Anne M. Eberhardt

Can Horse Racing Truly Harness Social Media?

It's more than just putting stuff out on Facebook and Twitter, panelists said.

Before the first panel discussion began Dec. 8 at the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing & Gaming in Tucson, Race Track Industry Program director Doug Reed asked people seated in the back of the room to move forward. A few did.

Then panel moderator Chuck Champion made the same request. Again, one or two people obliged.

Champion then announced he would give each person that sat in the six seats in the front row $20. In less than a minute he was out $120.

“What you just saw is what social media can do for you,” said Champion, the one-time head of the advance deposit wagering service who now has a consultancy called Paladin Capital Partners. “I had to pay for the most recalcitrant of you, but I got what I wanted.”

Champion and others discussed the power of social media and how it could work for horse racing. They said it centers on a target, a tailored message, and various “touch points” that attract users.

It’s not always that simple, said Lynn Chang, a former executive who now serves as executive creative director of JigoCity, a global social buying firm. Getting users of social media platforms is one thing; converting those users into sales and revenue is another, she said.

Chang used the Asian population in Southern California as an example. She said if those people are a target market for racetracks, they must be approached on their terms, in their language, and with meaningful imagery.

The Chinese, when they gamble, generally gravitate to “thinking games,” Chang said. Thus, horse racing has an opportunity to attract those dollars.

Chang recalled that early on at the company spent a lot of money on advertising that wasn’t targeted and didn’t get the desired result. It then shifted its focus to target existing horseplayers, worked with racetracks to get player lists, and developed online services accordingly.

“There does need to be that layer of, ‘How does this relate to your return on investment?’ ” Chang said.

Russell Fine, who also worked for but now is general manager of Cimarron Digital, which provides marketing services to major motion picture studies and Fortune 100 luxury brands, called social media “the biggest opportunity to get new players.” It’s a matter of engagement, he said.

Fine asked members of the audience if they remembered their first visit to the racetrack. Most did. Of those, all but one indicated they remembered who accompanied them on that first trip.

“If you want new players, they have to be brought (to the track) by someone else,” Fine said. “You then need to influence them to influence their friends. That is social media.”

Fine said he dislikes the term “social media.” He prefers to call it “social engagement through devices.”

Fine also suggested using “affiliate marketing” whereby racing stakeholders pay on commission a group of individuals—salespeople in effect—to bring in new patrons. He said there are betting outfits in Great Britain that use affiliate marketing.

“You basically have an army of marketers,” Fine said. “You will never be as smart as 10,000 other people (working on a common goal). You can only be as smart as the people in your room.”