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Racing Victoria CEO Andrew Jones has defended the sport’s innovation strategy

Racing Victoria CEO Andrew Jones has defended the sport’s innovation strategy

Racing Victoria CEO Andrew Jones has defended the sport’s innovation strategy, saying that racing faces a similar path to other major codes that are now struggling after failing to recognise the warning signs.

Jones, in a special interview with racing.com, said that wagering in July is down 15% YoY and was unapologetic in moving for change.

He would not confirm details of a new race series, potentially to be held at Moonee Valley in Summer.

The series would include a limit on whip use, jockeys being able to communicate to a trainer or coach during a race, a team-based concept with increased prize money.

“Well, we’re not going to say exactly what we’re exploring. We’re exploring a whole bunch of ideas, but we are on record as saying we want to extend the spring into the end of November. We want to attract new fans to racing particularly 18 to 34s and particularly 18 to 24s,” he said.

 

“And we need to make sure there’s a really appealing racing product and format and series for them to attend after they’ve been excited by the Melbourne Cup Carnival. So we’re looking at a bunch of options around that.”

Asked if it was fair to compare the new concept to cricket’s Big Bash, Jones said: “Well, if it was a fair analogy, it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Big Bash has clearly changed cricket in Australia. It’s gone from a property worth $0 to being worth $120 million a year in TV rights.

“It’s pretty much doubled the audience for cricket. It’s increased the audience for test cricket. It’s changed the way test cricket’s played as the recent Ashes series would demonstrate,” Jones said.

“It spawned a spinoff called WBBL, which is going to be as big as BBL in due course. So, if that’s a comparison, then that’s not a bad comparison to have.”

The interview, which will air on racing.com at 4.45pm and 7.30pm on Tuesday night, Jones covered many of racing’s biggest issues.

 

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JOCKEY MIRCOPHONES

Jones said RV will look at replicating the ability for jockeys to communicate back to a trainer, making note of how F1 drivers do so in Netflix’s Drive to Survive.

“You’ve got to make racing as fan-friendly as possible and mics and earpieces are not new. So in Formula 1, everybody’s watched Drive to Survive. The cars weigh as much as horses, they’re going five times faster, 300 ks an hour,” Jones said.

“That is a properly dangerous sport and they’re communicating with the pit crew all the time. Now, is that a direct analogy to racing? Well, we don’t know.

“So if we were to introduce that, what we would do is we would test it. So we would test it with one rider doing track work, we test it at jump out, we test it at a trial before we let it anywhere near a race. So it’s not all or nothing, it’s not black or white. You can actually progress and test these ideas and see if they work. If the ideas don’t work or are dangerous, then you don’t do them or discontinue them. But to innovate, you actually have to change things and people need to get their head around that.”

Jones said that safety concerns, raised by some trainers and jockeys, would be investigated during the trial of the concept.

“Safety is paramount in racing and a paramount consideration. But you have to understand that every single accident that’s happened in racing, and there’s been plenty even in my time, has happened without a radio and with a whip,” he said.

“So not having a radio and having a whip don’t prevent accidents. There’s inherent risk in racing. The question is, does having an earpiece or a mic change that and does it change it materially? And the answer is we don’t know because we haven’t tried it.”

RACING’S FUTURE

Jones said racing had to heed the warning from other major sports in Australia that once prospered but are now struggling for relevance.

“Racing has a lot of things going for it. We’ve just had our second-biggest year on record, so it is important to keep a sense of perspective, but my view is we’ve got quite a strong starting position and we should use that starting position to our advantage to grow racing rather than do nothing and wait for it to go backward,” he said.

“Now these are extreme examples, but if you see what’s happened to racing in Singapore, if you see what’s happened to harness racing in Australia, they’ve gone backwards over a long period of time because, well, rugby in Australia has gone backwards over a 20-year period because they didn’t realize what was happening in the landscape around them.

“And my fear for racing is that it doesn’t realize that it is the frog in the pot getting boiled. And it’s my job as leader of the peak body to try and understand what’s going on and try and have that dialogue with participants. But it does involve change and as you say, people don’t always like that.”

FOCUS IS OUTSIDE THE RACING COMMUNITY

Jones confirmed that the new concepts RV were pursuing weren’t aimed at current consumers of the sport.

“You’ve got to refresh your fan base at all times. And racing has the unique situation that when I was 18, I turned 18 in 1990, if I wanted to bet, I could only bet on racing,” he said.

“I could only bet on racing and I could only bet through the TAB. That’s changed. When kids turn 18 now they can bet on any sporting event in the world.

“So racing has much, much more competition for attention and eyeballs and we see that. We see that in the consumption data, we see that in the ratings, we see that in the crowds, we see that in the wagering data.

“Any measure of engagement demonstrates that there’s a lot more choice for young people and we need to make sure that racing is relevant to them because we don’t have a monopoly on their attention and we don’t have a monopoly on the wagering dollar anymore and we have to fight for it.

Jones said that the changes would impact less than 1 per cent of the current programme, and would be aimed at the “the majority of the Australian population” who don’t consume racing.

“We’re talking about changing maybe four meetings out of 550. So less than 1% of our meetings, less than 1% of our races to suit a whole bunch of people who don’t currently engage with racing, which I hate to break it to you is the majority of the Australian population,” he said.

“So the fact that some people don’t like it is a fact and it’s neither here nor there because there are a lot of people who don’t like what they like because customers are different and have different needs.

“So it’s up to us to identify the segments, identify their needs, and make sure that they are well served by some element of our 4,400 race program.”

ON OPPOSITION FROM SOME PARTICIPANTS

“The racing participant’s job is to win races. Their job is to win races this Saturday, the Saturday after, through the spring, and on weekdays,” Jones said.

“Our job is to work out the strategic landscape associated with the sport and what the sport needs to do to evolve to keep growing revenue. I say to people all the time in racing, our job is to make you a little bit richer every day.

“And to do that, we need to know what customers want and work out how to give it to them. And I’ve said many times before, we spend a lot of time in racing fighting over the pie, where the real game is to grow the pie and that is all about growing the audience.”

RV’S RELATIONSHIP WITH STAKEHOLDERS

Jones said it was difficult to develop concepts that all stakeholders would embrace, but wouldn’t be drawn on whether some of those relationships had become strained, as has been claimed in media reports last week.

“Participants can tell you what their relationship with us is. Our job is to work out where to take the industry and we get an enormous amount of feedback from participants. It’s often very disparate. I asked, for example, the Australian Trainers Association for a position on an issue last week and one of the committee members said to me, ‘We will never agree. You have to make this decision. We will never agree’.

“So we’re in an environment where everybody has got a fervently held opinion and those opinions obviously vary. So we have to work out, ‘Okay, well, what’s the best answer out of the available answers’, and then go do it. And some people like that and some people don’t.”

2023 SPRING CARNIVAL

Jones said “there is a lot to look forward to” in this year’s carnival following the announcement of a rich owner’s incentive, the inclusion of Romantic Warrior in this year’s carnival points and significant changes to the Caulfield Carnival.

“The Ladbrokes Owners Incentive Scheme was obviously a big win for owners. Ironically, it came out around the same time they were being vigorously criticized by the owner’s association, but it is a funny old world we live in,” Jones said.

“I think everybody’s sick of winter. I know I am. The trainers I’ve spoken to are sick of it. Everybody’s getting excited about a Spring with a lot of international interests. We know Japanese and Hong Kong horses are coming down. We’ve got Romantic Warrior coming down for the Cox Plate. We’ve got Vauban having a big win overnight in Ireland and suiting up for the Melbourne Cup. So the momentum is building towards spring.

“And then from a Racing Victoria point of view, we’ve also got a new race day at Caulfield, which again has been controversial moving a G1 race from a Wednesday to a Saturday from a time when people can’t watch it to a time when they can and where it’s a bit more separate from the Flight Stakes.

“We’ve got that coming up in November with a Country Cups final, which we think really gives context and reward to country clubs and racetracks and trainers who support those country cups.

“And we’ve got a relocated Rupert Clarke Stakes as well on that day in November. So we’re all really looking forward to that. We’ve got year two of Champions Day, big success. We talk a lot about having finals and Champions Day is a good format. Maybe a little later in November would be ideal, but we are where we are. So there’s a lot to look forward to.”