Niall Sloane, ITV's Director of Sport, opened the session with an insightful look into ITV's approach to racing, noting that an emphasis on the fun of racing can bring more people to the sport.
Sloane presented May 15 during a session on reaching and expanding racing's fan base at the 37th Asian Racing Conference in Seoul. Sloane's presentation revealed that viewing figures for the famed Grand National have increased 45% since ITV took over the coverage with the network recently awarded by BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) for best sports coverage in 2017.
"Most people at a racecourse are losing money but they are having an amazing time losing it and it is this concept of having fun that we need to take to the people," Sloane said. "Sport is popular and no show reaches a bigger audience than the Grand National. Yet racing needed a fresh, more reachable approach.
"Racing has to work out what it wants to be and we the broadcasters are tasked with showing it to the people. The one thing we need is a bigger audience and we need to explain to that audience what racing means, to showcase its unique attributes and to attract more people to attend those fixtures. As broadcasters we are your window to the world. We can show the drama, the passion and the action through what is captured on film at each racecourse."
Sloane concluded by saying: "Racing is a complex sport and needs all the help it can get. Make racing fun, make the language easy to understand and simplify the betting. And above all, remember that racing is an extraordinary sport and nothing comes close to it."
Oonagh Chan, senior consultant, media, technology and content production at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, has been in the media industry for 42 years and is an expert in television production system design and mega display technologies. Chan shared her views on upcoming television trends and the application of new technologies in sports television coverage.
She explained to the assembled delegates that changing scenarios in broadcasting would have significant implications for how the sport evolves in the next decade and beyond.
"For the modern fan the experience needs to be immersive and immediate—anywhere, anytime, any platform, any device. Most people have two or three devices and they want their content available on those content devices," she said.
According to Chan, sports coverage, including racing coverage, needs to be ready to adapt to changes, aligning with the latest technology, such as the use of a two-point cable-cam system which operated at 128 kmph along the backstretch during the 2018 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1). "Such technology brings the action closer to the viewers, letting them feel that they are involved. We are constantly looking for new technologies to bring a better experience to the viewer."
In conclusion, Chan said she sees the leveraging of technology as the way forward.
"For example mounting a 360-degree camera on top of a jockey's helmet during an actual race, enables viewers to change the camera angle in order to watch the other horses in the race and that changes the way that the race is being viewed," Chan said.
Continuing with the theme of satisfying the viewing customer, Min Ki Shim, associate manager of the marketing department of the Korea Racing Authority, drew the assembled delegates into the rapidly expanding culture of eSports. The eSports industry has a rapidly growing global fan base, with tens of thousands of fans visiting stadiums to watch league games. With racing in a quest to expand its dwindling fan base, Shim explained what led to the explosive growth of eSports, particularly in Korea, and what lessons the Sport of Kings could learn from the King of eSports.
Shim highlighted the incredible popularity of Korean eSports star Lee Sang-hyoek, known as "Faker," with annual earnings between US$3 million-$4 million. The 22 year-old sensation claims millions of social media followers and, in a comparison to racing, generated more than three times the number of Google results relative to 2015 American Triple Crown winner American Pharoah .
Despite their differences, Shim stressed that racing and eSports could find particularly valuable points of parity, reminding delegates that the retention rate of information at the beginner level is critical. He cited an MIT Game Lab study which showed the most successful, or mega-games, have an effective and engaging tutorial for the newest players.
"For beginners to engage in eSports, as in horse racing, the provision of information is essential, but it must be easy to understand and concise," he said.