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Horse Racing’s HUGE opportunity

Oscar Foulkes September 20, 2013 Digital, Social media No comments
This piece was first published in Parade magazine.

Risks and hazards. Two apparently similar words, in that the outcomes are similar, but with substantially different meanings.

A risk is an event that is possible, but unpredictable, like the car that comes crashing off the street, through the large window, and into a restaurant, where it critically injures unsuspecting diners.

A hazard is the same restaurant, where uncooked ingredients are not kept in the cold chain and kitchen hygiene is poor, with the result that diners get food poisoning. Hazard is the rusty chain links on the playground swing, the faulty brakes on the bus transporting 80 passengers. You get the picture.

Horse racing is facing an uncertain future, which requires the assessment of a variety of risks. However, the industry also faces substantial hazards. The first, as raised by Brian Kantor at the Investec Summerhill conference, is one of insider trading. I’m not avoiding the issue, but I’d rather park that discussion for another time. The second, the subject under discussion here, involves the industry’s digital preparedness.

By digital, I mean all online activity, whether it is on websites, social media or apps. It includes communication, commercial transactions, and research.

By every measurement possible – and the beauty of digital is how measurable everything is – anything to do with digital is growing. Take your pick of online shopping, social media, or YouTube videos, not to mention the number of mobile phones with internet capability. Even if you aren’t on Twitter, Facebook, or buying your groceries online, you can be fairly certain that almost every person under the age of 30 is.

For the next waves of consumers, if it isn’t online, it doesn’t exist. Not being digitally active in a meaningful way is like making the decision that you’re getting ready to close your business.

It is a common lament that horse racing has suffered from diminished mainstream media coverage (i.e. newspapers, television and radio). Guess what, digital gives us the opportunity of delivering a richer experience for our customers, with a deeper level of engagement. Plus, it’s almost instant, and dissemination is effectively free, once the platform/channel has been established. The value of not just creating a good flow of information, but owning the media channel as well, is enormous.

Instead of a static list of races and runners, newspaper style, you can have a dynamic system that allows for deeper form study. You can have videos of past races, and people can bet directly off the platform. Plus, because the number of column inches allowed in the newspaper’s budget does not constrain you, there is hardly any limitation on the amount of information or interpretation you can deliver. With a little extra coding, you can write wizards that enable punters to implement their own strategies or models. And, this can all be delivered via a smart phone app.

Combine this with social media tools, like Twitter, and you have a very powerful, real-time communication platform. Every race gives opportunities for generating content for ‘the stream’. Other social media tools, like Facebook and Instagram, are tailor made for the ‘faces-at-the-races’, social and glamour components of a race day.

YouTube is already in its ninth year. Considering its relative maturity, its growth rate is extraordinary. The company announced recently that its users are now watching 6 billion hours of video every month, up from 4 billion a year ago. That is a 50% leap, which is probably part of the reason why YouTube has set up its own professional production studios in Los Angeles to enable content producers do an even better job. So, hard on the heels of the cable networks taking on Hollywood, YouTube is doing the same. The bottom line: people love consuming video.

The beauty is that it’s very easy for horse racing operators to be active in video, with their own ‘channels’. With all that action content being generated every day, it’s a no-brainer. The other opportunity is for short, sharp previews and reviews. I’m talking about 60 seconds, maximum, in which a race is discussed, or an insightful post-race interview is delivered. Apart from the fact that Tellytrack sits on a subscription service and is therefore limited in its reach, one has to watch it all day to catch the gems. A well-curated YouTube channel would enable people to remain in touch and informed by dipping into the source for just a few minutes per day.

Social media offers additional opportunities, beyond telling punters about last-minute jockey changes or overweight declarations. I’ll acknowledge that a Twitter account in the wrong hands can be a dangerous thing. But, what it could do is to enable ‘relationships’ to be formed with jockeys, who are a huge untapped opportunity for celebrity. Trainers fall into a similar bracket.

Yes, celebrity may well be superficial, but it’s a fact of life on the marketing landscape. Celebrity sells.

Horses can be celebrities – look at Frankel and Black Caviar – but they’re around for a couple of years and then they retire. Jockeys are superb athletes, who can perform at the highest level for decades (golfers do something similar, although they generally carry a lot more condition!).

Digital is clearly a solution I’m passionate about. Even if you think it is an exaggeration to say that failing to embrace digital would be hazardous for the future of the horse racing industry, surely you agree what huge opportunities it brings?



How well do you know your Facebook friends?

Oscar Foulkes September 5, 2013 Social media No comments
At an event this week, I noticed someone across the room whom I thought looked like one of my Facebook friends. Apologies for defining the relationship, but it is relevant, as you’ll soon see.

I could have said that I saw a person across the room whom I had not seen for close on 12 years. In that case, my faltering memory, combined with the small changes resulting from bodies getting older, would have been understandable. But this is someone I feel I know well enough to share not necessarily intimate, but certainly personal information or images. I’ve seen her cat pictures (true story), as well as the other snippets she has chosen to share with her Facebook friends (although clearly no selfies!).

My point is this: we are ‘friends’ with a bunch of people, about those who choose to post to Facebook we may know a great deal, but would we recognise them if we bumped into them unexpectedly?

I would classify myself as a cautious Facebook friender, but even I have over 300 ‘friends’. With very few exceptions – which I’ll get to in a moment – they are all people I’ve met, although not necessarily people with whom I may socialise. And, there are many people I see all the time – real life friends – who aren’t Facebook friends, but it would just seem weird at this stage of our friendship to send a friend request.

Right, people I haven’t met. The main one goes back to the early days of Facebook, when automatic friend requests were sent to entire email address books. One of these is so entertaining that I have never got around to unfriending her. And, this, I think is the crux. People who are actively posting interesting or entertaining content – the ones who contribute – are harder to let go of.

Facebook enables us to keep in touch with people on the other side of the globe, as I do with my New York friends Will and William, who are not only life partners, but also share a birthday (more a case of Will.we.are than Seeing their Facebook updates isn’t the same as going for yum cha on a Sunday morning, but it’s better than being completely absent.

Spare a thought for Millennials, who not only have many more Facebook friends than their parents, but who made those friends when everyone was really youthful. Imagine a chance meeting of a few of those in 30 years’ time!

Guiding businesses in their social media strategies is part of what I do. I’d say that individuals need that kind of strategy as well. Choosing not to be part is a strategy, but once we get into the space we need to make choices about how we are going to use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest.

As powerful as these tools may be, there is nothing that beats face-to-face contact. If you can remember what your friends look like!