Day One - Panel - Race Schedule
Race schedule was one of the constant subjects of both days, particularly from the non-racing presenters offering suggestions around making the experience more appealing for the punter. The last session we attended on day one featured a panel discussion on this very subject. Shorter race days is something that they all agreed they were aiming towards with 30 minutes as a gap between races as a minimum for the stewards and themselves to work towards.
Some interesting tidbits came out of this discussion where it was revealed that:
• Around one third of Queensland product is not broadcast
• 3 to 4 minute gap in broadcasts is the optimum return for wagering
• Race clubs like the biggest race to be the last race (for their food and beverage income) however wagering operators prefer the second last race to be the showcase event. When the second last race is the big one the last race still has good turnover so the overall take is (presumably) bigger
• Betting is most popular on 1200 to 1600 metre races where the field size is between 14 and 16 runners
• Thoroughbred racing aims to get a horse a race every two weeks
While a good panel, a disappointment was the lengthy discussion around allowing racing on Good Friday. Your writer here makes a disclosure that he is an atheist and any discussion around religions effect on legislation for him is tedious at best. However it really did show the stark reality of the panel that this issue was such an importance to them that nearly half of the panel time was devoted to hand wringing over this triviality. My conference colleague, a relatively observant Catholic, even thought it was absurd and harped on about it even more than I did afterwards. I only mention this, and I remind the reader again that these are personal opinions, is that they seemed to be worrying about the lawn while their house was on fire. Not a great look from the heads of all of the thoroughbred codes in Australia bar New South Wales.
Which brings me to New South Wales. While I am sure their reasons were valid, NSW was absolutely conspicuous by their absence and it was a continued topic of conversation around the bar and the breakfast tables about everyone else managing to make it but NSW not being there. I have no information beyond scuttlebutt but I do hope that my home state had reason enough to miss it to justify the goodwill that was spent in the process.
Day One - Tatts Keynote
Another session for a data wonk like me to take notes on the metrics surrounding their business. Tatts have been spending a lot of time on their brand consolidation recently. They’ve put all of their brand eggs in one basket (UBet) in an attempt to lessen confusion in the market about who is offering what when it comes to products powered by Tatts. Especially considering their relatively recent acquisition of ToteTas, they had lots of different names for lots of different things that they owned. Well now it’s all UBet. They were also pretty excited about their New Farm betting concept store where they are trialling their new bricks and mortar layout (more on this below) and a data mining exercise. Like it’s rival Tabcorp, Tatts also have home grown advantages over the corporate bookmakers with related businesses that can cross promote into wagering. In the case of Tatts, they have a lottery which contains 3 million customer accounts and around 1.4 million emails. Like Bernie from previous in the day, they recognise (now) that this is a marvellous opportunity to advertise to their existing customers which has the lowest ROI by far. Their database is now integrated across their businesses and wagering is actively using it to acquire market share.
One of the small points that the presenter made that I found interesting is a reported shift in corporate culture at Tatts around secrecy. From my own perspective, Tatts was always the most opaque of Australian operators when it comes to what they are up to. I discovered this both personally and professionally when the Tote2020 project went from underneath me when Tatts and the Tassie government did a very quiet deal one Monday and has the whole thing sold by the Wednesday. It was like being in the Sydney to Hobart with the spinnaker up on a clear day one moment then we were all treading water the next wondering “where did the boat go?” So this is a good thing. He said that it was almost unthinkable that Tatts would even sponsor an event like this a recently as only a few years ago.
So in this era of glasnost and perestroika, they discussed openly the following:
- The 20 - 35 demographic has "just disappeared" and they’re trying to get it back
- Telebet (telephone betting) is still a big thing for them. Even they seem surprised by this
- They’re getting more aggressive with push marketing (sms, apps, etc) and going large with ads. On this note they acknowledge the marketing from SportsBet that really hit them for six and are doing what they can to respond in good cheer
- Their cash terminal project is coming and is with the regulator. I’m so used to the ubiquity of cash betting terminals in NSW/VIC that I didn’t even notice that QLD doesn’t have it. In my defence for this oversight, you can do everything but put the notes in the machine - but they want to be able to put notes in the machine. This is coming soon for them
- Tatts employs around 50 bookies for fixed price and manages around 130k markets
- In play betting devices for their bricks and mortar hops are coming (again more on this below)
- They see a big market in virtual sports first up before moving into a trackside like (virtual racing) products. They have virtual tennis and soccer up that looked pretty damn good in demonstration
Which brings me to their New Farm concept store.
Tatts have invested money and pride in their New Farm betting store. This is responding largely I think, as I already mentioned, to the sportsbet ad that really took the piss out of them on the “ambience” that the average QLD TAB has - not somewhere particularly inviting to the young punter with good hair. So, they’ve done a ground up redesign which I think has some good points, some weird points and a big elephant in the room.
Firstly the good. It's new and bright and they’re rightly trying to open up the store so that the average person walking past can see in and see that it’s clean and new with colours and design that are on trend as our hipster cousins would say. The weird, which may be good or bad depending on your point of view, is that they have divided the store in two laterally with sports on one side and racing on the other. This is good as it reflects their view as supported by data that half of their in store punters are racing bets and half of their in store punters are sports gamblers. This is good I guess but I’m wondering how many of the same people place racing and sports betting simultaneously which would require moving between screens on opposite sides of the room? When they have proper in run sports betting (as they don’t right now) it might make more sense. In their defence, they mitigate this by offering great big whopping tablet like devices that you can pull out of the wall to watch sports on. This I am hoping is what will become their in-running gear as at the moment it’s just weird that you can’t place bets on them. Especially when you've got to climb down from the top of the bleachers. Bleachers you say? Yep, bleachers.
The most striking thing about the new store is that along with the lateral division is the fact that there are bleachers on both sides. So you sit on each side with people beside, behind and in front of you with not a lot, ok no, back support. And that's if you ‘re lucky as it may be more likely a tradies boots and balls will be just behind you for your amusement and edification. It’s a concept store so let’s have them give it a try but it just seems like a C3 fracture waiting to happen as you step up these things to the top row and then back down again to place your bets as the race is about to jump. But seriously, it's good to see something new and different from pub stools.
The video system itself that was in there was pretty good. So good in fact that the data distribution wonks among our ranks were wondering if the $100k+ of video mux gear would be cost effective across a universal roll out?
So it was good, very different, they’re very clearly having a good honest go at some change which should be absolutely applauded. However, and this is what I see as the elephant in the room, is what is it offering that I can’t get in a good quality pub TAB installation right now? In run betting might be something in the end that would be a drawcard, as is a draw for people who like a punt but can’t or won’t have a drink but I just don’t know. I am assuming that they know more than I do here but at the moment all I can see is that I can get all of this at a pub, with a beer and a back on my chair.
Day 2 - Panel - Engaging with fans
The CEOs of the Brisbane Broncos, Brisbane Lions and Queensland Reds are on this panel where the topic is how to engage with fans. The first note that I took is basically the tried, but nevertheless true, line of content is king. Five parts content to one part marketing is what works with engaging with your fan base. A lot of discussion was also centred around trying to apply what works for American sports, NFL in particular, as an inspiration for pre, post and in game entertainment. There was also a lot of discussion around making racing more of an overall experience. This is reasonable in my not so humble opinion however I kept coming back to my own view of how much will this culturally translate to Australia? This in game experience was also contrasted along with the constant discussion around reducing overall race day length and times between races to maintain interest at the track. One interesting point that was made was that I took here was “make your big days bigger”. There was a view that if you make your really big days as big as possible first you can then expand from there. This was a good idea I thought and a change from just “emulate sports” and make “race days quicker”. Play to your strengths guys.
Unfortunately, I come back to my own provocative comment that it was a bunch of old white guys sitting around trying to think of how to attract people who are not old white guys. I’ll but I’ll also add the positive comment and idea of my own here while listening to this panel is that we should also look to what e-stadiums in places like South Korea provide their fans. Universally free wifi and encouraging your own electronic devices (when is Randwick going to take that stupid no computers sign down?) is already there in lots of American stadiums, but what are the e-stadium guys doing that attracts or retains tens of thousands of incredibly connected kids who choose to go somewhere to watch something they could literally do in the bath at home.
This not old, not caucasion market is where the growth is and some places are nailing it. AFL as we saw previously is definitely trying it, we should look to successful alternative sports / racing in Asia for some fresh ideas. Hell, Gangnam style had a HUGE horse racing motif and even a horse riding dance in it - why aren’t we getting that kind of love here in Australia? And why aren't we all over this for inspiration for the next wave of punters?
Day 2 - Panel - Sponsorship
This panel was good but it quickly became the George Livery fan club with the other participants basically saying - yeah, what George said. And rightly so as this guy is the guy who got Nicole Kidman in the birdcage at Flemington to help flog vitamins for Swisse.
The sponsorship panel should have been merged with the engaging with fans panel as it had some pretty good points for them. Playing to their strengths came up and it was (rightly) posited that where else can you take a client to an event and spend 5 or 6 hours with them where most of the time can be spent talking to them while plying them with food and drink. This doesn’t work at the NFL, or AFL or Rugby League but it sure as hell does work at the races. The other suggestion / criticism that George made was that there is no real ambassador for racing. He isn’t able to identify who he can go to engage with as a standard bearer for the sport. To this he said he’d simply bring his own (and did). Which led into some really interesting figures around how much it costs to finance an ambassador for a brand:
- A reasonable profile actor for a day costs $15k
- Around $100k a year will get you a brand ambassador which would include something around 8 - 15 days a year of ambassadorial duties
- You can shoot 6 advertisements in a day
From there the panel really asked a set of questions and made some recommendations:
- Is racing meeting customer expectations?
- Fragmentation of the offerings around form, racing vision and so on
- Demystifying / simplifying the wagering offering. Is less more? (BCG: Yes is the clear answer if you ask me)
Day 2 - Simon Dell - Consumer Interaction Online in 2015: How to excite and Engage in a Digital Space
Simon gave an excellent presentation which served mostly as a state of the world when it comes to social media and interacting with consumers. It wasn’t particularly racing or wagering focussed but it was interesting and well received to say the least.
His power point deck which is worth a flick through is available here.
It summarises the points he made by itself so no need for me to further elaborate here.
He was kind enough to publicly tweet it as me so I’m taking the liberty of reposting the link.
Day 2 - Panel - The issues facing racing administrators
All of the state racing guys, bar NSW as previously noted, were here and the theme really become what is their biggest problems. The biggest one that resonated was that they were fairly unique in the fact that gambling owns their customers not them. The other general issue was that they see welfare extremists (their term) continuing to agitate where they see them as urban people with no or little experience in animal welfare and death.
The panel was asked what their short term big problems are:
VIC: media rights / who are our customers?
WA: funding and the results of privatisation
QLD: animal welfare / uncertainty around the future / UBet branding
VIC Country: Relevance in general community
TAS: funding and low margin products
SA: funding and their racing minister (seriously!). Infrastructure.
The panel was a good one, but a short one, with most of the points made summarised in a few short sentences above.
So in summary...
So that was my view of the conference. Thanks for coming along for the ride.
In a nutshell what I considered to be the overall vibe of the conference was this:
Change is well and truly upon us. We accept the need to do something but we are not sure what that something is yet.
I have a few ideas. Maybe in the next blog...