The 37th Asian Racing Conference (ARC) commenced this morning, Tuesday, 15 May, in Seoul, South Korea, with Asian Racing Federation Chairman and Hong Kong Jockey Club Chief Executive Officer Mr. Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges calling on the sport’s stakeholders to establish racing as a global “master brand.”
As Chair of the convocation’s opening plenary session, Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges said that horseracing must create a brand identifiable with “World class racing sport and entertainment,” which, through targeted segmentation, would appeal across demographics to reach beyond its current fan base and gain greater worldwide recognition.
“It is my vision that within the next decade, racing can climb back to become one of the world’s top 10 sports,” he said, noting that horse racing, not so long ago one of the world’s most popular sports, now ranks outside the world’s top 20 in the global popularity stakes.
Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges said that a global brand is necessary in the fast-changing sport and gaming landscape. He stated that racing needs to position itself in a way that will make it distinguishable and will enable its customers and potential customers to recognise the aspects of the sport that will appeal to them. By doing this, he said, racing will be able to expand its fan base across demographic groups.
“The brand is our promise to our customers on who we are and what they can expect from us. It differentiates us from our competitors. Each brand has an identity – which is how we want our customers to perceive our products and our brand itself – each brand has to have positioning,” he noted.
Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges was unequivocal in calling for the highest integrity, a commitment to eradicate the use of race day medications and doping, and a commitment to high standards in overall horse welfare.
“If we don’t have these fundamentals in order we will have no chance,” he said. “We have too many people who try to bend the rules. It needs a strong commitment to medication-free racing from everybody in the sport – it’s an absolute must. There is no room for ambiguity, especially when it comes to prohibited substances – we need absolute hygiene for our brand. The ARF (Asian Racing Federation) has a strong commitment to further push this issue on a global basis. If you look at reputation, your whole global brand can collapse very quickly.”
Mr. Engelbrecht-Bresges also said that horse racing must push beyond the widely-held perception that it is purely a vehicle for gambling. He opined that its greatest appeal lies in what he termed its “sub-brands,” the racehorses, the jockeys and the races.
“We have to broaden our fan-base and to do that we clearly have to shift from gaming as the main brand, to leisure and entertainment; racing must be positioned as world class sport,” he said.
“We have to create a much more emotional connection in order to reach out: jockeys are world class athletes but even old race-goers don’t know that their heart-rate goes up to 170 during a race because they see them more as instrumental to gaming; the races, the live events, are a unique platform, and if we look at the world’s star horses, how many are known outside of racing?”
Mr. Bernard Salt had the distinction of being the opening speaker at the first of the three-day ARC’s 12 sessions. The author and demographer, a leading expert on social, consumer and generational trends, and one of Australia’s foremost social commentators, delivered the convocation’s keynote presentation, ‘Racing through the Asian Century’.
Mr. Salt considered the key trends, both current and future, that will characterise the ‘Asian Century’, and outlined both the challenges and the opportunities for global racing as he shared key demographic trends, globally and within Asia.
“The centre of gravity is clearly shifting towards Asia,” he said.
Mr. Salt shared his view, based on statistical data, that the marked rise of corporate culture in Asian cities will lead to more sponsors, more hospitality boxes, more racehorse owners and more attendees, all demanding a premium leisure experience.
“Of the rising consumer culture we’re now seeing across Asia, I think horse racing is seen as inclusive and that’s particularly relevant to the next generation. I see an articulated product and entertainment – it’s not just like buying a lottery ticket, which is a game of chance, it offers fine dining, it offers fashion, you can go to a corporate box, there’s a whole range of opportunities you can connect with. And it’s seen as a symbol of economic development and personal success.
“When I look at what is growing, the household wallet is spending more on articulated, tailored leisure experiences – individual, unique experiences,” he said, noting that racing fits into that bracket.
Mr. Salt also drew attention to “the evolution of Hong Kong as Asia’s Manhattan,” and the city’s position as Asia strides towards becoming the wealthiest region in history.
“Over the last century we’ve seen this nexus between London and New York – could it be that over the next 40 or 50 years the nexus is between Shanghai, Hong Kong and maybe Tokyo being the centre of gravity of rising corporate power, wealth and prosperity across the planet? That of course spills out into a demand for leisure, entertainment – horse racing, in fact.
“Is the horse racing industry going to aggressively compete for a share of this market? I would say that is where we need to be.”
Mr. Phil Lynch, CEO of Media at Manchester United, wrapped up the session. He spoke about the need to maintain brand relevance outside of the physical duration of a sports event, and stressed the importance of utilising multiple platforms in uniquely-tailored ways in order to meet the individual expectations of global consumers across demographic groups.