The criticisms about social media's reach and ability to generate new fans are palpable, and they likely aren't going anywhere; probably because some of the shortcomings of social media are true.
It's very difficult to reach new fans through a medium like, say, twitter, and that's pretty obvious. However, I feel that's just a small part of the story: There is more to an industry's revenue stream than just filling the sales funnel with new fans, bettors, or what have you.
Although they are 33% more likely to spend money with you, supply referrals with 107% more sales, and it costs 600% more to sell something to someone new than old, customers who have done business with you before are often forgotten. "We need new blood", the "game is too old", the "fan base is dying" are far more sexy than "I went to the track one time last month but I would go three times this month with a little push", I guess.
Social media helps bridge the marketing spend gap from that spent on new versus old, and it doesn't cost very much money at all. Racing has a huge edge in getting that one time user to go three hundred percent more, and spend money with you.
And we have not even touched the revenue driver for the industry: The gambling part of it.
That synergy of information, opinion, is alive and well and formidable on SM.
You may be saying "so what, these people are all talking to each other. How does that grow anything?"
It grows it, I believe, in a couple of ways.
Engagement: There are 24 hours in a day, only a few of which are reserved for free time. We can spend that fighting traffic on the 401 to go golfing, spend it with the kids, watch some football, or take in the Grammy's. It's a dog eat dog world for our free time in this day and age. When we follow people on twitter or facebook who like racing, it keeps us interested in racing.
Cross-promotion: You are a harness fan and 'those' runners a) don't run often enough b) are too complicated to figure out when they run 54 distances on three surfaces and c) you are a harness guy or gal, so who cares.
Conversely, you are a thoroughbred fan and 'those' harness types are jugheads; pleeezzze!
But on SM you follow some harness fans and you follow some thoroughbred fans, too.
The harness player might see people talking about the Holy Bull or Fountain of Youth. Instead of flipping on "My 400 Pound Pet Walrus", "Here Comes Honey Boo Hoo" or whatever reality show is on TLC at the moment, you decide to turn on the race. You begin to learn the Kentucky Derby prep horses. A percentage of you follow the series right through to Derby Day. You've never done that before, but now you do. "Hey, I am going to watch that Cairo horse through the trail. he was wide and won easily". This "cross fan" is a new fan.
Being a harness and thoroughbred dude both on SM, I see this alot. The TVG Championship was watched on my SM feed as much as any harness race I've seen. Cold hard thoroughbred players were commenting on it and they got to see nine year old warhorse Foiled Again prevail to go over $6M in career earnings. They at the very least learned something, and might watch his next stakes final. A few years ago I asked a couple of thoroughbred fans which horse they knew most in harness racing and they said "See You At Peelers". She was going for 16 in a row and was being talked about by harness fans on the medium.
This happens on a daily basis.
There are thousands of casual racefans on twitter and facebook, or on chat boards. Those racefans, just like a "new" customer are doing different things in their daily life. Using social media to increase their interest in the game - to watch or play it more frequently - can help them move up the consumption curve. They probably don't like Honey Boo Hoo anyway.
Gaining market share as a "sport" is hard. Horse racing is not really a sport, per se, and there are hundreds of other sports to compete with. Gaining market share by increasing casual fan engagement in your sport is an easier and more cost-effective way to increase sales and viewership. Social media helps that immensely, in my opinion, and it's an arrow in the marketing quiver that should not be ignored by marketing departments.
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