Walk to the beverage cooler at your local corner store. As you stand there, I suspect the drinks are all lined up at attention, each one tempting you to pick them.
From the neon packaging of the energy drinks to the clear bottles of iced tea and fruit juice, each item is designed to catch your attention. Likely, information about promotions and contests hang from the glass, further trying to persuade you what direction to go.
It’s a Sunday afternoon. I’m at a busy racetrack, and around me, thousands of patrons are betting the races.
In front of them, hundreds of television screens display products from across the United States. Customers are watching and wagering with purpose and determination.
On the betting menu today, there are five Canadian harness tracks from five Canadian provinces. While betting is open on these locales, not a single television is broadcasting them.
This is a Canadian phenomena. I’d challenge you to visit a racetrack in France, Australia or even the United States, and not see domestic products dominating the television space.
In Canada, we seem to worry less about borders. Our customers speak with their wallets and we display what they’re most likely to bet on. Bigger American pools, thoroughbred racing, and higher quality signals often win the day.
Truthfully, our harness racing industry relies on the wagering dollars our customers bet on the big U.S. thoroughbred tracks. Turning our backs on that is not realistic or wise.
That said, Canadian racetracks need all of the support they can get. If $100 is bet on a Canadian track rather than on a foreign one, a few extra dollars stay in our country, and circulating within the industry. It’s horse racing’s version of shopping local.
We have come a long way in terms of what Canadians can bet on, now allowing at home and on-track betting on many of our smaller tracks, with live video streaming often the norm.
But let’s face it: Domestic handles rise when customers see value. They must see value in the television packaging, video quality, racing product, and wagering opportunities available to them. In many cases, in Canada, that requires work.
So, how do we move forward?
Firstly, this is not an Ontario issue. It is a national topic and we need everyone at the table. The Canadian brand is important and we shouldn’t divide our strength.
Secondly, racetracks, associations and horsepeople across Canada need to engage in a meaningful dialogue on how to work together to broadcast and distribute our products, in the highest quality possible. Perhaps costs can be shared to accomplish this, but quality is vital.
Thirdly, promote. ‘Bet Canadian’ ambassadors, free programs, contests and promotions can be rolled out at every simulcast location and racetrack in the country, as well as online.
Just imagine walking into a simulcast location, being given a free ‘Bet Canadian’ program, and an entry into a national contest for simply betting on each Canadian product.
Just like the beverage companies have realized long ago, shelf space, appearance and promotion matters.
Whether it’s a bank of television screens or a fridge full of drinks, those who stand out often come out ahead. It’s time to stand out.