Turn it up! Grass is greener

As a collective, the New Zealand racing industry sits back and admires how the Australians do it - on the track, off the track and in their pubs and TABs.

Aussies simply seem to love a punt. And that is the backbone that keeps their industry strong.

The Messara report, commissioned by the Government, outlined the difference in betting habits, stating wagering per capita in Australia is NZ$225 per annum.

New Zealand lags well behind at NZ$92 per annum.

That is not news to anyone. But it is certainly not an excuse for New Zealand racing authorities and administrators to use for their performance, which most industry participants call poor.

It raises the question of why are New Zealanders not betting. And believe me, right now, they are not betting on horse racing like they could or should be.

Turnover for the first six months of the TAB's 2019 financial year fell by more than $27million compared with the previous year.

I am picking the news will only get worse when the full year's figures are available.

Had Racing Minister Winston Peters not directed that the Racing Industry Transition Agency (Rita) ensure payments to the racing codes stay at their current levels, it would be highly likely both horse-racing codes would be facing stakes cuts.

Many in the sector are pinning all their hopes on Peters implementing major reforms that will create or expand revenue streams of the racing industry via the recommendations of the Messar reforms.

That is clearly a good thing. However, it is just one piece of the racing puzzle.

I would argue it is at least as important to foster the interest of the betting public.

The industry needs to shift its focus to trying to directly drive turnover. And to do that it needs to engage with its customers.

The industry collectively spends millions of dollars in marketing, but, clearly, whatever it is paying is not even maintaining levels of interest in the sport.

What it has done is create an echo chamber that is shrinking all the time.

That has been reinforced by policies that have made racing even more isolated. Punters have recently been chased away by having live racing on pay TV, limiting access to phone betting and the huge investment in what appears to be one of the worst betting websites ever made.

The industry needs cut through to the general public. The sport needs to be celebrated.

And those who once had a bet need to be enticed back.

Racing needs to be everywhere - not sports betting, but racing, the core function of the TAB. Plaster it on the walls of train stations and bus stops. Get it back in newspapers in other provinces that have dropped it. Cut the outlandish budgets elsewhere and pay for it to be on billboards and mainstream TV.

Racing administrators, I plead with you to connect with New Zealand's punters. Or Australia will not just be the best racing jurisdiction in this part of the world. It will be the only one.

Happy trails.

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