ASIAN RACING CONFERENCE
Hong Kong 2014
Globalisation and innovative technology have closed the gap of global boundaries, thus making the business environment more dynamic. At the 35th Asian Horseracing Conference (ARC) held in Hong Kong in May 2014, the fundamental question asked was: How do organisations achieve and sustain long-term survival in a competitive and multifaceted environment? Four pillars were adopted to try and answer this question and were dubbed the four C’s - Customer, Compete, Connect and Create.
The previous three conferences have focused on the challenges to our industry and ways of addressing them. One of these challenges included a stagnant consumer demand for horseracing due to a lack of participation from the younger generation. The Hong Kong Jockey Club (HKJC) formulated an in-depth and complete customer analysis of their current and potential customers. They focused on customer behaviour and how their time is spent. It was interesting to note that through this process, they realised the racing product itself, in terms of quality of racing, field size and integrity, was not the problem. Rather, there was found to be a need to focus on creating a customer experience that addressed the wants of all the different segments; becoming more “customer eccentric” is vital to the sustainable growth of the industry.
Connecting with the customer was one of the sessions that I most enjoyed. It aligned the two C’s, “customer and create”, together. The focus was on racing strategies that could be used to understand customers. It challenged the members of the horseracing industry to shift our current paradigm from focusing not only on what the potential customers want, but rather on us evolving into strategic visionaries who are able to anticipate their future wants, becoming the market changers-and-shapers. As Steve Jobs once said: “How does somebody know what they want, if they haven’t even seen it?”
Innovation and technology seem to be synonymous in the 21st Century. The digital revolution has resulted in customers demanding so much more from the horseracing industry, not only in the form of wagering platforms, but also in the way of entertainment value. As the moderator introduced the session Cutting Edge Technology in Sports and TV (and whatever the next medium may be), my mind drifted to the Winter Workshop seminar held at Summerhill Stud in July 2013. Wowed by Patrick Cummings, Director of Racing Information for Trakus and his presentation on Racing, Technology and the 21st Century, I was definitely looking forward to hearing the views of other industry players; I was certainly not disappointed! How can racing use TV optimally to deliver entertainment to its existing followers and attract new fans? was one of the questions that was being addressed at the ARC, a subject that is relevant in all aspects of the horseracing industry. Gary Burns, Head of Programmes and Production for FOX SPORTS Australia, illustrated how we can connect with our customers without having to invest a hefty sum in technology. If you love gadgets and you’re curious to understand the ways in which technology has been implemented across the sporting industry, as well as developing an understanding of how the various initiatives that have been implemented to promote racing work, especially amongst the younger generation, then this was a “must-watch” session.
There were several attendees from South Africa (SA), and there were also those who were following the conference online. If South Africans were to take a page out of Visionaire’s book, ten lengths behind in the King Bishops (Gr.1), only to come out victorious, the optimistic girl in me believes that the South African horseracing industry could also take a “quantum technology leap”, with a last-to-first win! This would not only bring people closer to the Sport of Kings, but horseracing in South Africa could be victorious, too.
Variety Club has made us proud, not only by being the first “foreign” horse to win the Champion’s Mile at Sha Tin (Hong Kong), but also by being rated the World’s Second Best Racehorse on the Longines Rankings (January - May 2014), ahead of horses like Cirrus Des Aigles, It’s A Dundeel, Treve and Vercingetorix. His spectacular win further went on to substantiate the necessity of international competition in order to promote the future of the sport. It is rather unfortunate that South Africa bears the brunt of the challenges caused by inconsistent approaches to the application of health regulations and quarantine, ultimately leading to excessive and irregular health requirements for the exportation of thoroughbreds. It was however encouraging to see the article written by Simon Burgess of Thorough Media (visit: blog.summerhill.co.za) where he states: “South African-bred horses and racing are the best kept secret in the world and the recent exploits of pioneers like Mike de Kock go a long way in vindicating that theory.”
Personally, I hope effective headway will be made in the near future to break down the barriers of these harsh export protocols. The ripple effect of such an event happening will go a long way, not only in promoting and growing the breeding industry in South Africa, but also by allowing more than just a handful of South African bred horses to compete in the international arena. After all, “compete” was one of the pillars that the ARC was advocating. Surely something’s got to give eventually, especially noting this issue has been a hot topic over the past several years.
The ARC ended off with a spectacular closing ceremony, with the flag being handed over to India for the next ARC in 2016. What a privilege it was, not only to attend, but also be part of the 35th ARC Team. The four C’s: Customer, Connect, Compete and Create, were not just spoken about on stage, but also a culture lived behind the scenes, contributing greatly to the success of the conference.
I am eagerly awaiting the next ARC, but until then, I am looking forward to the first week of July; the Vodacom Durban July on the 5th at the Home of the Champions - Gold Circle, the Summerhill Stud Stallion Day on the 6th at the Land of Legends and the Winter Workshop I mentioned earlier, on the 7th and 8th at the School of Equine Management Excellence.