Nothing to see here at racing.com – literally.

Nothing to see here at racing.com – literally.

You have to admire the way Racing Victoria managed the (their) message this week.

Mind you there are not too many messengers left to shoot, so a cosy lunch and a feel good set of figures should do the trick.

But the warm fuzzy feel would quickly evaporate as the mood of the meeting (that’s the punters) swing violently against the new format of the racing.com coverage, highlighted as popular Sam Hyland was sidelined.

Credit though to RV CEO Giles Thompson for some frank discussion away from the party line.

“The information in here is information I don’t think any other PRA (Principal Racing Authority) has openly distributed,” he opened with. And that is true even if they are reported only at face value.

“We see it as important to talk about how things are going. And to talk about things we are focussing on, so in the commentary about how Victorian racing is progressing there is at least a consistent fact base which is driving that conversation and driving that debate.”

So tick this off the record:

  • Racing Victoria will post a healthy surplus for FY17 in part due to wagering revenue increases of 3.5%. This is a strong result with turnover increases offsetting reduced returns to the three codes from the Tabcorp Joint Venture
  • Wagering turnover grew by 8.4% with the total surpassing $6 billion for the first time to ultimately reach $6.24 billion.
  • The strategy to consolidate Thursdaynight as a peak timeslot with 25.8% growth in average turnover per meeting and a rise in average field size from 9.1 to 9.5 starters per race and the continued emergence of the four Standalone Saturday meetings in country Victoria with attendances up 18.1% and turnover up 9.4% across the quartet of meetings;

And there is no doubt these are all positives but RV is under no illusion there are other elephants waking up if not already in the room. Punters were not talking wagering figures (unless it was their own), they were talking racing.com and the bastardisation of the vision of what was the original vision for its replacement to TVN.

“We have long term challenges that racing faces globally,’ Thompson acknowledged.

“Racing bodies have been regulators primarily, now it is important for us to grow participant and interest in the sport and if Racing Victoria isn’t doing that and working with the clubs to do this – who is?

“It’s a real challenge; we don’t know how to do it. We’ve not done it before.”

It is a stark and honest statement. It is not said without intent or with neglect, the words should not be read out of context, but they are alarming at least in term of where racing and its leaders are leading from.

“As an organisation we don’t have that historical corporate knowledge, we are knee deep in working through what our owners strategy is, we’ve got some good stuff and insight from that, why people want to be an owner, how do you keep engagement with them. It’s not something RV of 10 years ago had, its new territory.

“The approach we are taking is to absolutely understand our customer – punters and owners being the two key groups,” Thompson said.

So what better way to do that than via your multi-platform racing.com, the joint venture with Seven West Media – who know a thing or two about the caper.

Not that it seems the mothership is willing to share any of its expertise, innovation or even “ratings” figures with RV who then could possibly better engage the audience it wishes to grow – something you’d think helpful if it better knew who they were and how many of them they had in what demographic split etc etc.

“I couldn’t tell you how many people are watching it,” Thompson told Justracing.com.au.

But they could tell us that racing.com is available on free to air 95% of the Australian population. True, but basically a fatuous statement.

It emerged that Seven West Media’s view of racing.com and its audience that they are dealing with a “niche” market, a niche market for one of Australia’s biggest industries?

“The current strategy of racing.com does not require us to be measured on the ratings,” he said.

Ok, take that as face value, but the voice of the people – that’s racings customers, participants punters – spoke louder and louder this week on racing.com’s new studio based format and even louder after the popular Hyland announced his position on top of old Banjo doing the post-race jockey interviews was gone.

Racing.com Andrew Catterall, who since last week’s column here and his concerns with it at that, met with the jockeys to thrash out the rider’s issues, suddenly leapt to the defence on the new format with no hint of concern for all the concern being shown or vitriol being shared.

No problems here he said. “We believe it is a much better presentation, I am very comfortable with where we are heading,” he said on RSN to an almost deafening collective “what?”

“The shareholders are happy,” he said!

At least Thompson was not immune to the chorus of dissent re the new version of racing.com that incorporates South Australian racing of course.

“We are not deaf to the feedback and concerns of people who are raising them,” he said.

“But we are in a JV with Seven West and the two parties determined to take the current strategy (Just Racing understands there is a high level review taking place on Friday).

“That (the new format) is with the advice from Australia’s leading television network and bearing in mind how niche racing.com is and the type of advertising that is on racing.com, it’s the appropriate route to be taken.

“If we were simply doing what we were doing in the past we wouldn’t do that. We have got to have a crack and adjust it – I’m not surprised there has been some negative feedback – a change as dramatic as that is going to create that anyway.

“It’s not inappropriate to have a go and change the broadcast and the theories and principles behind it and increasing the studio part of it is a way of improving the general broadcast.”

“The point of South Australian coverage and strategy is to driven by the need to take Victorian racing RV to a wider audience, not a wider Victorian audience, but a wider national audience, and that’s a sound strategy, and the reason for the whole big investment.

“When we won the rights, and that’s quite an extraordinary thing to have achieved, you’ve got to readjust what you want to do – sure let’s tweak and have a crack and try to change things from a coverage perspective– the key driver of that is to improve it from a viewer’s perspective, it’s about improving the broadcast and the audience bigger and more engaged with it.”

Well we may never know if that wider audience is achieved as we don’t even know and will not know what the current audience is and if it is growing.

“Improving the broadcast” is the hot topic under much discussion both at corporate boardroom level as much as at the bar or water cooler.

Taking on South Australian racing as content – and not “premium content’ – which impairs the original business case that was racing.com – beggars the belief the idea to get more national viewers on Victorian races, suggests they been asleep in Adelaide on Melbourne racing until suddenly racing.com showed it?

The winner is South Australian racing as Victorian eyes now have to put up with its racing and delayed interviews and recorded mounting yards where they – like most punters – bet and watch most.

And here is the real reason there are no ratings – Just Racing understands Seven West asked for a 12 month delay (moratorium) re an assessment or comparison of them across their main channels – as this impacts advertising.

But ratings are only relevant to assessing viewers of your own channel- that is Channel 7 or 7 Two or 7Mate etc where the only relevance for racing.com may be a comparison with Sky or understanding your audience. There are other more important measurable.

Bottom line for racing.com has to be wagering, active and new customers, turnover and revenue, bet volume, key metrics that Giles’ rosy figures say are working. It might be worth noting the number of corporate bookies who are also taking racing.com live to their digital platforms as another factor to factor in to the growth.

But one could also argue how much better the growth would be if the coverage was much better.

The current mounting yard coverage now suggests the race is a “beauty contest’ rather than about having a bet (despite the late update and interview as they are about to jump).

We can keep banging on down this path with mention of faulty sectional times, lack of immediacy and emotion, no Sammy, the thought of no Sunday review show in spring – just read social media this week and you will know the punter’s aren’t happy with racing.com.

And as much as RV is happy with how things are going and as much as racing.com says “there is nothing to see here”, if they don’t address the concerns there well may be nothing people want to see here. Or there!

By Bruce Clark