23 Feb 2010 Pre-2014 Releases

Ladies and Gentlemen

A year ago at this conference my Chairman, Chris McFadden, summarised the need for racing to promote itself to a broader consumer audience and introduced the brand consultants, Harrison Fraser, who shared their initial findings on the challenges and opportunities ahead.

A great deal of work has taken place since then and much has been publicised.

I would like to use this next fifteen minutes to look ahead at the work Racing for Change is undertaking. If 2009 was a year of research and development, 2010 will be a year of action. But it is worth recapping, for a moment, on what we are aiming to achieve:

The RfC initiative came about following cross stakeholder recommendations that racing needed to review its position in the sporting, leisure and betting marketplace.       

This was not a capricious recommendation but one based on powerful indicators that the sport faced challenge.  

As a start point two channels of communication were opened – one with our internal stakeholders- the other with consumers.

There are those, I know, who feel that the internal consultation was needlessly extensive or even unnecessary but they are wrong.

If racing was structured like a large retailer with a CEO, a board and supportive shareholders, we may indeed be able to move at a faster pace: The shareholders approve the board; board approves the strategy, CEO gets on with delivering it.

But racing is not structured that way, nor is it likely to be any time soon.

The racing industry is made up of businesses, organisations and associations, with different priorities and, in some cases, needs that are diametrically opposed.

Therefore, consultation was not only important, it was fundamental to bringing about change. Only by properly involving its stakeholders does racing have a chance to effect change – without consultation, there is no buy-in and without buy-in there is no commitment.

So we spoke to a considerable number of senior and not so senior stakeholders across all sectors to build a picture of where they felt racing was heading and what we could do about it.

At the same time we entered into extensive research with consumers – regular racegoers, occasional racegoers, non-racing leisure goers and sports punters to get their insights on the sport.

Supporting this activity were brand workshops, project groups and regular reviews of progress.

There was always going to be disparity between the views of consumers and seasoned insiders but it was very encouraging that the unifying theme was that racing had’ assets to die for’. Our heritage, drama, speed, colour and spectacle were seen as a fantastic platform from which to deliver the sport to a wider audience.

But in a sea deep in detail and opinion what rose to the surface were four key issues:

·                    We understand our sport perfectly well but make it hard for the non-aficionado to follow.

·                    We rarely reach the non-racing media with our stories.

·                    Racing’s relationship with the betting industry does not lend itself to innovation.

·                    There is much racing could do to enhance the customer experience.

It was these insights to which we have reacted and they make up the four pillars of the RfC project.

Leading the project is the RfC board, selected for its relevance to the project and ability to bring about change – hence the CEO’s of our regulator and funder – hence the chairman of the RCA – hence the nominated representatives of RUK and ATR and hence a representative of the Horsemen’s group. With that particular person representing over 10,000 members, I feel we are keeping it pretty lean!

RfC’s most recent recruit is Wilf Walsh, who brings blue chip experience from the betting and consumer industries.

In a year of action the first pillar is to Tell Our Stories Better.

What we mean by this for racing to reach beyond its own sections in the media and to gain coverage in the wider sporting press and feature pages.

Racecourses and sponsors do a fantastic job at a local, regional and, occasionally, a national level but there has been no co-ordinated central strategy to make the most of our assets.

We have missed opportunities with Tony McCoy’s stunning 3,000 winner landmark, Sea the Stars and many others.

 Our intention is to make the most of such opportunities and engage with a much broader audience by making the stories relevant to each sector.

In the simplest terms, it’s about getting racing into everyday conversations. The Americans call it water cooler moments. A more relevant British phrase perhaps is ‘getting it talked about down the pub’. Whatever the phrase, the focus needs to be on making it interesting.

Nick Attenborough has recently been appointed Director of Consumer PR and supported by a small team has been tasked with delivering a promotional plan for 2010 –aimed at securing regular coverage across the non-racing media – from print, to broadcast to online.

Blessed with so many angles – the sporting action, the drama, the betting, the fashion, the supreme fitness of our jockeys, not to mention the magnificence of the racehorse – Nick has plenty to work with.

The second pillar is to develop proactive relationships with bookmakers.

What we mean by that is that racing has to address its decline in market share directly with people who have the power to help reverse it.

The betting landscape has changed and we must face up to it.

A couple of decades ago, a young person pre-disposed to having a flutter would have been educated on horseracing. Other than greyhounds, there was little else in the shops. And there was no online market.

The wall space in betting shops meant something – it had to be read.

New entrants to betting today are more likely to have a punt on Man Utd’s first goal scorer or the X-Factor or will simply put their money in a Fixed Odds Betting Terminal.

Horseracing no longer has ‘first dibs’ on the punter.

We have two choices:

Accept our fate, wait another ten years and bemoan the further and inexorable decline in market share.

Or get on the front foot and tackle the issue.

And we choose the latter. It will not be easy to persuade commercial operators to shift emphasis from products that are, in many cases, offering higher margins but we must be positive.

Racing, though, remains a huge draw for the betting shop customer and we should make the most of it.

Nigel Roddis, REL’s development director, has been tasked with this

As an example of our activity he is working on the possibility of a branded feature handicap in the same time slot every Saturday: Something that draws attention to the wall space; something that focuses on a specific bet; something on which the Saturday football punter might have a tenner.

In addition to new innovations we need to better interrogate the data we receive from bookmakers and understand what works best for them in terms of what we produce and how we show it.

The third pillar of RfC is to Deliver A Memorable Customer Experience.

The fruits of our labours in promoting the sport and attracting new consumers will be squashed underfoot if we don’t at least match the customers’ expectations. And that customer group is diverse – it means owners and trainers and jockeys and well as occasional and regular racegoers. It means members of the press. All customers: All with different needs.

The past year has thrown up hundreds of things we can do to enhance to customers’ experience and get them to return – hopefully on a more regular basis.

 It is not proposed to prescribe this to the UK’s 60 racecourses. We can’t.

Neither do we believe a homogenised racing experience is desired or achievable. Every course, large or small, has its own particular charm.

What we are aiming to achieve – this year – is the introduction of numerous consumer friendly initiatives through trial at as many racecourses as possible.

The Racecourse Association’s response to this has been superb and we have a great many willing participants who will be introducing measure to simplify the betting experience to newcomers, launch new catering products, try new technological innovations and present the racing show in a more dynamic format – including a better understanding of the central character – the racehorse.

Connected to this activity is a detailed consumer audit of a number of large and small racecourses detailing every aspect of the customer journey; where we do it well; where we do it less well. And the recommendations on how we do it better.

These findings, along with the results of our trial initiatives, will be shared amongst the 60 racecourses.

The objective of this is to encourage best practice and competition among the courses and we’re confident that many pioneering courses will grab the opportunity to further improve their offering. Jon Williams – our Project Manager- has been tasked with delivering this part of the project.  

I have left the fourth and most complex pillar until last.

Leading with our premier products and defining our seasons, championships and finales.

As a retailer of horseracing it makes perfect sense to put our best products in the shop window.

And our consumer research made it most clear that people like something that is simple to understand and simple to follow: A beginning, middle and an end; a narrative; characters to care about; winners and losers.

An enormous amount of time and energy has been invested in addressing this issue. It is complex. The move of a single fixture, like a falling domino, has an impact on the next tile, and the next one….

The move of a Group 1 race and fixture, steeped in culture, requires buy-in and commitment from numerous stakeholders, not least the racecourses.

Added to this is the huge diversity of opinion surrounding what is meant by premiership, championship and finale.

During the period of consultation, more than one meeting has included table thumping indignation at the move of the Derby from a Wednesday to a Saturday. If some stakeholders are still smarting about a fixture move made fifteen years ago – imagine how challenging it is to discuss one for next year!

During this process we have, with predictable regularity, fallen into the trap of having ‘internal’ discussions and losing sight of this being an exercise to engage with more consumers. Karl Oliver, the Project Director for this exercise has done a great job in reminding us of that.

It has been tricky. It has been frustrating.

But we are moving forward, albeit more slowly than we would have liked and have some initial changes planned – designed to better explain our sport to a broader audience.

It is only the start and we remain focussed on a more ambitious destination.

First and foremost we do not believe that the actual racing seasons need changing. They are familiar to our core audience and we have no reason not to celebrate the champion Flat jockey in November or for the jumps season to end in a fantastic party at Sandown.

What we do intend to define – for as many new consumers as we can reach – are our premier products – giving them a chance to follow either the Flat or Jumps or both in a more dynamic format.

The resounding feedback from consumers in relation to the premier product was that we need to tell them what it is, when it is and why it matters. It needs a distinct look and feel and a dynamic presentational format.

Racing’s current products are perceived to be confusing, irrelevant and in presentational terms, boring.

Flat Racing

The RfC Board has recommended that the framework for a new Premier Flat season is introduced in 2011.  We have identified where the season will begin and end and what most of the key races in the programme will be, but the detail needs to be agreed.

It is our aspiration that the season’s end is marked by a new championship fixture which will celebrate the best of British flat racing and, in particular, the champion three year olds and older horses. The long term aim is that we develop a new, world class occasion at which the participation of Britain’s best horses and leading owners, trainers and jockeys is not in question. The objective is that the premier season’s finale is a ‘must attend’ racing event with international appeal, ensuring that the best horses seen throughout the summer are there – a fitting climax to the European Flat Racing season.  

It has also been recommended that a number of midweek championship flat races are moved to Saturdays and this proposal is now under consideration by the racecourses involved.

We will not get there in one step: In year one, what will link the opening of the season, the feature events and its climax will be branded identity and a significant promotional focus on these events, driven by the need to showcase our best products to the widest possible television audience.

We are currently not at our desired destination, so this is simply the start of change. There is much to be done: Racecourses are having important discussions on fixtures, races and funding right now. When we have the initial package we will share it.

The Jumps Season

There is general agreement that the jumps season is better developed and has a clearer narrative.

None the less, we are taking the same approach as with the Flat season and creating a branded framework to promote the best of the jumps. Our focus will be the British Jumps Championship – which will run from The Cheltenham Open meeting in November, culminating in the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Serious consideration was given to making the Grand National meeting the finale to the jumps season but it was agreed that this unique premier occasion stood perfectly well on its own, with its feature race the only horserace currently reaching the widest consumer audience. Such is the focus of media attention on the Grand National itself, it was felt that ending a championship on this occasion would be competing with the best established race in the world.

Further to feedback from the consultation, it was decided not to progress the proposal for qualifying races for Cheltenham, at least at this stage.

In recognition of the interdependence between horseracing and betting – it is proposed that every Saturday of the year will feature a high value handicap, ideally racing in a fixed time slot, designed to maximise betting opportunities and to create a new area of focus on the walls of Britain’s 8,000 plus betting offices.

Over the next few months we will focus on the commercial aspects relating to these strategies – increasing prize money – new sponsorship agreements – the premier season awards to the participants and brand identities.

In time for November 2010, we will be presenting and promoting our premier events in a different and distinct way.  By that, we mean they should look different when broadcast, have a distinct identity in the press and online –particularly as racecards and have their own accolades.

Delivering all this means a collaborative effort between racing’s many stakeholders and, ultimately, the extent of our success will be reflected in direct proportion to the extent of our collective will to do things differently.    

For racing’s many internal customers and fans, very little will change and we have been mindful throughout the process of not alienating our existing fan base. At the same time, we have to explain ourselves better to the other 90% of the population – and reap the benefits of capturing but a small percentage of them.

Racing’s central marketing and promotional focus, then, will be on the Premier Flat Season and British Jumps Championship.

We will no longer try to explain to the outside world that the jump racing season starts in April less than 24 hours after it ends and that the Flat racing season starts at Doncaster in March a couple of weeks before the world’s greatest steeplechase is run and before the jumps season ends, culminating in a finale in November, after its many of its champions have been finished racing.

We will simply say “this is when the really good stuff begins and ends.”

How, over a full year, racing decides to award its various accolades, to its many competitors, is a matter for us.

Team Championship

The notion of a team championship featuring trainers and jockeys in a short, easy to follow, competition tested poorly with our stakeholders, many of whom struggled to visualise how the concept would work in a busy racing calendar. It may have also been undermined by being included in premier discussions when, ultimately, its format was more suited to lower rated horses.

However, when tested with consumers, particularly sports fans, they completely got it and liked the idea of a series they could follow over a short period, getting to know the participants and developing a view on the outcome.

In listening to the consumer on this issue, the RfC board has therefore approved the trial of a team event, in 2010 if circumstances allow but certainly in 2011. The purpose of this trial will be to produce an exciting format which brings racing to a new audience with the right media partner. Details of the proposed format will be released soon.

Reaching a younger audience

The importance of reaching a younger audience has been overplayed at times.

We have been clear throughout about the process that racing is blessed with the characteristics to attract the widest consumer demographic – from families to greys to twenty year-olds.

Racecourses, in particular, recognise this and do a fantastic job in promoting horseracing through its many themed events.

None the less, there is an underlying logic to a strategy of ‘catching people while they are young’ and racing should ensure it makes a great impression on people during their formative years.

The problem is it’s initially unrewarding. We let kids in for free. We aim to attract students who have no disposable income. There is no early payback.

However, if we’re brave and play the long game, racing has an opportunity to secure its customers of the future. Forthcoming activity, as a result of recommendations from the Ownership and Industry group, will focus on taking racing to sizeable youth markets. 

All the good ideas

During the detailed consultation we have generated hundreds upon hundreds of ideas and suggestions to help make our sport more accessible, enjoyable and exciting.

Over the coming year we will be rolling a considerable number of them out – in trial format – with many willing partners, particularly racecourses – which is where racing most often comes into contact with its customers.

We have been asked on numerous occasions “where are all the ideas?” and have responded that we have plenty.

Critical to their success though is launching them in a controlled manner and measuring their effect. It’s also important to work on the detail of an idea to give it every chance of success. Racing, sadly, has a track record for strangling initiatives at birth (and occasionally likes to prevent the conception!)

Rest assured, further to the ten new initiatives launched in January, a new set is just around the corner, followed by more.    

On the subject of ideas it has surprised me during this project how many people have assumed that there is one ‘big idea’ or radical move that will improve racing’s prospects.

There isn’t, for two reasons:

·                    There are many different factors in the challenges we face – there is no single fix.

·                    Racing is not currently structured to act radically. It has the potential to but we need to have the collective confidence to be able to be so.

A successful leap forward for racing will be a composite of doing many things differently. Better storytelling, winning new punters, pleasing more customers and promoting the best of what we have to offer; doing a thousand things 1% better, if you like.

Not everything we do will work but that’s the point of trial. We should have the courage to innovate, building on what works and analysing what doesn’t – dropping it if we need to.

In doing so, we’ll create a virtuous circle, giving ourselves the confidence to push the boundaries a bit further and take a few more risks.

It will be vital, of course, to measure the effect of our endeavours and we are currently agreeing the criteria against which we should judge progress and success. This will include, amongst other things, market share of betting, broadcast rights fees, racecourse attendance, new sponsorship income and racing’ demographic audience profile. That will be supported by regular consumer research. 

On the subject of risk we need to retain that sense of fun so prevalent in racing beyond the industry’s politics. The vast majority of people working in the industry – from racecourses to studs – do so because they choose to: Few trainers are marched to the entrance of a stable and instructed train racehorses. Most owners enter racing as an antidote to the toil and pressure of their own businesses. And there are a lot less interesting industries than bookmaking in which to work.

So, mindful of that, we should encourage a sense of fun and adventure over the next few years and see where it takes us.