10/07/2013 12:32PM

International conference calls for focus on ontrack customer experience


Racetracks need to focus on delivering consistently satisfying experiences to ontrack customers if the sport is to stem a worldwide decline in its popularity, several speakers at a panel on marketing said Monday at the International Conference of Horseracing Authorities in Paris, France.

The message delivered during the presentation, held as part of a conference organized by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, emphasized that racetracks typically are the first gateway to the sport for a new fan. As a result, racetrack marketers must ensure that a first-time customer’s expectations are met or exceeded on that first visit, and must follow up with as many visitors as possible.

Jean-Christophe Giletta, a marketing official with France Galop, the governing body of racing in France and the owner of the country’s racetracks, said France Galop recently conducted extensive surveys with four segments of the country’s population to determine why the sport’s ontrack business continues to erode, as is the case in most other racing countries. He said the results appeared to indicate that France Galop was not delivering a consistent message to racing fans or track customers.

As a result, France Galop has decided to focus its marketing efforts on newcomers for its highest-profile events at its highest-profile tracks, such as Longchamp in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, where the expectations are most likely to be met. The intention is to market the sport as a “premium sport and a premium brand,” Giletta said.

A similar strategy is being employed by Churchill Downs Inc., according to Bill Carstanjen, the company’s chief operating officer. Carstanjen said Churchill Downs has spent $160 million over the past eight years on projects that Churchill has evaluated for their cost-effectiveness in meeting the needs of current and future fans. Those projects have included massive renovations to the grandstand and the implementation of night racing in 2009.

Carstanjen said Churchill has been able to justify the expense by posting consistently higher revenue for its ontrack events over the past decade, even as racing’s core national economic indicators have been contracting significantly. “If we don’t invest, those people won’t keep coming back,” Carstanjen said.

Meanwhile, Mike Mulvihill, the senior vice president of programming for Fox Sports, told the audience that the explosion of demand for sports programming on television bears good news for racing, in that the U.S. sport has a large number of high-quality races such as Grade 1 stakes that are only broadcast live on niche networks like TVG and HRTV.

“For someone like me who is charged with helping to program almost 9,000 hours a year of sports television on Fox Sports 1, this represents a tantalizing opportunity,” said Mulvihill, referring to the sports channel that Fox launched in August. “We are in the business of presenting live events of the highest quality, and horse racing has them in abundance.”

Earlier this year, Fox Sports announced a partnership with The Jockey Club to broadcast 20 races in 10 live broadcasts next year on Fox Sports 1.