The recent Asia-Africa Tote Association conference in South Africa attracted delegates from around the world, generated considerable column inches in the national press and - most important - laid the foundations for a much-needed blueprint for bringing the crowds back to the Sport of Kings.
The conference, hosted by Phumelela Gaming, was held at Kenilworth three days before the Cape Town racecourse staged the Sun Met’s richest raceday in Africa.
Richard Cheung, Chairman of AATA and Executive Director, Customer & Marketing, of the Hong Kong Jockey Club stressed that: “The annual AATA Conference, this being the third time after ones held in Hong Kong and Sydney, aims to be an important forum in fostering continuous best practice exchange, joint research and networking among AATA members and tote operators. This year’s theme of ‘EMBRACING A BRAVE NEW WORLD’ is particularly fitting in today’s fast changing market landscape.”
One of the challenges facing horseracing is not that its audience has dwindled, but that people are looking at it away from the racecourse. “Many people argue that racing is in the doldrums with less and less people going,” said Paul Cross, General Manager of Australian wagering company Tabcorp. “But in fact there are more eyeballs watching racing today than there have ever been.”
Richard Brooke, chairman of GBI Racing, which televises 1,800 British and Irish races a year, echoed this by saying: “Six million people went racing there last year. It is popular, well-attended and big business.”
But it was Mark Steinhobel, founder and chairman of marketing group VWV, who both identified the problem and came up with the solution. Both centre on the millennials, which he defined as those aged between 18 and 34.
“This age group is by far the largest on the planet, it comprises your future customers, punters and racegoers,” he said. “But they are spoilt for choice. Everybody wants a piece of their action and, to get it, racing is going to have to give these people the experiences they are looking for.”
He suggested that racing people, well known for their insular attitude and nothing-else-matters views, should stop taking themselves so seriously. “I know the traditions of racing go back a long way and, while you may alienate some of the older racegoers, the alternative is a long slow slide into obscurity.”
A recent survey of millennials asked them what would persuade them to go racing at Kenilworth. The top three answers were a party, free drink and the Met. Steinhobel said: “If the millennials do go, and find it a compelling experience, thousands and thousands will hear about it because these people stream everything and spend an hour a day on social media.”
Phumelela CEO Rian du Plessis echoed this, adding a need for change, and said: “We have got to reach the younger generation but, if we can only offer them the same as we did in the past, we will fail.”
The theme of the conference was “EMBRACING A BRAVE NEW WORLD” and Fluxtrends founder Dion Chang spoke of business disruption and said the “millennial mind-set is creating additional challenges for industries such as horseracing”.
Adrian Ford, general manager of British-based Football Dataco, spoke of the lessons racing can learn from football while the experience of Hong Kong, where racing is rich and hugely popular after being the only legal form of gambling for a long time, was another key topic.
There were calls for jockeys to wear cameras (jockey-cams) and for the pictures to be relayed on social media together with those taken by drones flying above the horses. Both would appeal to the millennials.