OLG takes off with a recovery strategy

The crown agency's new normal includes an app that lets fans stream and place bets online for the very first time.

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Not unlike cinemas and music halls, the pandemic left horse racing tracks in the dust as the country went into lockdown. Three months later, the industry saw the start of a new normal – one where jockeys train six feet apart and people watch races via a mobile app.

Between the time it was forced to shutter and when the Ontario government gave Woodbine Entertainment Group the green light to open up again, the Toronto racetrack was in innovation mode creating what it calls a “gamechanger” app that allows racing to be live-streamed for the first time. People can even place wagers, with the app giving bet suggestions using to its AI capabilities.

Yesterday, OLG’s Ontario Racing launched a campaign to promote the province’s first-ever virtual horseracing season, made possible thanks to Woodbine’s Dark Horse app.

Created by Juniper Park/TBWA, the campaign is extensively digital: there are six-second pre-roll ads, 15-second audio spots on Spotify, display ads, as well as social posts scattered online and on networking platforms – all of which supports a newly redesigned Ontario Racing website.

“In the past, the Ontario Racing campaign was an integrated campaign that included TV, digital, out of home and print,” said Adriana Spatzner, director of product development and marketing for Horse Racing at OLG, in an email to strategy. “The new campaign focuses on digital only, with a reduced budget from prior years.”

It’s a stark departure from previous years’ marketing that aimed to pull fans into arenas.

Years before the current COVID crisis, the sport had experienced declines in attendance. The Ontario government invested in marketing to jumpstart the category back in 2015, which worked, but relied heavily on promoting horseracing as a destination for “experiential entertainment seekers.” Creative in 2017, for example, positioned the sport as “immersive” and “uniquely participatory,” according to BBDO, the agency behind the campaign that showed images of spectators in the jockey’s saddle.

More recently, OLG has positioned Horse Racing as an entertainment venue with the potential for “great memories,” in its 2019 “Break the Routine” campaign by Juniper Park/TBWA.

Spatzner notes that the original pre-pandemic marketing strategy was to attract new customers interested in trying new social experiences, with creative that was initially intended to show friends enjoying a day at the track. Now, the creative simply targets a “subset of this audience and focuses on the online entertainment experience,” says Spatzner.

Government-mandated physical distancing measures prohibit mass gatherings, causing racetracks (and many other businesses) to pivot online in order to salvage a portion of the season’s lost revenue.

“The horse racing industry… employs tens of thousands of Ontarians throughout the province and especially in rural Ontario,” says Spatzner of the sports’ contribution to the economy. So the goal of the campaign, according to Juniper Park/TBWA, is to let sports fans know that live racing has resumed with an online component – but also to communicate how the racing industry is a contributor to Ontario’s economic recovery.