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Saturday, March 09, 2013

Rock and ABRoll

America's Best Racing, the Jockey Club's initiative designed to increase the profile and visibility of North America’s best Thoroughbred racing events, is dispatching its team of six young "enthusiastic" brand ambassadors to next week's South by Southwest no-longer-just-a-music festival (just call it SXSW 2013).  It's part of a national bus tour (in a 45-foot vehicle, cleverly dubbed the 'ABRV') that will take the group mostly to major race events such as the Triple Crown.  But also to some cultural events that figure to attract young people, such as this.

Pull the Pocket observes that the current that "it's a stupid idea," but I don't see it that way at all.  Like anything other effort, it's surely not going to grow the game on its own.  But everyone agrees that we need some younger blood amongst the railbirds, and we obviously have a PR problem at this stage, in no small part thanks to the Times and, to be fair, reporting on problems that is actually fair and objective as well, because those issues are real.  So I don't see anything stupid about sending out a bunch of young (ages 21 through 27) knowledgeable and articulate people to talk passionately about the sport to their peers.  And to confront difficult questions regarding well-publicized issues head on.

“It’s a tough subject that the brand ambassadors can’t avoid,” acknowledged [NTRA VP-Comm Stephen] Panus, “but, just like any competitive sport, there are risks and negative stories involved. Brain injuries in the NFL and NHL, tragic fatality in the X Games, PED’s in MLB, to cite a few.

“Our athletes, both horse and rider who compete in the best events, only very, very rarely are injured in a catastrophic manner. We can tell any fans who become interested in racing that there are literally millions upon millions of dollars spent in both care and research to assure their health – in and out of competition – as the sport continues to innovate to make racing safer for all involved.” [Forbes]
I think we need more of that kind of sensible pushback against some of the more sensational stories we've read of late; and on a regular basis coming out of NTRA and Jockey Club, not just an occasional quote in an article like this.

SXSW is an inspired and out-of-the-box choice in my view.  Regular readers know that I myself am partial to the indie rock scene.  And I know a whole bunch of people whose tastes cross over from indie rock to horse racing; I like to think that's not a coincidence.  Makes sense to me that those who make the effort to go beyond Top 40 and the latest craze on You Tube to seek out music that may be challenging and boundary-stretching may also be discerning enough to look for some challenges in their entertainment choices.....and surely in their gambling choices.  You might say that, for example, a band like Sonic Youth is to Fall Out Boy as horse racing is to slots machine.   The former ones require a little effort and open-mindedness to really appreciate, while the latter ones tend to numb the brain; or mine at least.  (And accordingly, I don't have much hope for another scheduled ABRV stop, at the cultural blight known as the MTV Music Awards.)

So, the ambassadors will sponsor one of the music stages and throw a private function "for about 500 VIP's."  Additionally:
  ..visitors to the bus will be able to watch high-energy videos on racing’s biggest stars, explore our lifestyle-driven website, place “fantasy” wagers for prizes, register for incredible VIP experiences and receive free racing gifts from ABR and their home track. [America's Best Racing]
I particularly like the fantasy wagers for prizes, as I've always contended that contests that enable participants to have a stake in the outcome in a race is the best way to get them hooked interested.  Lure some SXSW folks into the big bus, find some tapes of exciting races with blanket finishes, get them to pick a horse and give away some CDs or some passes for a sold-out show to the winners.  Get them into the action.

And while they are there, the ambassadors might as well get into the action and check out some good music too.  Surely plenty to choose from; and perhaps, in exchange for some tips on handicapping, they can get some tips on some up and coming bands that nobody has heard of.

One of the bands that they'll surely be some buzz about there is Parquet Courts, who we saw at Bowery Ballroom here in NYC on Thursday night.  The Brooklyn-based quartet's debut album is Light Up Gold.  The Head Chef and others hear the influence of Television; I sense some early B-52's and The Feelies in the taught guitar riffs and driving rhythms.  And you gotta love a band who gives a shout-out to Ridgewood, Queens, as they do in the track Stoned and Starving (a state in which I attended the races many times back in the days of Television and the early B-52's).

Another band of the moment who will appearing at SXSW is Unknown Mortal Orchestra, who recently released their second album, II.  Their laid-back groove is more difficult to describe, but at times sounds to me as if the Rev. Al Green was reincarnated as an indie-rock nerd in Portlandia, how about that?  Missed their recent sold-out show here, but they'll be playing for free at the South Street Seaport this summer, and nice to see they'll be shows this summer there in an area that suffered a lot of damage from Sandy.

One more: METZ is a Canadian trio with an eponymous debut LP and a never-ending tour schedule; caught them at the Knitting Factory a few months ago.  They'll be playing no less than six shows at SXSW.  According to the Sub Pop website,  their sound is a frantic nod to Nation of Ulysses, Shellac, The Pixies, The Jesus Lizard, and Public Image Ltd. at their most vicious; and that works for me.  Some videos below.


Unknown said...

The question isn't whether it's a good idea, it's whether it's worth the $500,000 investment.

dana said...

And whether those indie types will connect with or shun the "enthusiastic brand ambassadors," although I suppose there are plenty of non-indie types at SXSW too.

Unknown said...

Fair points. But marketing is expensive, and it's a chance for direct outreach to people attending racetracks on big race days; up to them to execute an effective strategy, and for the PR guys to back it up by scoring some press coverage. This particular stop is taking a shot; be interesting to see what kind of reception they get. But SXSW has grown a lot from its indie roots as Dana points out.

I wonder too how much they're spending to get those Derby preps on TV. Think we could have a fair debate as to whether they'll get more bang, relative to the spend, out of this or from Derby preps on the NBC cable network in the 6 to 730 PM slot on Saturday nights.

Eric Poteck said...

Good for them for trying something different. But the key is the ability to evaluate it's success or failure. Without that ability it becomes just an exercise of spin....

Anonymous said...

I can hear one of the young ones saying."Why do we have to pay for the past performances?,we shouldn't have to pay for this"

And what is this 30% takeout?