Over the years I have had many conversations with people from an incredible range of businesses who had chosen, for some reason or another, to sponsor a race.
Being a nosy journalist by trade I was always intrigued as to why they decided to take the sponsorship route when it came to the marketing of their business. As a racing club committee person, I was well aware of how hard we all worked to lure sponsors to support our meetings so that background knowledge also helped when trying to hook future sponsors.
As society changed over the years the racing industry, like a number of other sports, has had to reinvent itself to attract new sponsors. Back in the day alcohol and cigarette sponsors were falling over themselves to have their names attached to racing events. I have an abiding memory of one of the earliest Racing Writers’ dinners I attended where the evening’s sponsor had liberally distributed cartons – yes, cartons – of cigarettes at every table. The night’s proceedings were conducted in that blue haze which a room full of cigarette smoke generates. At the time I wasn’t a smoker – other than second-hand obviously, but it was easy to see why many of my colleagues were!
That cigarette-smoking, beer-swilling image is one which some potential New Zealand sponsors have found difficult to shake when they envisage the average racegoer. Interestingly, other jurisdictions recognise that racegoers also participate in everyday life – sometimes at a high level – which is why we see prestige brands such as Longines aligning themselves with the industry.
The industry here suffers from something of a split personality in the public eye – they see us as that last bastion of smokers, consuming low-brand beers while gambling the rent money but also as high-flyers who fork out six and seven-figure sums on glossy yearlings which then race in Australia and win truckloads of money.
The perception is driven by the media. In recent months there was a short racing segment on the Oscar Kightley hosted show Following Twain where Kightley spoke (slightly fondly I thought) of his early memories of accompanying his father to a TAB as a child, while the footage from the Hawera races lingered on the older smokers in the crowd. Tick for reinforcing that image then.
Any racing coverage seen on our local TV news channels tends to focus on the money angle. If they do miraculously show Winx continuing to rack up wins, or a local Group One race the emphasis is always on how much money the horse has amassed. So, once again racing is positioned as a rich person’s sport where money is king. Unfortunately, the personalities and back stories seldom make their way out from industry-focused online news feeds.
Given that muddled view from the outside looking in, it seems incredible that clubs do continue to attract sponsors and often build lengthy relationships which are mutually beneficial.
Sometimes clubs do have to look outside the square and consider different ways of luring sponsors into the fold and that is how I find myself this weekend ticking off a bucket-list item as a raceday sponsor.
Last year the Counties Racing Club created a Sponsors club where people were invited to pay a nominal sum and, on a specific race day, they would go into a draw to win a race sponsorship. Well, the actual main prize was a trip to Australia, but my focus was always on winning a sponsorship!
I was somewhat excited with the outcome as was another friend whose name was also drawn out as a winner.
Where it got interesting was when my friend approached a particular charitable group with the kind offer of giving them the race name to raise awareness for their cause. She was turned down as the organisation didn’t want to be associated with gambling.
While I can understand their moral dilemma it does demonstrate again, just how poorly racing is perceived in some sectors.
Fortunately, others understand that the racing industry, like many others, is populated by a range of people who still have the need to buy houses, drive cars, eat out at restaurants, travel and do all the other things “normal” people do.
As for my sponsorship on Sunday, I’m not selling anything, just putting out a shameless plea for more blogpost readers and using the day as an opportunity to catch up with friends and family.