By Jack Cantillon
How did you make the decision to go to the races for the first time? Had you read about the sport and was your interest sparked? Had you a friend who was passionate about racing? Perhaps your family was involved in horses? No matter your journey to the sport, there is one universal truth in each individual journey–your decision was influenced. It was influenced by what you read. It was influenced by your friend’s passion. It was influenced by your family’s involvement. Human decisions are shaped by those around us. Today, if we want to transform the reach of our sport, the answer is simple, we need to each take personal responsibility for widening our sport’s collective influence.
Influence is the capacity to affect decisions, a quest that should obsess racing’s leaders worldwide. But what does influence look like today? Step forward, social media star Kylie Jenner, showing her discontent with the new version of social media platform Snapchat, Kylie tweeted her decision to stop using the app “soo does anyone else not open Snapchat any more? Or is it just me . . . ugh this is so sad.” Kylie did not profit from the tweet but Snapchat lost over $1bn in value in 24 hours in the sell-off on the stock market that followed the tweet.
With the influence that one person and one tweet can now have, inevitably, this process has been commercialized. “Influencers” are social media “stars”, like Kylie, who have monetised their followers by posting pictures and endorsing brands or, in the case of President Trump, capitalized on the platform given by social media for extraordinary political gain. On Instagram alone (a photo sharing platform), the global influencer market is now worth over $1.5 billion. Influencers with over 100,000 followers are paid around $1,000 per post in support of a brand. The more followers, the higher the multiple in cost per post. Consumers agree it works. 84% of millennials say that user-generated content has some influence on what they buy. Racing, whether it likes it or not, will soon be at a marketing crossroads. Should it pay to influence the next generation of racegoers by using these “stars”?
At first glance, using social media stars with large followings within easy reach is an appealing option for racing. Look at the success of Conor McGregor in advertising the first Pegasus World Cup. Look at the hype generated by Usain Bolt DJ-ing at the Melbourne Cup carnival. And yet, the impact while initially large, is fleeting and hollow. I don’t see Conor and Usain rocking up with legions of followers in top hats to Royal Ascot anytime soon. Where then should we look for answers?
Let me float a kite with you. Kitesurfing, without financial backing, has become one of the fastest growing sports in the world in attracting newcomer participants. It has done this, just as racing could, by harnessing the modern mediums of influence. The exotic locations are documentated on Instagram. The experiences are captured on GoPros. Participants connect and inform each other of the best conditions on WhatsApp. Since its arrival in the 1990s, it now counts Google founder Larry Page, entrepreneur Richard Branson, former secretary of state John Kerry and one a half million others as its devotees. That’s real, decision-making, influence.
We, as a sport, need to understand how we most make a cultural impact. The Queen is the most recognisable face in the world. To quantify the prestige and economic impact she has on British racing would be to belittle it. Winx has transported Australian racing from the back pages to the front. American Pharoah gave American racing the champion it craved. People want to take photos and document that they are part of a story that is special, whether it is by sharing in the Queen’s personal passion or witnessing history. That is real, authentic influence that draws new people to the sport. Just think of the moments that shaped your initial interest in the sport? I don’t think it was a particularly well worded ad in the newspaper.
We don’t need thousands of followers, what we need is an industry-wide commitment to create meaningful, impactful content using the free tools available to us. After all, the first ever motion picture video was of a galloping horse. We need to become our own influencers. ITV Racing is leading from the front and while their viewing figures might not be matching those of Channel 4, they understand that viewing figures are just one metric and their influence can be much greater by extending the range of mediums that they use. They’ve championed with viewers a social media stable so viewers can interact with presenters during the broadcast. They do Facebook Live feeds before and after the broadcast. And by producing podcasts they demonstrate an understanding that video isn’t the only format in which racing fans want to consume their content.
The power is with us all. Each conversation you have explaining racing to a stranger widens our impact. Ger Lyons does a wonderful job with a Facebook blog in being as open and transparent as possible about his horses. And each tweet you post widens our influence in the digital conversation. Antoine Griezmann is one of the world’s best footballers and a passionate owner of racehorses. He has tweeted to his 5m followers about his colt Tornibush with Philipe Decouz and uploaded photos of his racing colours hanging at home. Each video you take opens up our sport to be discovered by more people. Take a look at the wonderful videos Godolphin are producing this year.
It shouldn’t be so radical to suggest that every racing authority worldwide needs to develop a branding team not just to widen the authority’s reach through their own internal channels but to empower our own sport’s participants to become influencers. Drones should be available to rent free to trainers so that they can show off their facilities or tape key pieces of work. Media training should become part of a jockey’s licensing. Breeders should be shown examples like Arrowfield and given the tools to capture the amazing development of the potential racehorse from its earliest tottering steps. This isn’t a 100m dash with Usain, this needs to be a sustained, committed campaign, with ownership of the task ahead given to our greatest influencers – you.
How are you going to influence the next generation of racegoers? Your influence will shape their decisions and our sport.