Racing must give people the experience they are looking for. That was one of the points to emerge at the first Asia Africa Tote Association (AATA) conference to be held in South Africa.
The discussions took place last week at Kenilworth racecourse in Cape Town.
Millennials, those aged between 18 and 34, were among the major points of focus at the conference.
“This age group is by far the largest on the planet, it comprises your future customers, punters and racegoers – and they are spoiled for choice,” said Mark Steinhobel, chairman of leading market group VWV.
“Everybody wants a piece of their action and to get it racing is going to have to give these people the experiences they are looking for.
“So what can you do?”
“For a start you can stop taking yourselves so seriously. I know the traditions of racing go back a long way and while you may alienate some of the older racegoers, the alternative is a long slow slide into obscurity.”
Steinhobel referred to a recent survey asking millennials what would persuade them to go racing at the Cape Town course.
The top answers were a party, free booze and the Met.
“What I can also tell you is that, if they do go, and find it a compelling experience, thousands and thousands will hear about it.”
He also proposed the use of jockey cams for live pictures of the races – to be relayed on people’s phones as well as on TV. His other suggestion of using Kenilworth for drone-racing didn’t seem to go down quite so well.
Phumelela betting boss Vee Moodley brought up racing’s credibility. “Racing has a bad image. The first question people ask me is: ‘Is racing crooked?’”
Steinhobel’s answer is for the stipes to use camera-equipped drones flying above the runners.
Tellytrack chief Rob Scott called for the industry to employ more people of the millennial age group and for those in the industry to embrace what these people want.
He said: “Trainers and jockeys don’t want things like digital and loud music that are entertaining these people because they feel it interferes with the horses – and theirs are the biggest voices in racing.”
Phumelela boss Riaan du Plessis also called for change to attract and cater for younger racegoers, saying: “We have got to reach them, but if we can only offer them the same that is no good. And if we keep doing what we did in the past we will fail.”
He wants the start of the races to be repositioned to making racing more of a spectator sport. “The percentage of races starting in front of the crowd in this country is only 2% so we are losing one of the most exciting parts.”
However, Paul Cross of Australian wagering company Tabcorp made the point that racing is still hugely popular, just that the way of watching it has changed.
He explained: “Many people argue that racing is in the doldrums with less and less people going but in fact there are more eyeballs watching racing today than there have ever been.”
He also emphasised the importance of the millennials and said Australian harness racing has recently banned the use of the whip, partly in response to complaints from the younger audience.