By Hans Ebert

While following the current World Cup Cricket series, what keeps coming through is how the ODI series has added to the changing face of the sport. How a new generation of players have emerged to become game changers to this short-form version of the five day Test matches and how the T20 game is even more different and attracting different players, big spending sponsors, more wagering opportunities and bigger crowds.

The bottom line is just how much cricket has done to reinvent itself and look and become younger and relevant to these constantly changing times. Someone did their homework and pressed the Refresh button.

Looking at cricket today, there are three versions of the sport. It has reinvented itself with exciting innovations like the following…Ready? LED bails, Spidercam, Hawkeye, Hot Spot, Snick-o-meter, Stump camera, Speed gun, Real-time commentary by on-field players, ball spin RPM, super slow motion replays, The Third Umpire for reviews.

Add to all this, the brilliant new ways of presenting the game, especially to home audiences, and the new breed of cricketers who have made the game faster, younger and cooler- players like Virat Kohli, the youthful exuberance of batsman-wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant, the brilliant fielding of England’s Ben Stokes etc.

Cricket has, of course, always had its heroes- Bradman, Sobers, Lillie, Warne, Gilchrist, Jayawardne, Jayasuriya, Tendulkar, Sangakarar, Viv Richards, Jonty Rhodes, Brian Lara etc. These were the inspirations to many who are now part of cricketing teams rocking and rolling with exciting talent.

Technological breakthroughs in presenting every aspect of cricket underlines what makes these players special. It’s infotainment meeting edutainment and this helps in both understanding the sport better and showcasing the athleticism of star players. But let’s remember that technology is never the idea. There must always be a solid concept in place. Great content. Technology takes this content further.

It’s not just cricket that has changed with the times. Look at how tennis, golf, rugby, football, Formula 1, and basketball are presented, and with Esports busy creating its own brand and personality.

One cannot help thinking about horse racing and how it can compete for a sliver of this rich new consumer-driven sports pie.

Is horse racing changing with the times? Is it CAPABLE of changing? Or, are there only cosmetic changes and gimmicks embraced as being “innovations” by a gullible racing media and that captive audience that’s now twenty to thirty years older?

Is it just the same old same old and with horse racing even more of a playground for elitism than ever before?

Can horse racing ever be anything more than a one trick pony? Is it ALLOWED to be? Or it trapped and gagged and bound by corporate navel gazing and red tape? Putting up hurdles before trying to clear them?

Over the years, there have been some great riders- for their time- Piggott, George Moore, Eddery, Cauthen, Fallon, Beadman, the finesse of Michael Kinane and the brilliance, exuberance and absorbing back story of Frankie Dettori.

In Hong Kong, champion South African rider Basil Marcus was workmanlike. He wasn’t pretty to watch, but he was successful. He was also hardly a Michael Jordan and magnet for sponsors.

Douglas Whyte was brilliance mixed with business-like thinking. He never allowed any opportunity to slip by. Ambitious? Always. Feared? By only those who couldn’t match him for getting the most out of anything that was relevant to his- and their- business.

Today, there’s Zac Purton. He’s in a class all by himself and has taken the art and ability of riding winners to another level.

He’s taken on the magical powers of Joao Moreira and created something new. And he knows it. He exudes confidence and this shows in his riding skills. Zac Purton is out there bringing something new to horse racing. One wonders if he even realises this.

Horse racing and racing clubs have a habit of keeping its marquee value names in their little boxes.

The marketing of this talent usually tends to be in the hands of boffins which means nothing breakthrough ever happens. Just more of the same.

Seeing how jockeys keep fit is hardly something unique. How many “views” will these videos get? How great is the level of interest?

Both Zac Purton and Joao Moreira are world class riders, yes. They’re also breathing new life and a personality into a pastime that desperately needs a facelift. Joao Moreira also has THE best Thumbs Up sign in horse racing. And he uses it well. Sounds random, but does horse racing know how to make this simple action also work for it?

Both jockeys are horse racing’s answers to Kohli, Pant, Ben Stokes etc. What’s missing for them is a bigger and more attractive, multi dimensional showcase that brings in sponsors- something like the hugely popular Indian Premier League with the biggest group of international players.

For example, horse racing regularly holds international jockey challenges. Has the format for these changed- really changed- over the last 10-15 years?

Japan’s “idol jockey” Nanako Fujita recently won the Women Jockeys World Cup in Sweden.

Nanako Fujita is a very pretty young jockey who is a marketer’s dream. She might not be the greatest jockey- but she attracts thousands of racing fans in Japan.

With the right marketing, she can certainly help attract, especially younger females to take a second look at horse racing. Again, breakthrough technology can help showcase her talents better.

When’s this going to happen? When’s anything new and really exciting and innovative going to happen in horse racing?

Why can’t there be infotainment and edutainment videos utilising new technology to show the different riding styles of jockeys, especially those of Zac Purton and Joao Moreira? Perhaps, these two world class riders compared to Frankie Dettori and/or Ryan Moore?

Why can’t the HKJC’s Happy Wednesdays also be a reality series with a regular cast of characters- a young cast- and cutting edge technology to enhance the concept?

The Super Bowl Halftime Show is often bigger than the game. The talk about it starts months earlier and who might be on it.

Why can’t even one of the major race days with ten races have a Halftime Show- not AFTER the races- but after, let’s say, the fifth race?

Next season, the legendary former Hong Kong champion jockey Douglas Whyte steps out as a trainer. Think his stable won’t have sponsorship appeal? Duh. Think that, again, new technology won’t have a role to play that will enhance that old Whyte magic on social media?

What if, without any announcement, all jockeys at a race meetings wear britches with a Nike swoosh? And have that race day named Just Do It?

Think this won’t make one of the most iconic brands take a much closer interest in being involved in horse racing?

Horse racing needs to be more showbiz. More heart sell than hard yell while plodding through the same old terrain- more of the same old and now even older content that’s been around since Methuselah played marbles with the other kids.

Of course wagering is important as is providing all the data needed for the professional and wannabe gambler to beat the odds. But it’s a question of balance. It can’t end here. And there.

There needs to be much more done to enhance the image of horse racing to non-believers and the nouveau riche, especially, those who wish to be involved in something that has a certain amount of flair and pride of ownership. And this “ownership” has many different variations.

It’s these variations and different customer demographics that attract big spending sponsors with their huge databases and ad agencies.

ALL of this is what horse racing needs. And without saying that the starting point for any of this is Hong Kong, because this is where I live, it has to do with this region because this is where the big money is. It’s where horse racing has a future.

This is also the region that’s the biggest consumer market for the biggest global brands. For horse racing, it’s quite simple: Just Do It. There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.

#horseracing #marketing #technology #ZacPurton #JoaoMoreira #FrankieDettori #HKracing #cricket #Kohli #Nike