The Sydney racing industry faced a period of new challenges in 2010 which came about due to a change to its long-standing racing schedule and a climate where the two leading race clubs in NSW were involved in merger negotiations.
Sydney Turf Club (STC) holds an annual Golden Slipper Festival (GSF) in the autumn, comprising of three consecutive Saturday’s of racing at Rosehill Gardens.
AAMI Golden Slipper Day, the crescendo of the GSF was shifted to the first Saturday in April – also Easter Saturday. For the first time in a history stretching more than 150 years, Easter racing would not be held at Royal Randwick in Sydney’s east, but in its geographical opposite, Rosehill Gardens in Sydney’s west.
For a period of 12 weeks, Sydney Turf Club relied on its small team of in-house staff to manage the public relations campaign for the GSF. The goal of the campaign was to generate public awareness of the historic scheduling change and to covert the awareness to attendance.
The result was more than 56,000 patrons witnessed the crowning of the next breed of Australian turf champions during the Festival and in the media, Rosehill Gardens and Easter Saturday were announced a perfect fit.
The GSF is of enormous significance to the Australian racing industry. $11 million in prize money is distributed to participants; the value of the breeding industry is boosted by quality races; tourism dollars are injected into the local community; and thousands are employed.
The NSW State Government (through Events NSW) rallied the racing industry in 2009 to change its autumn carnival dates – with Golden Slipper Day held on the first Saturday in April the same way the Melbourne Cup is run on the first Tuesday in November. In 2010, the first Saturday in April was also Easter Saturday, a day of particular significance and considered a traditional day of racing at Randwick in Sydney.
The change meant that for the first time, the autumn carnival could be consciously promoted as a tourist destination. However racing stalwarts were not as accepting of the 150-year tradition being broken.
The new racing dates also meant that STC would conduct a one-off race meeting on the Easter Monday at Canterbury Park, another day traditionally associated with Randwick.
The situation afforded the Club a tremendous opportunity to further its reputation as being an innovative industry leader. The long-standing Sydney racing media speculated that Rosehill Gardens was not able to achieve the kind of crowds Randwick always commanded for Easter and with current merger talks between STC and Randwick’s Australian Jockey Club, there was a level of pride at stake.
STC simply had to deliver a brilliant Festival. It couldn’t be ‘given’ Sydney’s most traditional race day and produce an event which was anything less than world-class.
A number of research methods underlined the 2010 campaign including:
Commissioned media services – Media Monitors (print), AAP (broadcast) and Meltwater News (online) were used to gauge industry and media responses to the new race dates.
Target audience research
Attendance trends of previous Festivals were reviewed to assist in segmenting the campaign’s audience.
Relevance of media channels
Different media channels were assessed in terms of reach, frequency and relevance to the target audiences. For example, the largest group of attendees are aged 18 – 35 years, therefore a comprehensive digital/social marketing campaign was devised to engage this group.
A comprehensive list of all relevant media was compiled and segmented into three core groups - Racing, Social and News. 150 of the most ‘relevant’ media were invited to complete an online survey including an update of contact details to ensure greater media relations.
2009 campaign evaluation
Secondary research in the form of the 2009 GSF Media Post Report prepared by STC’s ad agency and 2009 Sydney Autumn Racing Campaign Evaluation Report were reviewed for insight into consumer perception and awareness of the Festival.
The communications strategy was forged on creating awareness of the Festival and converting the awareness to attendance.
The Club took the decision to extend its budget to include an official Golden Slipper Festival launch. This was held the week leading into the Festival’s first race day. The launch was an invitation only for social media, celebrities and the racing fraternity whose presence created hype around the event.
A dedicated media program was orchestrated including exclusive photo opportunities and interviews; a media accreditation process and media events. The emphasis on media was two-fold:
- It was the best vehicle to engage avid racing fans and industry players
- It was able to raise awareness of the Festival in the general population most efficiently.
The communications strategy also relied heavily on social media with electronic newsletters and social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter being the most suitable method to engage with for our younger, casual race goers.
An ambassador program was implemented using Miss Universe Australia Rachael Finch (pictured) and champion jockey Hugh Bowman who appeared at major events and acted as spokespeople.
Attendance was promoted through various ticketing/hospitality options and discounts; by highlighting STC’s award-winning hospitality and conveying the ease of travelling to the venue with direct train services (the only racecourse in Sydney serviced by a train station).
Major ‘PR’ stunts were not required as there was deemed enough newsworthiness in the event based on:
• The historic move to Easter
• The support of Events NSW and Premier Kristina Keneally who launched autumn racing in Sydney
• Media interest in the $3.5 million Golden Slipper race.
The challenge of delivering the GSF campaign is in staging events and media opportunities at key times so that public and media interest is sustained over a long period.
Over the duration of the Festival, 184 members of the media were accredited. These were in addition to 219 media with annual STC media accreditation.
• 1,265 relevant press articles during the Festival which overwhelmingly re-iterated the message of Easter racing moving to Rosehill
• 850 online articles, photo galleries and videos during the week of Golden Slipper Day alone; a 56% increase on 2009
• Attendance by all free to air television networks for either the race days or events.
• 436 broadcast mentions on AM/FM in the week of Golden Slipper Day.
The Gold Edition
A 42-page magazine, titled The Gold Edition was produced and distributed to 18,000 stakeholders. For the first time, an electronic version in the form of an e-book enabled nonsubscribers to view the magazine from the STC website.
Visits to www.theslipper.com.au during the Festival increased by 20% in 2010.
The Easter Saturday crowd was up on 2010 by 15%. Attendance on the Easter Monday meeting exceeded the forecast by 37% largely due to the partnership formed with local paper, the Canterbury Bankstown Express.
Pre-sold ticketing & admissions revenue
The 2010 GSF achieved the following results compared to 2009:
• Pre-booked hospitality up by 5.6%
• Admissions revenue up by $33,734
• Ticket sales to Party HQ (for young race-goers) up by 124%
AAMI Golden Slipper Day created an all-time Sydney autumn race day betting record, with $46.8 million wagered across NSW on the TAB tote.
The 2010 Golden Slipper Festival attracted 56,385 patrons with direct positive effects on the local economy. The Festival generated $8.11 million in revenue for Sydney Turf Club which will be re-invested in the industry in 2010/11.
$60,000 was raised for the Festival’s two partnering charities, The Spastic Centre and the McGrath Foundation.
The message of direct train travel was successful, resulting in 31% of Golden Slipper Day patrons arriving by rail.
The shift of Golden Slipper Day to Easter Saturday was heavily promoted through all forms of media during the lead-up to the event. Additionally, post event broadcast coverage on the major commercial networks favourably promoted a bumper crowd had embraced Easter racing at Rosehill Gardens. (Refer to Appendix A)