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NZTR INDUSTRY DAY 26 March 2024 - An Overview

By Denise Mayhew and Sally Blyth

People from all Thoroughbred racing industry sectors came together at Ellerslie on Tuesday 26th March 2024 to hear inspirational speakers and an update on the future of racing.

MC George Simon introduced Jason Paris, CEO of One NZ. His presentation emphasised the importance of listening to and focussing on the customer. Doing everything possible to mitigate problems and provide a seamless service is paramount. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in One NZ’s networks in pursuit of pleasing the customer and enhancing the service. A new collaboration with SpaceX will provide mobile services via Starlink and increase coverage across New Zealand, even in remote areas. Jason talked about AI, acknowledging there is no escape from it into the future. He invited anyone to contact him personally on his email address Jason.paris@one.nz with a response guaranteed!

Sally’s note: I can verify that he does respond – I emailed him about black spots and poor service in my local area and received a prompt and personal reply. Action is now underway to see what can be done!

The second speaker was Hamish Pinkham, co-founder/director of Rhythm and Vines. He and some mates dreamt this up as a way to have a final fling at the end of their University of Otago days. Hamish also stressed the importance of listening to the customer and moving with the times to ensure the offering remains relevant and appealing. New initiatives have been introduced through the years including ways to increase sustainability, enhance safety and reduce waste. The first R&V was held in Gisborne in 2003 and is now a well-established music festival that people flock to. With 25,000 patrons attending in 2023 the appeal of the format and acts endures. The organisation is not afraid to invest as necessary, following trends to remain current and taking care of its reputation.

Hamish and his team have also been working closely with NZTR on The Grand Tour Racing Festival, bringing music and a young vibe to racecourses across the country in an effort to get people involved in racing earlier rather than later.

Following the conclusion of the morning session, attendees enjoyed a tasty lunch and the opportunity to mix and mingle.

The first of the afternoon speakers was Dean Shannon, CEO, Entain Australia & NZ, who spoke about Wagering Growth and “The Little Things Matter”.  A key message was about the need to understand your customer, a recurring theme throughout the day. Entain has increased its retention rates and profitability by listening to customers and employing a “surprise and delight” philosophy.

Dean reported that the New Zealand betting market has grown to an estimated $550m per annum, with $180m going to offshore betting operators. The trend of New Zealanders increasing their spend with overseas operators, primarily Australian, is particularly strong amongst new customers and a largely younger demographic. Entain would like to see that spend come back onshore. The industry makes 50% more from a bet on New Zealand product versus international racing product, highlighting the need to maximise domestic wagering. Interestingly, research shows that Australians spend on average 2.5 times as much as New Zealanders. Despite this, an increase in marketing spend has seen new customer growth of 20% year-on-year which demonstrates that informing people about racing is worthwhile and gets positive results.

Entain is keen to showcase and promote a quality Thoroughbred racing product which will appeal both domestically & internationally. Dean stressed that every participant in the industry needs to work together to drive wagering growth.

Saturdays, the biggest day of the week, should be used to maximise turnover, which means using Metro/Tier 2 tracks. Sunday racing is an untapped opportunity – it’s a big raceday in Australia and Dean believes we need to exploit this more, along with public holidays. Optimising the racing calendar, presenting the industry in a professional manner, and delivering consistency to the customers are important. Premier assets need to be maximised during the summer, with 12 horses in a field being the optimum size. 

Increasing the quality and professionalism of the product is key, with track presentation being first and foremost, as tracks must be suitable and safe. Clubs were urged to consider areas of the venue captured in broadcast shots, cosmetic touches such as painting and weeding, flexibility in terms of the race schedule, and getting horses into the mounting yard in a timely manner, as there is an impact on broadcasting and a financial cost when races run late. 

Customers want to hear from industry participants such as jockeys, trainers and stable reps.  Dean’s view was that New Zealand jockeys tend to be more reticent about being interviewed than their Australian counterparts. Entain is working with NZTR on media training for those who do not feel comfortable in front of a camera.

The new initiatives ahead aim to bring more transparency and innovation to the industry, particularly in terms of broadcasting.

The next speaker, Georgia Mahaffie, Head of Brand & Marketing at One NZ, focused on sponsorship and building strong partnerships. Organisations should ask themselves what their brand image is, how they are perceived by the public, and why they are here. Georgia emphasised the importance of welcoming feedback as well as defining objectives, creating trust and measuring and tracking success.

Ian Benet, GM of Eleven PR, defined PR simply as “storytelling”. Their research shows that 26% of people surveyed are positive about the racing industry, with 38% being ambivalent. Those with negative views towards the industry tend to be swayed by lobby groups, influencers, and so on. Ian highlighted the example of Taylor Swift pulling out of performing at the Melbourne Cup a few years ago, following a campaign by activists.

Ian encouraged attendees to think about what they are trying to get across to their audience, and what is likely to be of interest to them. There is a perception that racing is a sunset industry made up of older people, has animal welfare issues, and is a gambling product. He cited the Kick Up initiative, with its facts and statistics, as being a useful tool to counter negativity about the industry. There is an opportunity to bring these people onside with good storytelling.

Ian’s view is that the New Zealand Thoroughbred racing industry punches above its weight on the international stage. However, we need to reframe how we talk about jockeys, equine welfare, investment decisions, programmes and opportunities. For instance, our jockeys are incredible athletes, as are our horses, and they receive best in class care. 

Ian urged the industry to speak to the broader news media more, not just the racing and sports media. He said this had worked well with Auckland Thoroughbred Racing and showed a clip from Seven Sharp about George Simon’s work as a commentator.

In summing up, Ian repeated his message that we should not let other people set the narrative.

Next up, representatives from Entain spoke about the rebranding of Trackside 1 and 2 and the TAB, with a video compilation of Trackside through the years shown. The new branding was showcased and it is anticipated that the refreshed imagery and offering will have many benefits.  Trackside moves to Freeview in April and, later in the year, trackside.co.nz will be launched. Entain is also bringing broadcast back to radio via the SENZ frequencies which it has purchased.

The new TAB brand, with a new logo and colours, was presented. Retail outlets will be revamped in an effort to make the TAB more modern and inviting.

During the Panel Discussion, Paul Wilcox (ATR) advised the audience of some of the new initiatives that Auckland Thoroughbred Racing has introduced. These include vouchers for Grooms, saddlecloth trackers and, for Group 1 winners, a video of all the key moments. The other panellists – Andrew “Butch” Castles (Waikato Thoroughbred Racing) and Tim Mills (Canterbury Jockey Club) – spoke about issues facing the industry in their local environments and in a wider sense.

NZTR were urged not to programme races so far in advance, but to instead use a rolling fortnight programme whereby trainers would be asked which horses they had that were ready to race, their preferred distance, and preferred type of race. The view that there is too much bureaucracy in the industry was expressed. Another issue mentioned was that the deep south is suffering, and NZTR were urged not to lose sight of this; there is a need for racing in every province. These points were acknowledged and noted.

The day finished with a presentation of the 2023 NZTR Club Awards, sponsored by Entain to the value of $25,000. The winners in the various categories were:

  • Metropolitan – Auckland Thoroughbred Racing 
  • Provincial – Whangarei Racing Club 
  • Country – Kumara Racing Club 
  • Overall Winner – Auckland Thoroughbred Racing and Whangarei Racing Club (joint winners)

Additional Awards were presented to Waikato Thoroughbred Racing (Club Leadership Award) and Racing Taupo (Club Appreciation Award).

This enjoyable and enlightening day wrapped up with drinks, socialising and reflection about the relevant and important messages relayed. 

NB: An abridged version of this overview appeared in the Autumn 2024 Owners Bulletin.

NZTROF President Bernard Hickey (left) and Executive Officer Denise Mayhew (2nd from right) with members of Wairoa Racing Club

NZTROF President Bernard Hickey (left) and Executive Officer Denise Mayhew (2nd from right) with members of Wairoa Racing Club

Dean Shannon, Entain CEO, presents to the group

Dean Shannon, Entain CEO, presents to the group