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Knowing our Audience

The View

If you walk into a McDonald’s in India, you will find the McCurry Pan. In Japan, it’s the Filet-O-Shrimp, and in Germany, the Nürnberger consists of three Bratwurst sausages served on a bun. According to McDonald’s, “We try to adapt our menu to reflect different tastes and local traditions for every country in which we have restaurants.”

Makes sense.

In harness racing, the greatest short-term area for wagering growth for our sport is to send our product around the world, and to wager on products from across the globe. Instead of talking about increasing handle by three or four percent, we can discuss doubling or tripling it. Domestic pools could soar, enticing bettors abroad, and bolstering pools in our own jurisdictions.

During Canada’s recent World Driving Championship, betting from Australia and New Zealand resulted in our tracks breaking long standing records. We saw the highest handle in Atlantic Canada history, the most ever bet on races at Century Downs, and wagering unmatched in years on the cards at Hippodrome 3R and Georgian Downs.

Why did it happen?

There are two critical reasons. Number one, we worked together as an industry to make it happen, and it happened. Number two, we served our version of the Nürnberger.

To racing fans in Australia and New Zealand, the 11 horse fields of the WDC looked similar to what they are accustomed to. They had their own drivers to cheer for, and a commentator brought over from Australia to add a familiar voice to each leg. Programs were formatted for their preferences, and customers could wager through the tote or via fixed odds wagering. It was still McDonalds, but we didn’t try to serve them poutine.

Which brings me to a question. If you could watch and wager on the fifth race from a racetrack you’ve never heard of in Finland, would you?

Now, what if they added a known Canadian commentator and program lines that looked more like ours than theirs? Would that change your mind? How about if they threw in your favourite North American announcer, calling the races, and a couple of trainers whose names you recognize? What if they added some of your favourite North American drivers, wearing the colours of your country, in a meaningful international competition? Let’s say they threw in your favourite trotters of all time – perhaps Moni Maker or San Pail? Ok, let’s sweeten the pot with common pool betting, one mile races timed in fifths of a second, a $1 million pool each and every race, and a post time that coincides with the time of day that you’re most likely to watch the races.

Are you interested yet?

When purses in the Ontario Sires Stakes program go up, it is because wagering in Ontario is increasing. A big rise results in a more robust program, and a decline results in a decrease. Of course, Ontario is not alone in tying Sires Stakes purses to wagering.

So it stands to reason that everybody, from tracks, to horsepeople, to breeders, would understand the role we all play in this challenge. So, when was the last time we made a significant change to our racing products to cater to anyone else other than ourselves? And for that matter, when was the last time that another nation made an effort to convince us to bet on them?

When have we talked about the effect of evening post times on our ability to simulcast into Europe, in the middle of the night? How about the fact that a greater percentage of our horses bred are pacers, while virtually every country in Europe races trotters only? Most harness racing countries in the world bet on larger field sizes than what we offer. We announce in English, and race one-mile dashes, while they virtually never do. And our “moving post times” are a North American phenomenon enough to infuriate simulcast directors around the world who set post times and adamantly stick to them.

When I was in China last year, they were very interested in standardbred racing. But they were also adamant that the Chinese won’t watch races with race bikes. Pacing under saddle only, they told me. China has a population of 1.4 billion people - maybe we should consider what they’d like?

Opportunity is there. But in order to sell our product, we must understand our prospective customer. And we must be willing to make changes when needed.

At some point, the executives at McDonald’s were likely told that their restaurants only belonged in North America. Stay local, they were surely advised. Today, McDonald’s is in 119 countries around the world. A few changes can go a long way!

Darryl Kaplan
dkaplan@standardbredcanada.ca


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