HONG KONG Jockey Club CEO and IFHA vice-chairman Mr Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges on Monday, in Paris, chaired a discussion on the “Future Challenges of Racing” at the 45th conference of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities.

Chairing at this important plenary session, Engelbrecht-Bresges spoke of the importance of “understanding the racing customer’s needs” as he introduced US Jockey Club President Jim Gagliano who outlined the current state and prospective future of thoroughbred breeding and racing in North America and then called on journalists from England, the USA and Australia to offer a media perspective on the future of racing.

“We need to customize our product and service offerings by customer segments so as to make racing more relevant and more competitive,” said Engelbrecht-Bresges who also told the audiences that the Hong Kong Jockey Club has already done a comprehensive study to better understand customers’ behaviour and needs.

He added that the key goal of the session was “to discuss further what racing can do to sustain its future, from a more holistic or 360-degree perspective.”

Jim Gagliano started the session to talk about what proactive measures the US Jockey Club will undertake after unveiling a comprehensive economic study titled ‘Building sustainable growth for thoroughbred racing and breeding’. America is losing fans at a rate of 4% a year and by 2020, at this rate, the fan base will only be 64% of the 2010 figure.

“You will agree therefore that ‘standing still’ is not an option. A clear message from the two studies is that racing must be more outside-in than inside-out when examining our issues and future options,” Engelbrecht-Bresges said.

Gagliano detailed the findings of their report which highlighted several factors including increased competition, brand perception and poor amenities which had led to a decrease in six major racing economic indicators in the period 2005 - 2010.

“Importantly we have identified nine key initiatives which we believe can reverse those negative trends. We have already made significant and tangible progress on several of the initiatives including an agreement in principle with a major network to televise a series of races in the spring that leads to the Triple Crown,” Gagliano said.

Howard Wright, from the Racing Post, and Stephen Moran, from Best Bets Australia, both called on the industry world-wide to establish better relationships with the key personnel in mainstream media organisations to ensure that racing had coverage beyond the sports pages and could pursue greater free-to-air television exposure. Wright also emphasised the need to make “new media” work for racing.

The theme of Moran’s presentation was to re-invent how racing was presented; to re-engage the customers who are attracted to the track on major racedays and to re-establish racing in the mainstream psyche of ‘the man in the street’ via the major newspapers and television.

Steven Crist, Editor of the US Daily Racing Form argued that, “virtually every aspect of our sport can be improved by a more customer-centric approach” with a focus on the racing product, the wagering experience and horse welfare.”

Engelbrecht-Bresges summarised the theme of the discussions when he said that “racing would with a more outside-in perspective be better able to truly understand and differentiate our customers and be better able to create offerings that attract, retain and grow them.”