State of racing media reviewed at 36th Asian Racing Conference

The changing face of racing media was the topic for the fourth session of the 36th Asian Racing Conference, held in Mumbai. Cyrus Madan, Chairman of the Indian Pattern Committee also served as chairman for the session and set the tone for where media stands in the current day with a reflection on the past.

“Racing is the one sport where commenting styles hardly changed when the medium shifted from radio to television. A conglomerate of print and electronic media have combined to make superstars out of horses, jockeys and trainers,” said Mr. Madan. “In terms of media in India, sport, especially cricket, is like a cult or religion in India, and sadly other sports do not get the same sort of hallowed status. Horse racing figures in the lower rungs of the ladder. But there is light at the end of the tunnel with dedicated racing websites sharing live video of the races, a huge step forward.”

Debbie Spillane was the first woman sports broadcaster hired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and shared her views on the current scope of media, racing and the modern day sports fan. “In terms of breaking news from sport, I find that Twitter is light years ahead of wire services and, of course, newspapers, even newspapers in their online form. For a while many journalists were skeptical, asking questions like ‘well, how do you really know who these people are that are tweeting information?’ But really, it’s just an extension of old world contacts and story tip-offs. Unless you are really gullible you should be able to figure out fairly quickly if the tweeter is usually well-informed.”

“Television doesn’t face a threat to its existence but perhaps a dilution of the influence of its old flagship channels given the way alternatives to old-style broadcast TV are multiplying,” posited Ms. Spillane. “The old attitude that having your sport on free-to-air television will bring you new fans is becoming less and less logical because, if mainstream TV viewers have no interest in your product, they have plenty of other viewing options. Gone are the days of ‘well, this is what’s on so let’s give it a go.’

Long time sports television producer and director Jim Ramsey was next to address the ARC, discussing the changing tide of television viewer demands, how racing is meeting those changes and what might be next. “I’ve been greatly blessed to be able to combine my two passions, television and racing, for the last 35 years. But despite my huge affection for horse racing, we have to accept that there are many members of the public with which horse racing does not resonate at all,” said Mr. Ramsey.

“We desperately need to build stories and make characters of jockeys. Let us work together to reveal the traits and quirks of the horses rather than connections saying ‘nice horse’ about every runner,” Mr. Ramsey continued. “Maybe the best answer would be to follow the lines of the Champions’ League and Premier League, and make a one-minute interview for all owners, trainers and jockeys compulsory if they enter a horse in a race. It will promote the sport and make it more transparent, while organically educating the racegoer as the interviews would be transmitted on the course to encourage racegoers to return for entertainment purposes and encouraging wagering.”

Moneyglass Films owner and producer Nick Ryle spoke in a Q&A session with ARC session moderator, the BBC’s David Eades, about his upcoming film, “Being A P” a revealing documentary about champion jump jockey A.P. McCoy. “We set ourselves two challenges, one is that those in racing should enjoy the film, but mainly more important than that is to we wanted to make a film to reach someone on the street that has never heard of A.P. I think we’ve done that,” said Mr. Ryle.

The session was concluded with a panel discussion that included the aforementioned presenters along with former jockey turned broadcaster Hayley Turner along with Australian racing television presenter and producer Caroline Searcy and the Racing Post’s senior journalist, Howard Wright.

“I spent the last 15 years riding and driving up and down the motorway. I’ve been limited to that. Mentally, you are just in a bubble. You are almost quite selfish, you almost have to be to get on as a jockey. So it is really strange for me to come out and do this [broadcasting],” said Ms. Turner. “It’s quite nice I find that when you follow people [on Twitter], you can always tell the people who are doing it themselves and those who are really just advertising. It’s strange because in this transition I’m making, I’m unfollowing some people and following new people.”

Mr. Wright warned of the perils of too much reliance on social media channels. “I fear that on Twitter there are so many uninformed and unfounded stories. Professional journalists look behind the tweets,” said Mr. Wright. “I have a Twitter account and somehow have accumulated 274 followers and have no tweets. I use it as an information centre. Everybody has to have a Twitter account, Facebook page, Instagram, and it certainly goes for the racing organizations. If they don’t have it, they aren’t engaging, but at the same time, you have to be aware. Professional journalists are the people who provide the authority, the credibility, are there every day, in the game. Some young journalists these days don’t have phone numbers for people.”

Ms. Turner echoed the need for caution in how racing participants engage these newer media platforms. “The jockeys coming up now, the racing schools probably need to educate them on it more, because its new and happening. You ride a winner and get loads of praise off everybody, but then if you get beat on the favourite, I’ve got a file of Twitter trolls and messages I’ve had which are awful but quite amusing. It’s an education, a life experience. Have thick skin and it helps.”

The role of racing broadcasts came into focus, specifically regarding the development of messages for a diverse audience “I think you aren’t always preaching to the converted,” said Ms. Searcy. “I’ve had plenty of girls come up to me at the races who find the channels, they love horses, they get their parents to take them out to the races. These are the new and future owners, the new punters. It’s really important to remember that not everyone watching the racing channel is a convert and actually knows what you are talking about. You don’t have to dumb it down, but don’t always assume that everyone knows what you are talking about.”