People just don’t seem to understand how somebody could be so passionate about it. One thing us racing fans understand, somewhat begrudgingly, is that racing is not a vastly popular sport.
This is painfully clear when the jewel in our crown, the Aintree Grand National, had to be moved to a later time to ensure it didn’t clash with the Premier League. How worrying is that? Even our biggest event had to be moved to the evening to ensure it’s not in the shadow of the football Juggernaut.
Most on the outside just don’t see what makes racing so enamouring to us. Those on the peripheries of the equine bubble see racing as an excuse for a drunken day out, a sport that only seems to exist for Cheltenham, Royal Ascot and the Grand National or a sport wherein everyone is a big-time punter.
We all agree that the perception of the sport needs to change, but it’s a lot simpler than some industry “experts” are making it out to be.
I was in total and absolute disbelief at the headline and article in the Racing Post today. Tom Kerr, an excellent journalist, wrote an article that is below his impeccable standard where he recommended banning the whip to help improve the sports perception. Absolute nonsense and potentially very damaging.
How many non-racing enthusiasts would see this headline? We’ve enough public image problems without creating more!
Science has intervened long ago in this. The whip is now designed with a foam-cushion to produce noise, not pain.
Champion Jockey Jim Crowley, in an interview with the Guardian last year, summed it up to perfection: “The message needs to be got across. This has been blown up out of all proportion. Whips don’t hurt horses.”
The interview went on with Jim hitting the journalist in question, Greg Wood, 3 times with the whip, “as hard as he’d hit a horse”, and the journalist felt no pain.
The Racing Post must be at the forefront of educating people about these advancements. These cheap and sorrowful sound bites are doing our sport no favours. This should be something to cheer about. We need more articles in papers like the Guardian educating the general public about our sport and the efforts being made to make it a safer sport for horse and jockey.
If we want to reach a wider audience we need more coverage, and we need our sport to be marketed better. Only through a sustained and efficient marketing campaign will our sport be seen as more than just a home for a lads day out.
The Racing Post has always been a must-buy for punters, and I really hope it goes back to this.
However, the real issues don’t lie with the Racing Post, the real misdemeanours with racing perception lies with the racing authorities and ITV.
We need to look at a model like Sky Sports. They are the kings of marketing. They manage to surround us with a barrage of messages about every sport they have. Even run of the mill Premier League matches between two mid-table teams gets this treatment and gets people talking. They even managed to effectively market the most pointless sporting event there is, the Lions tour.
Some sports, like racing, only captures the public’s imagination really when there is a superstar or an epic rivalry. Tennis has the Nadal and Federer rivalry, Snooker has Ronnie O’Sullivan and whilst racing has had its moments with Frankel and Kauto Star, it is all too fleeting.
Nowadays the only time racing seems to hit the mainstream media is through the aforementioned major events (Cheltenham et all) or when there is a scandal such as rogue participants cheating in the form of fixing. This has given racing it’s worrying name. The saying “Racing isn’t about what you know, it’s who you know” is one that drives me mad, but racing is doing very little to publicise the beauty of the “Sport of Kings”.
ITV’s performance thus far for racing would have a similar report card to what I would have received at school, “satisfactory, but can do better”.
Our authorities decided that racing should be moved from Channel 4 to ITV. That’s fine, but why is so much racing on ITV4 and not on its main channel? We have plenty of really big events on its minor channel, when ITV have movies such as “Mall Cop” on its primary channel. We haven’t a hope if that’s the order of priority.
Racing needs to be marketed similar to those aforementioned events on Sky Sports. We need regular commercials promoting the epic clashes that happen on a regular basis, the creation of superstars in the form of horses and jockeys and most of all we simply need regular informative coverage.
ITV are simply not providing enough of this. How hard would it be to put together regular documentaries on jockeys, trainers and horses? There can be no doubt that the general public would be massively intrigued by the regular sacrifices and hardship all of the above go through for the sport they love. “Being AP” was a major success when aired on BBC and RTE. People loved it.
RTE in Ireland regularly have brilliant documentaries on racing, such as the Irish Road to Cheltenham, which was generally very well received.
ITV want to have racing, but don’t seem to want to make racing a sport that is popular. This needs to change and it needs to change quickly.
Racing also needs to look at itself. Entrance to the races should be cheaper, ridiculous dressing codes should be loosened and generally the sport should be more approachable. It’s too hard to learn about the ins and outs of the sport. People just don’t seem to find information easily enough and terms such as “marks” or “going” mean nothing to most people. Even finding racing replays can be a taxing experience.
What really annoys me is that we have a wonderful product, full of amazing men and women and drama is so regular, yet the whole sport seems to be out of touch with the regular public. What needs to be done in my eyes isn’t all that taxing.
We simply need more accessible information, and more informational coverage on this amazing sport.
I owe a lot to Horse Racing and my love of this sport is perpetual. The racing bug is so easy to catch, so let’s hope racing set’s itself up so that more people can enjoy the unimaginable magic of the sport of kings.
There really is no sport quite like it.