moreira has won three of the last six Jockey Challenges at Happy Valley, he was beaten on the other three occasions.

It’s a more level playing field at Happy Valley- a more chilled racing experience, which really gives everyone a chance to win- and participate.

Looking around at the international appeal of what Adrenaline offers to many, and knowing the more local customers who frequent the Gallery, what’s obvious is that those at every table who know something about the sport, mainly make their decisions based on which jockey to follow. And if they have no idea about any of the riders, they might still follow them because of their nationality, their looks, their name. Whatever. It’s their call.

This is racing’s DIY world. To them, tips and all those “stats” are ignored. They’re not at the races to be educated and force-fed facts and figures. They’re at the races to unwind. There’s never the urge to win by sitting at the table of a casino for hours on end saying, Hit me. Or ever wishing to become part of the past and a typical “racing uncle”.

The key thing is that the Jockey Challenge is ready made for everyone to participate in with help at every venue from the Club’s bevy of Racing Specialists, who are there to help everyone with answers to questions, which tickets to fill in correctly etc. They’re there to help everyone participate- it’s that word again. These Racing Specialists are not only knowledgeable about the sport, they’re also very attractive. It helps participation.

If at the end of the night, there’s a prize for The Winning Table at every venue, this would certainly evolve into whatever comes next along with enticing more participation, and with regulars quickly graduating to understanding how the other exotic bet types work.

Social media might have its place in the marketing of horse racing. But as a USP, there’s nothing better than that regular- it must be regular- on-course experience. It’s something tangible and nothing nebulous. It’s regularly bringing the sport closer and within touching distance of those who make the time to attend the races every Happy Wednesday- regularly.

Perhaps the music and even advertising industries can learn something from a racing club like the HKJC that has the hardware and a ready-made audience on-course and online. It’s where all manner of software have the perfect and most unique multi-media platform. It’s knowing how to use it. And for the HKJC to recognise this key asset and bargaining tool.