The Race That Stops a Nation
Amanda Elliott
Amanda Elliott, Chairman, Victoria Racing Club

Stuart S. Janney III:

Thank you very much, Rachel. Those insights on the NBA and corporate sponsorship are extremely valuable. It's great to have somebody that has your wide range of experiences in sports, away from our sport, but loves our game the way you do. So thank you for being with us.

Our next speaker has traveled further than anyone else in this room. That's Amanda Elliott of the Victoria Racing Club in Australia. It's not unusual to have an international guest as part of the Round Table Conference agenda. In past years we've heard from racing leaders in France, Ireland, Hong Kong, and Japan. Amanda, thank you for being here, and the stage is yours.

Amanda Elliott:

At 3 p.m. on the first Tuesday in November, a sense of hush descends on the expansive grounds of Flemington. 110,000 people are transfixed by what is about to unfold. A great roar begins as the barriers crash open and 24 horses and riders emerge as one. They are part of a two-mile contest, which, if successful, will change their lives forever.

In a little over three minutes, a new chapter in the remarkable history of the Melbourne Cup will be written. This 157-year-old sporting, social and cultural tradition unites Australians like nothing else, and we have been gripped in an annual bout of Melbourne Cup fever ever since it was first run in 1861.

Cup Day is a public holiday and has been since 1865. Fifty-six other race meetings are conducted around Australia on the day, and, without exception, it is their biggest day.

Melbourne was founded in 1835. The English colony didn't waste any time getting their priorities right, and Flemington was conducting race meetings five years later. Within 30 years, Cup Day was attracting crowds of over 100,000, an extraordinary figure given the population of Melbourne then was only 300,000.

There is no doubt that it left an incredible impression on all of those who attended. Your very own American author, Mark Twain, wrote of his visit to the 1895 Melbourne Cup, "Nowhere in the world have I encountered a festival of people that has such a magnificent appeal to the whole nation. The Cup astonishes me."

Through two World Wars, as thousands of young Australians fought for their country and their lives, there was no thought of cancelling the race. Indeed, the prime ministers of the day decreed that it must continue in order to keep up morale, both at home and abroad.

So the magic and the mystique of the Melbourne Cup is part of Australian folklore. It has tales of courage, tales of overcoming all odds, tales of great champions, and tales of battlers. This extraordinary two-mile race, run under handicap conditions, exemplifies a part of that Australian identity that's held so dear -- the level playing field, the ability for that battler to have a fair go, even if the chances of victory seem remote.

A great example of this is the story of the Darwin schoolteacher Wendy Green and her unfashionably bred, tough-as-nails gelding, Rogan Josh, who went from obscurity to national prominence in the spring of 1999. He won, beating one of Sheikh Mohammed's beautifully bred and highly fancied runners. It changed her life forever.

It had taken Wendy and her husband four days to drive 5,000 miles from Darwin to Melbourne. It took them four weeks to drive back. They had the Cup strapped to the backseat of the car. They stopped at every town, community, and pub through the center of Australia. ABC National Radio charted their progress, and they were welcomed by hundreds as heroes everywhere.

Flemington is indisputably Australia's premier racecourse. In fact, it is on our national heritage register. Close to the CBD of Melbourne, it sits on almost 400 acres on the Banks of the Maribyrnong River.

At the helm of this is the Victoria Racing Club. The VRC is the largest membership-based racing club in the world. We have 31,000 members, as well as the all-important waiting list. The members pay an annual subscription fee for access to 24 race meetings across the year as well as a host of member events and benefits.

Some examples of those are stud tours and overseas racing trips. You are entitled to reciprocal rights to other clubs. There are dinners, cocktail parties. We facilitate racehorse ownership, and we are able to obtain premium ticketing for other sporting and arts events. We have discounts on partner airlines, hotels and restaurants, and we involve those sponsors and partners in our all-important loyalty program. We also conduct young-members-only events, which sell out in minutes.

We have a permanent staff of around 200, but at Carnival time this swells to 20,000. We have 20 trainers on course and 700 horses, eight training tracks -- grass, dirt, sand, and synthetic.

Away from the track, our facilities are utilized all year round with conferences, promotions, weddings, special occasions, as well as outdoor music festivals and shows like Cirque du Soleil. We have the largest public rose garden in the southern hemisphere, with more than 17,000 rose bushes, pruned to be at their blooming best every spring, and we conduct garden tours all year round.

The Melbourne Cup Carnival and Melbourne Cup Day sit at the pinnacle of the Australian racing calendar. The Carnival spreads over four days of racing, with a lot of other festivities slotted in between. For instance, the day before the Cup, the city center of Melbourne is closed down for a parade of past and present champions, which thousands of Melbournians turn out to view.

Over the week, approximately $20 million of prize money is paid out. The Emirates Melbourne Cup is worth $6.2 million, and the iconic trophy, $200,000. A new Cup is hand spun in gold every year, and the distinctive three handles represent the owner, the trainer, and the jockey. The total prize money we pay annually is around 44 million, which spreads across 206 races. We have 74 Group and Listed on offer, 14 of which are Grade 1.

Wagering income is vital to our prize money levels and indeed returns to owners. Integrity is key to confidence and that wagering income. Betting turnover in Victoria topped $6 billion for the first time last financial year. This represents a 10% increase in total turnover and is, in part, a result of a real focus on things like drug detection programs, gathering and management of intelligence, and increases to the stewarding of race meetings across Victoria.

We take a national approach to the rules of racing, which our eight state racing jurisdictions are signed up to and bound by. We have a national approach to the all-important programming clock so that none of the big races clash on any given day and punters have a chance to bet on everything. Races always start at the scheduled time.

These united national views we regard as vital to the health and progress of each of our individual state racing jurisdictions. Of course, medication is an important part of that national approach. Our industry in Australia would be dysfunctional without it.

Taking a national approach to the big issues of integrity, medication, and the programming clock in no way disadvantage the ability of states to run their own businesses the way that they want to run them. Quite the opposite. Everybody benefits. The total horse population in Australia is approximately 35,500, with close to 10,000 of those competing in Victoria every year across 4,500 scheduled races.

Alongside integrity, horse welfare is another very big issue for all of our racing jurisdictions. At Flemington, we have average field sizes of 13.8, and Victoria's horse safety record over the last ten years is among the best in the world at 99.95. Millions are spent annually on vet care, welfare compliance, research and the re-homing of horses. More than $25 million was spent recently to provide the safest possible racing environment at all tracks, with plastic running rails and upgraded surfaces.

The government has recently legislated a levy of $20 per mare returned to stud book -- $10 being paid by the stallion owner and $10 being paid by the mare owner. Added to this is the 2% levee on all prize money, and all this money is directed to equine welfare research, health, well-being, and to help inform those trainers of best practices.

Back in the early '90s, the VRC board recognized the need to refresh the Melbourne Cup to attract international runners and go global with the racing and the event. In 1993, the internationalization of the Cup became a reality, when the Irish-trained Vintage Crop became the first Northern Hemisphere-trained horse to win the Great Race. Charismatic trainer Dermot Weld was triumphant and precipitated an annual invasion of the world's best staying horses looking to write their own chapter in our racing history.

This has been the case ever since, with, on average, half of the 24-strong field being international participants. We've had Irish, French, German, Japanese, and New Zealand winners, but sadly no English and no UAE, despite their many attempts, and no Americans yet.

While the undisputed heroes of Cup Week are the stars of the turf, the frenzy of color, fashion, glamour, the buzz of parties and entertainment that takes over Melbourne in the spring is truly spectacular. The brand of the Melbourne Cup Carnival has been very carefully managed over the years, and this has led to an aspirational expectation of the week. The FOMO, the fear of missing out, the unmissable message has not only been successfully transmitted, but, importantly, that brand expectation and experience has been delivered.

Men and women relish the opportunity to dress in their finest race wear and head to Flemington as it becomes the place to see and be seen. We have never relaxed the fairly strict dress code rules, and this has surprisingly been endorsed more by the younger demographic than the older ones. This has supported our brand in both an aspirational and indeed a behavior sense.

The young people we find want to dress up, and now almost the only place that they get the opportunity to do that is at the races. Last year, racegoers spent an eye-watering $33 million on fashion items to wear to Cup Week.

Cup Week is Australia's original major event, and it contributes to the economy like no other. The four days are the most attended race days anywhere in Australia, with an average around 350,000 people a year. Last year we reported a gross economic benefit to the home state of Victoria of $427 million, and over $700 million to the nation, and none of that was wagering-related.

The benefit filters right through the economy, not just retail and fashion, but also hospitality, accommodation, and the all-important tourism. Last year 35 million was spent on accommodation and $23 million on food and drinks.

We work hard with the government and the Victorian tourism industry, and last year we had 8,000 cruise ship passengers anchored in Port Melbourne with a destination of Flemington and Cup Week. 36% of our crowd come from interstate or overseas.

Sustainability and community responsibility is also very important, not just to us, but important to our brand. Last year over 4,000 kilos of leftover food was collected. This goes to SecondBite, a charity partner who distribute to people in, need, and this constituted over 7,500 meals.

Waste. Over the past eight years, Flemington has increased recycling from 21% to 98%.

Desalination. We have our own desalination plants on site to water tracks and gardens and to be less dependent and more responsible with our water supply.

Our community responsibilities are many and varied. It's a broad range of different charities. We have a Pin & Win competition which is carried over two years that various charities tender for. This year it is the turn of Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Media in all its forms is vital to what we do. The Cup is now broadcast to more than 160 countries, promoting the event and Melbourne internationally to an audience of hundreds of millions. On course, we have almost 1,200 accredited media representatives in 2016, many from international outlets.

Our mainstream media, free to air television and newspapers, will always be important, but new media and the digital platform is full of opportunity. We have some really exciting strategies that we are exploring and developing. In a landmark partnership last year, Twitter and the VRC collaborated to show the running of the 156th Melbourne Cup. This was the first live-streaming deal that Twitter had done outside America.

We were all, including Twitter, surprised and delighted by the response. #melbournecup trended No. 1 worldwide.

For the first time also, the VRC partnered with China's largest digital platform in Sina Sports. That reached an audience of over 15 million. Flemington's Facebook page, Instagram account reached record numbers and users.

Convinced we are of the power of social media, we also worked with Snapchat to develop Snapchat Live Stories on Cup Day. Total snaps exceeded 7 million, but, almost more importantly, tapped into those new demographics that we all need, with over 70% of views aged between 13 and 24. All of this reinforced how important it is to embrace new customers and to look at new ways of engaging with audiences both at home and across the globe.

2017 marks the 15th-year anniversary of our Cup Tour, with the iconic trophy on its annual trek across Australia and New Zealand. About 30 destinations are chosen each year, and since 2003, it has traveled more than 500,000 kilometers and visited almost 400 rural, regional, and outback communities. The trophy provides schools, counsels, hospitals, aged care facilities as well as other race clubs with a unique opportunity to host a day of community events, raise valuable funds for local causes, and bring people together in celebration of the Great Race and its rich history.

I've traveled on quite a few of the Tour legs over the years and never cease to be amazed by the reception the Cup receives everywhere. It's a bit like traveling with a rock star, I imagine.

Underpinning so much of what the VRC does is enduring quality partnerships, as Rachel spoke to. We are all in the business of selling a dream. And we invest a lot of time in developing relationships with businesses, companies and their people and government. We need to ensure that we have delivered on our brand promise and that their expectation of what that means to them has been met.

The VRC has been extremely fortunate to develop partnerships with some of Australia's and, indeed, the world's leading brands. Longevity of sports partnerships is rare these days, but some of ours have been with us for almost 40 years. The investment by our sponsors and partners to leverage their association with the Cup and Cup Week is impressive.

The famous Flemington Birdcage has evolved from a humble car park to arguably the world's most lavish temporary facility for corporate guests. It takes up to four months to design, plan, and build these bespoke marquees. Speculation begins months out with media vying to announce which A-listers will be guests, which celebrity chefs will be cooking, which international acts will be entertaining, and what the theming of the marquee will look like.

This is a great example of the two-way partnership we strive for. The companies achieve a level of hospitality at an aspirational event that they need for their clients, and we, the VRC, get sophisticated, imaginative, innovative corporate support which is right on brand for us.

This area has become a real hallmark for Flemington. People often make the mistake of assuming if you have a traditional race club with a long history and proud heritage that you don't make modern decisions. Of course, you do. If you didn't, you wouldn't have a long history to be proud of. The VRC has always embraced, acknowledged, and celebrated that history, but equally has always been aware of the need to evolve and innovate to remain relevant.

So when I think about the future for racing in general, relevance, the ability to innovate, evolve and be agile in a customer sense is vital. It's clear that we all dwell in a highly competitive environment, and one of the great challenges racing around the world faces is declining attendances. We all need to have a customer focus to our businesses. We need to give customers a great experience, and facilities are absolutely key to that.

To that end, the VRC looks forward to opening our new Club Stand next year. It's a state-of-the-art members stand, which is displayed on the screen here, which we believe will set a new benchmark for racecourse facilities anywhere. We need to redefine the perception of a day at the races, and we are going to do this by providing a different tableau. We'll be providing a lot more choice of highly themed, smaller, atmospheric venues combined with great track views. We all need to attract the next generation of racegoers at a time when we are in competition with so many other leisure activities.

The planning of this stand began five years ago. We spent the first two of these focusing on what we needed to build: Do we build a similar replacement for the old stand or do we think about the future and raise the bar dramatically. The data was compelling. Attracting new audiences to Flemington and driving up yield all year round, not just Cup Week, meant we needed to double the budget and build almost a lifestyle option that both racing and non-racing people wanted to be part of.

Branding is really important, and not just as individual racing jurisdictions or race clubs. The brand of racing globally must be promoted well and collaboratively. It is in all of our long-term interests. What other sport has so many amazing touch points? The beautiful animal and our love of it; the thrill, the excitement, and drama of the sport; the history; the aspirational perceptions of participation in such a glamorous world.

Everything needs to be embraced, including the heroes of the sport. The great stories that racing produces should be told and celebrated. And whether those heroes are equine or human, not only should they be promoted, but they must be accessible. Horse welfare, betting integrity, and a united approach to drug and racing rules should all be addressed in a collaborative way so everyone benefits from a really positive perception of racing worldwide.

It's a privilege, an absolute privilege, to be involved in a leadership role of this great sport of ours. But with that leadership comes great responsibility, and it comes to all of us. We have a great responsibility to ensure racing's future.

I opened with Mark Twain, and I feel it's entirely appropriate to now quote another one of his quotes before we finish.

And this is what he said after the Melbourne Cup: "At the end of the great week, the multitudes secure lodgings and transportation for next year, then they flock away to their remote homes and count their gains and losses. Then they lie down and sleep for two weeks and get up sorry to reflect that a whole year must be somehow put in, one way or another, before they can be wholly happy again."

Many thanks, indeed, for having me to the American Jockey Club, for being so kind, and for having me here at Saratoga. May I wish everyone all the very best, and look forward to seeing you all soon at fabulous Flemington.

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