OJC exercises horse sense

So there you are, walking along the street, minding your own business, and suddenly you spy a toonie on the sidewalk. Do you race right over to the bank and apply it to your mortgage or do you spend it on...

So there you are, walking along the street, minding your own business, and suddenly you spy a toonie on the sidewalk. Do you race right over to the bank and apply it to your mortgage or do you spend it on something a little more frivolous?

The Ontario Jockey Club is betting they know the answer. Which is why they decided to prime the pump of 1,500 bettors whose HorsePlayer Interactive accounts had been dormant for at least six months.

Launched in 1997, HorsePlayer Interactive allows telephone wagering on all live and simulcast races at the OJC’s two tracks: Woodbine in Toronto and Mohawk Raceway in Campbellville, Ont. Players can log on to the OJC’s site for up-to-the-minute odds, and watch live video coverage of their chosen race. The system has about 7,000 registered users.

Lapsed customers were sent a colourful direct mail piece headlined with the words every bettor worth his salt loves to hear: ‘There’s money in your account.’

The package directed the recipient to his or her own profile on the HorsePlayer Interactive Web site (www.675bets.com) where they were asked to complete a survey.

‘The OJC needed to determine why a large segment of their HorsePlayer Interactive customer base had stopped using the system,’ explains Warren Cartwright, product development manager for PG(E), the interactive division of PG Communications, the Toronto agency that handled the HorsePlayer campaign. ‘They also wanted to gather important demographic data.’

When players logged on to the site, they were asked to choose the reasons why they had stopped using the system. For each reason they chose, they were presented with a way in which the system had been improved to address the problem, says Cartwright.

On the second screen, they were presented with information to help make telephone wagering easier. On the third screen, in exchange for additional money being credited to their account, they were asked to supply some general demographic information.

‘With real-time reporting, we enabled the OJC to monitor each response as it happened,’ he says. ‘If clients did not respond after two weeks, we sent a second postcard with a slightly different message. ['There's money in your account. Why haven't you called?'] The response was excellent – we received a 23% response rate after phase one, and the response grew to 32% after phase two.’

The OJC is also setting up a rewards program to further promote HorsePlayer, which it is doing with a direct mail campaign engineered by Michael Shaw of Ranscombe & Co.’s partner agency Directer.

‘It will become an excellent relationship marketing tool for us,’ says Helen Bacik, director of advertising and marketing for the 119-year-old OJC. ‘Horseracing is geared to a targeted group of people, so it’s not going to be mass marketed.’

Under the plan, bettors will earn one point for every dollar they wager at the track or through the telephone. As their points accumulate, they become eligible for cash-back or merchandise, says Bacik.

‘It’s part of our push to do more e-commerce and to continue to build relationships and strengthen our database.’

Ranscombe & Co. is working with the OJC on revamping the Club’s Web site and helping design and implement an overall marketing plan.

‘We needed a refresh,’ says Bacik. ‘Even our name gave the impression of a club, the old horseracing elite. But we’re not a club. We are a corporation.’

Sidebar: Racetracks in turf war for leisure buck

The Ontario Jockey Club isn’t the only racetrack operator engaged in a spirited competition for the sporting dollar.

‘A few years ago, we were the only game in town,’ says Brian Pound, a spokesman for the Hastings Park Racecourse in Vancouver. ‘But now, with NHL hockey and pro basketball and other sports, the entertainment dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to.’

And unlike the OJC’s Woodbine and Mohawk racetracks, Hastings Park can’t even install slot machines to attract the casual bettor. Its landlord, the City of Vancouver, ‘is dead-set against slot machines,’ and the province announced it wouldn’t expand the form of gaming.

‘We have no problem keeping the customers we have,’ says Pound. ‘But the big thing for us is attracting newer, younger customers. That goes throughout the industry.’

But the industry seems to be responding. That’s why now, when talking to race track officials and marketers, terms such as ‘consolidation,’ ‘product,’ and ‘synergy’ are bandied about as much as ‘trifecta’, ‘triactor’ and ‘win, place or show.’

‘There is a real paradigm shift going on right now in the industry,’ says John Walzak, associate co-ordinator with the Racetrack Industry Program at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz. ‘People are saying you have to look at this as a product. Live racing and betting are two strengths of the business nobody else can offer.’

Walzak adds that the OJC ‘is way beyond what most other tracks’ are doing in marketing itself.

‘They are more in the league of the Churchill Downs, and Magna Entertainment (Ontario native Frank Stronach’s horseracing group). The OJC is probably one of the top five racing organizations in the world.’ DE

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