IN selecting Seven over Sky the Victorian racing industry has taken a gamble upon a gamble.
The first is that the industry will earn enough through Seven, via advertising and other streams, to make up for the vast millions that would have been assured with Sky/TAB — then grow and earn more.
But the projections are just that, a gamble, and reliant greatly on a catchphrase of the migration from cottage industry coverage to free-to-air — “new eyeballs.’’
There is both risk and allure in the notion of once-mighty horse racing finding itself on a mainstream stage.
To some, the uncompromising Sky option meant stagnation; any longer hidden on pay TV preaching to desperates and it would have become as detached as poor old harness racing. Take a punt or whither.
Melbourne Racing Club chairman Mike Symons summed up the ambition of signing with Seven, saying without mainstream connection and other exposure opportunities racing “was just talking to itself.’’
But the punt of exposing Victorian racing to a non-racing audience, via Seven’s huge cross promotional opportunities, is that it will not just fail to impress but offend; expose fundamental flaws that had previously been mostly hidden.
In some ways this transition couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Three renowned trainers are charged with using cobalt, a drug that is said to harm horses and make them run faster. A notorious ex-jockey has been linked to a current one in a betting scandal. A Hall of Fame jockey was done a year or so for punting and the favourite for last year’s Melbourne Cup dropped dead in front of weeping racegoers. Horses are whipped in every race and the next wave of scandals is always around the next corner.
This is the backdrop to racing’s reintroduction to the mainstream.
In an ideal world Seven would have showcased only prime time Saturdays but the task set its production and on air staff is to turn the pig’s ear of seven day/week racing at dusty, empty joints like Mildura into something resembling a silk purse.
A long-retired former industry chief said a 24/7 racing channel starting with just one meet per day (it will eventually increase) was “unwatchable coz it’s deadset boring.’’
“And you’ll never get the supporting content. Footy can do it coz it’s got 18 teams and endless stories. TVN tried it and it had no audience. Too boring,’’ he said.
The mission is that visual “narrative’’ will entice betting yet an odd thing happened when TVN shut down and the TAB blacked out Tuesday’s Geelong meet; betting pools didn’t drop.
Corporate bookies will be branded all over Seven’s FTA channel. Tom Waterhouse staged an advertising blitz on FTA sport a few years back and became an instant pariah. Bookmakers are a hard sell to the non-gambling world.
This is the landscape, these are the challenges. But racing found itself cornered, has been true to its DNA and taken a punt.