Racing needs to move with the times

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 October, 2011, 12:00am


Two conferences early last week in Paris and London tried to address racing's decreasing share of the wagering world last week, with one resorting to older, failed solutions and another looking more towards the future.

The keynote speaker at the inaugural Leaders in Racing conference in London, Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, addressed racing's diminishing share of the global betting market and warned that racing needed rebranding and structural changes to reposition itself and that included a reference to the lack of vertical integration.

Of course, he spoke from a position of advantage. Hong Kong is an exception.

The Jockey Club owns everything - the racecourses, the betting, the prize-money levels, sponsorship rights, race programming and the vital component of the audio-visual presentation of racing. It is already vertically integrated to the eyeballs.

Granted, it isn't easy in other jurisdictions where rights to all these elements of the sport, most notably betting and live and archived video are in many different hands and jealously guarded. But they must be high on the to-do lists.

Just a day or two earlier in Paris, at the annual post-Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe conference of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, it was interesting to note speakers still calling on racing to have better relationships with free-to-air television in efforts to reach an audience. It's a call as old as racing itself - well, all right, not quite, but as old as just about anyone in racing has been alive.

Free-to-air television does have reach and is still a knee-jerk kind of option for racing administrators, but its great days have passed and it is steadily heading for dinosaur status and the future must be in new media, owned and provided by racing authorities themselves.

Racing doesn't own its free-to-air space, it pays for it and, in most cases around the world, racing is then subjected to the whims and designs of television stations, instead of having control over its presentation.

The result is often an embarrassing, clunky presentation of dresses, hats and celebrity spotting, with racing itself playing second fiddle, as we will no doubt see during the borrowed coverage of big-race meetings in Australia and elsewhere for simulcasts in the coming weeks. An appearance by Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton or some carbon copy of them, will be only a fascinator away at every step.

The beauty of internet media is that racing authorities themselves can own it, design it, provide it - even charge for it if they feel that is the path down which to proceed. Or not, if the benefits of free internet access for a targeted audience are seen to be greater.

Engelbrecht-Bresges told the conference that racing had, as yet, taken only five per cent of the online wagering market, dwarfed by the 40 per cent grabbed by sports betting.

Vital in that particular quest is the ability to webcast racing for a customer-friendly cost, own the production and provide something fresh to it.

Anyone can sit on their computer and watch, for free, the live presentation over the internet of so humble a racing organisation as the Macau Jockey Club. Serious, A-level jurisdictions should have such a presentation down as critical for their future.

Of course, certain regulatory obstacles exist to just anyone then participating in such a scenario by having a bet online, but perhaps the future of that obstacle lies alongside the future of commingling.