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And then there is Harness Racing

By Danielle Helbers

Most successful businesses allocate a significant component of their budget and resources on marketing to keep in step with consumer interests and trends, and to support pathways into diverse revenue streams. Marketing is often far more scientific and rigouress than when Darren was coming up with advertising slogans and posters on the popular, old TV show, Bewitched.


Consider our competitor – thoroughbred racing. We all know the brand: It is the ‘sport of kings’. And what is the imagery that has been expertly crafted to go with this brand:

  • Fun picnic races and carnivals:to increase support for meeting attendances and betting,
  • Global focus: to capitalise on lucrative market segments beyond national borders and attract multi-national sponsors. Emirates is a HUGE sponsor because various high stakes races get international coverage, and attract international audiences,
  • Champagne, fine food and wine: huge sponsorship opportunities from these, whilst adding to the excitement of attending a meeting or an associated event (including at pubs and restaurants) where people will bet,
  • Fashions in the field: more incredibly lucrative sponsorships. Seeing people in beautiful clothing and jewellery, adds to excitement of attending race meetings or an associated event where people will bet. International fashion house, Bvlgari, piles on the free to air advertising during the Melbourne Cup, because of the interest in ‘fashion and luxury goods’.
  • The magnificence of the thoroughbred breed itself: so people want to get a look at the horse and breed from it. Its presence and beauty increases its potential $ value, and
  • The potential financial windfalls for owners when they own a champion, which results in syndication, increases in ownership, and influences decisions to breed… etc

So, what about harness racing: What is the brand and imagery for harness racing? I just don’t know. I doubt that any of us actually do know. Do we even have a brand?!


Revenue forms for racing and sport can come from various sources including the following (there may be others, but these are the ones I can think of).

  • Betting
  • Sponsorship
  • Advertising
  • Merchandise, e.g. scarves, hats, badges, etc.
  • Ticket sales
  • Stakes money, track fees, memberships, licences, registrations etc.
  • Sports clinics and consultancies
  • Competitions
  • Grant money
  • Government including councils (depending on jurisdiction)
  • Gaming, e.g.online Fantasy Football

It’s no secret that harness racing relies almost exclusively on betting as its revenue source. Some additional income is generated from stakes money, fees, licencing and registration. We generatevery small amounts of revenue from sponsors who are predominantly small, family-owned businesses and merchants.  Examination of revenue from competitors shows the opportunities that can exist if you market effectively.

I googled sponsorship for the Melbourne Cup – see theimpressive list below.

Principal Partner

Major Partners

Official Partners

Race Sponsors

Event and Program Partners

Media Partners

Charity Partners

Can you imagine the money these sponsorships generate for the Australian thoroughbred racing industry? Can you imagine the efforts taken by the decision makers in the thoroughbred world to develop their racing product,so that it meet the needs of lucrative sponsors and attracts them to their sport?

As you can see above, there is a great deal of support from fashion, food and drink manufacturers and also from the media. That they are sponsoring this code is no accident! The thoroughbreds have done a great deal of business planning to attract the BIG corporate sponsors, and to bring in the mega dollars.

If you google ‘sponsors the crows‘, you geta similarly impressive list of corporate sponsors.

Disturbingly, I plugged in to google ‘harness racing sponsors’, and was directed to links on how to become a sponsor. I clicked a number of linksbut found very few, if any,corporate sponsors. Television and radio will be unlikely to support our sport unless we have sponsors who will spend money on advertising.

In the case of the AFL, it too has betting products. Punters have numerous opportunities to place bets during a match so that additional revenue for the codeis generated. Who will kick the first goal? Who will be in the lead by the first quarter? These betting products cater to the consumer interests of selected market segments, that is, those who like a punt. The problem for harness racing is that only a segment of people with a potential interest in our sport will bet, but we rely almost exclusively on them to fund out sport.

Many who enjoy the AFL and the thoroughbreds do not punt, but the AFL and the thoroughbreds get money from these people in other ways! Harness racing needs to get far better at doing the same…We need to diversify our revenue streams.

Also, our competitors are mindful that they need to continue to appeal to various groups, and they start by trying tohook them in from a young age. For example, marketing the AFL to young children is probably done through sports clinics, player visits with schools and sports clubs, through fun competitions and so on. They certainly target merchandise for youngsters.

When it comes to attracting youngsters, I reckon we have something– we have the terrific pony trots.But we still need to do far more.


Growing and Protecting Your Business

State based Aussie-rules football was struggling financially back in the day (until about the early 90s). The product changed from state based to a national competition and it was corporatized and branded. Revenue has increasingly diversified through good business planning to sports betting, sports clinics, government grants (e.g. funding for programs to support people at risk), advertising and sales from memorabilia.

Many of us will be aware that the AFL has recently diversified its product. It is now also focussing heavily on women’s football.The AFL is also pursuing a break-through onto the worldstage, with games planned for China.

The AFL is doing a superb job of business planning. Re-packaging its product so that it is more attractive to women and international audiences will probably result in additional sponsorships andadvertising from multinational companies. Yes… MORE MONEY!

The thoroughbreds did the same when the Melbourne Cup (and other high stakes races such as Royal Ascot) became international events with horses from all over the world making up the high stakes fields. Yes, there were complaints from those within the thoroughbred industry about the $$$ going overseas but, in actual fact, those business decisions have made their sport incredibly successful.

If we had the best in the sport from around the world come to our shores for feature races, I reckon many more of us would be there trackside.We would want to get close and personal. We would want to speak to the trainers of the elite horses and learn some trade secrets…

Can harness racing learn from these success stories? What is needed so that our product is more attractive to new groups of punters and owners, and so it becomes attractive to Australia and the world? How do we spread the word? How do we diversify our revenue streams and grow?

Point of Difference – What do we offer

I believe that our sport holds so much potential. If only it was packaged and offered to an unaware, ill-informed public. Too few out there know about it.

From my point of view, here are some points of difference that might help with packaging our sport. I reckon there’s plenty more that participants will want to add to this list…

  • The on track experience is exciting.We often get to see our horses run past us twice or more, including when the horses run away from the mobile and fight for their positions at the start. In the case of the thoroughbreds, you see the finish only. In the case of the dogs, it’s over in 15 to 20 seconds of racing… Not so exciting.
  • Because of the standardbred’s lovely temperament, it is easy to train, and horses often enjoy a life under saddle after racing, therefore reducing risk of fallout associated with animal welfare. Standardbreds have a particular penchant for show-jumping.
  • Because of the standardbred’s good temperament, there is less risk of injury to our drivers and trainers. Our trainers, drivers, stud masters/breeders and stable hands can relax and really enjoy working with the horses – that’s pretty rare with thoroughbreds. Which breed would you rather work with?
  • Highly strung horses are more likely to get injured and do something stupid – standardbreds are less likely to be like that. It is much more difficult to keep a thoroughbred sound due to its highly strung temperament, resulting in increased risk and wastage, as well as costs to owners.
  • Instead of being able to enjoy only a handful of races a year for a couple of years, the standardbred can race each week for months at a time, years-on-year to enhance owner experience. Much more fun!
  • Costs of ownership are much lower to purchase, breed, train and race. The ordinary person can afford to get involved in some way, and returns on investment are much more likely. Less financial risk.
  • Our broodmares and stallions are much more fertile than our thoroughbred competitors. Mostbroodmares will produce a live foal every year, unlike thoroughbreds. For those of us who want to breed, there’s far more reward.
  • Financial windfalls can be just as large for owners in harness racing as thoroughbreds, especially when you consider that the overheads are not as high.
  • We value equality. The thoroughbred world is biased toward male jockeys, whereas we value our female drivers and our female trainers. Ability matters in our sport, not their sex!

In conclusion, what is the commercialised brand for the sport of harness racing and WHAT is the associated product offering? I just don’t know – we don’t have a product that’s recognised and branded like the ‘sport of kings’. To grow requires capturing the next generation of owners, punters, trainers and drivers. A clear national and international vision for the sport of harness racing is desperately needed. We desperately need goodbusiness planningand marketing so that we diversify revenue streamsand secure the wellbeing and future of our sport.


Approved By Dean Baring www.harnessbred.com

Driving The Future Of Harness Racing

Approved by Dean Baring Harnessbred.com Harness Racing Breeding