Sunday, November 04, 2012

Branded to Death, Inc.

John Gaines created the Breeders Cup as a World Series or Super Bowl of horse racing. On the first telecast in 1984, he said, "We're here to celebrate the beauty, the character, the indomitable courage and the majesty of the Thoroughbred, with everyone who has eyes to see."

He would be rather horrified to see what's come of his vision, but then maybe he'd be horrified to see what's come of the world, too. The Breeders Cup has been so corporatized that it's not even about the horses anymore. I won't bore you with the specifics of what went on this past weekend.

(you are welcome)

But just as one example, the place at the walking ring where I always stand at Santa Anita cost $400 to get into on Breeder's Cup day. Each day, actually, so that would be $800 for a spot that is normally the price of admission ($5) on any other race day. What was truly sad was that there were never more than ten people in there, and not one of them ever looked at a horse. At the past Santa Anita Breeder's Cups, this was not the case. But since 2009, they have gone batshit corporate crazy. Racing, like other sports, has had sponsors for some time. You put up with this because corporate interest in horse racing can't possibly be a bad thing. The sponsorship of these companies means that they may mention the Breeder's Cup in their advertising. But when you have to see "The Kentucky Derby, sponsored by Yum Brands," it makes you throw up a little.

A lot.

The Breeder's Cup is a celebration of racing, and there are going to be some very, very high-end folks there, titans of the racing industry (OGDEN PHIPPS WAS THERE THIS WEEKEND) and of other industries, too. Even the Governor came. So did our mayor, but he's a gigantic whore so no big surprise to see him where there's a camera. He also hilariously tried to know a thing about racing and screed it up so badly that Randy Moss even commented on it. It makes sense that the Breeder's Cup and the sponsors want to make these folks happy. What doesn't make sense is this pervasive targeted marketing at a specific, apparently coveted segment of the population that I do not understand.

You've seen the types if you've ever been to a club opening or a hip restaurant: Vacant, skinny girls in too-tight gold lame outfit, tottering on impossible heels. Their boyfriends, in either suits or (usually) those Goddam big shorts like they're twenty-year-old skateboarders and not grown-ass men. These guys apparently have money to burn, because the high-end sponsors (Mont Blanc and Lalique among them) go apeshit to market to them.

The problem with people like this is that they don't actually give a shit about anything. Their only passion is to have fun. I know this because all of the marketing was so obviously targeted this way. When any of the corporate spokesmodels were asked how their brand represents the Breeder's Cup, they vomited forth a marketing press release about how Mont Blanc/Lalique/Grey Goose/John Deere was all about fun, and that's what the Breeder's Cup was about.

Well, not to its founder, who couldn't have been more eloquent when he talked about the horse. Yet the lowly horse, the whole REASON for the Breeder's Cup, was seen nowhere in any of this targeted marketing. Because corporations lie. That's their business. They don't care how they get you. They just want to get you. If you're a corporate CEO (could there BE a more worthless job?) and you haven't fucked anyone over, gone bankrupt or asked the government to bail you out at least once, then you're either a failure or a liberal.

I said on Twitter that if you wanted to know what Romney's America would look like, come to the Breeder's Cup. Because this is where we are now. We are a tiered society. The more money or power you have, the higher tier you can purchase. Look at data plans. Cable plans. EVERYTHING is about metering out a little bit at a time, then charging people more if they want or need more. Sure, this is business. I get that. But it's also overkill. Creating demand has gotten out of control. The way they carved up Santa Anita, to literally create envy and anger and demand amongst the crowd, was horrifying. This was not the fan-friendly Santa Anita I'm accustomed to. People couldn't even get over to the saddling enclosure to watch the horses being saddled without dropping hundreds of dollars on a whole different pass. And not surprisingly, it was so confusing that nobody who worked there had a clue what was going on. But that's corporate life. The right hand doesn't even know there IS a left hand. Memos must be sent. E-mails exchanged. Meetings held. Just to talk to someone.

In the fascinating documentary The Corporation, the premise revolves around the idea that corporations are sociopaths (which, I suppose, lends credence to the dumb-ass idea that corporations are people). Corporate marketing this narrowly targeted, this dishonest, is exactly what a serial killer does. Serial killers have types. Serial killers are predators. They seek out the right type, and then find a way to make them vulnerable. You know... like a focus group. Ted Bundy used a cast and an excuse to lure his victims into his van. He used vulnerability, because his study of a particular segment of the population told him that that would be effective. Like corporations do with targeted marketing. Serial killers, sociopaths, need to control the fantasy. They create it. They control it. At all costs. That's not too different from how corporate marketing works, except for the whole murder part of it. And corporations do this because it works. They need to satisfy the board and the shareholders. So they create a narrative. It's never a true narrative, though, because it's not about being creative in that way. It's a false narrative. Sometimes it's a super damned lie. But because corporations control everything, it's very easy for them to create and control a narrative. The first thing they must do after deciding upon their narrative is control the passion and emotion associated with it. So your passion and emotion don't mean anything unless they conform to the corporate narrative. Because passion that is specific to only one person is suspect. It's dangerous because it can't be controlled.

The corporations, which include the corporation of the Breeder's Cup, have taken the horse right out of the equation. There were people walking past me who were wondering how to bet. WTF? Forget all the food tents and Westfield Mall hat contest (I can't even) and the celebration of the sluts on parade, of the pretty, vapid girl who is so malleable that all the corporations fight for her cash. What about the teenagers who love horse racing and came to their first Breeder's Cup only to discover that they couldn't even stand by the walking ring? Or go anywhere near the winner's circle, because that too had a sponsor and a velvet rope? This was a perfect opportunity to get people interested in racing, to teach them about it, and they had chopped up Santa Anita into so many little sponsored pockets that they didn't even have room for ANYTHING having to do with horse racing. Breeder's Cup history? Forget it. Nowhere to be seen. Even the magnificent Zenyatta statue, visible when you first enter the gates, was dwarfed by food tents and a tent bar where the Grey Goose was flowing.

So instead of possibly growing the brand of the Breeder's Cup, WHICH IS ABOUT HORSES, Breeder's Cup decided to woo the party girls and boys who will never be back again. I guess it's an easy choice for them, since the Breeder's Cup is a once-a-year event. But for Santa Anita, for the tracks who are now stuck hosting this thing, it doesn't afford them the opportunity to use the biggest two days in racing to generate any further interest. And as someone who's watched since the first Breeder's Cup, that's a damned shame. There are so many fantastic stories over the two days but the Breeder's Cup no longer uses that narrative. The sociopath has been unleashed. One thing that struck me was how many idiot women the commentators talked to, while at the same time a woman with an actual skill, Rosie Napravnik, was winning her first Breeder's Cup race aboard Shanghai Bobby. And Kathy Ritvo was the first woman to train a horse in the Classic and just missed with Mucho Macho Man.

But America doesn't care about women making it in a male-dominated industry. America doesn't like its women hard-working, dedicated and talented. This insipid wooting over hats and rad chicks is just as destructive as the idiotic notion that stripper classes empower women. And yes, this Female Correspondent, Michelle Beadle (@MichelleDBeadle), said RAD. Like it's thirty years ago. This is peddled to the American consumer. The corporations want little girls to WANT to be these women because that's always going to be the target audience for their marketing. But there were a lot of little girls who wanted to be Rosie Napravnik this weekend, who wanted to be Kathy Ritvo or Julie Krone or Barbara Livingston or Donna Brothers or Tammy Fox. There was just nowhere at the Breeder's Cup for them.

I mean really, the prettiest woman at the Breeder's Cup was Royal Delta.

I didn't talk to one person who wasn't furious about how the general admission fans were being treated. Security was full-on nasty and obnoxious. Communication, which is always a problem with corporate "events," was non-existent. And there appeared to be enmity between Santa Anita and Breeder's Cup, which is amazing when you think about it because Santa Anita is owned by a massive corporate whore so odious I would kneecap him if given the chance.

At the end of the day, the timeless tradition of horse racing does not mesh with the party-at-all-costs idea of a marketed event. But that didn't matter to Breeder's Cup corporate folks because there was an easy solution -- just ignore what the event actually IS. Ignore the initial reason, the heartfelt idea, that went into the creation of this event which, by the way, was incredibly unpopular at first. We obviously can't fight this juggernaut. Corporations have us, guys. We have to live with it. Most of the time it's not that hard. You can ignore the dumb shit. This, however, was unbearable. I thought about writing letters, etc, but corporations have the customer-complaint contingency built in. You can't bother them that way. The only way you can bother them is with a face-to-face.

It is going to happen, corporate overlords. One day, I will see one of you, and you will spend a very uncomfortable five minutes listening to an actual person who isn't the end result of your marketing department. And that, for me, will be enough.

Hell, at least I got to meet Laffit Pincay and Bill Mott.

The owner of Santa Anita is Frank Stronach who, like that asshole Frank McCourt, knows better than to mingle with people who want to kill him. One guy I talked to the other day said when Stronach bought Santa Anita, this poor guy cried.

The correct reaction.

Frankie's on Twitter @frankstronach, but has never tweeted. Anyone surprised? No? Currently, the CEO of Santa Anita is Mark Verge. If you've ever tried to rent an apartment in Los Angeles, you have been forced to give money to this huckster. He owns Westside Rentals, another corporation that has monetized something that should be free. He's on Twitter: @markverge. It also appears as if Stronach is trying to get Gene Simmons to help market racing.

Yes. THAT Gene Simmons. Because what Santa Anita needs MORE THAN ANYTHING is more marketing from someone who knows shit about racing. Genius move, Frank. GENIUS.

Lastly, I wanted to list the Breeder's Cup Board of Directors. I don't know exactly how the corporate strategy works but if you know anything about racing, the people on this list should know better. The CEO is Craig Fravel. Since he's been the CEO for a year, it's my guess that he was the guy who decided to make all of this happen. He doesn't appear to be on Twitter (shocker) and has two LinkedIn profiles (idiot). Barry Weisbord, who does NOT like Regular People, is on Twitter: @barryweisbord, and LinkedIn. We would have an interesting conversation. Tom Ludt is too clueless to be on Twitter but is on LinkedIn. He's also the president of Vinery.

Tom Ludt (chairman)
Jerry Crawford (vice chairman)
Helen Alexander
Antony Beck
William Farish Jr.
Craig Fravel (president and CEO)
Roy Jackson
Bret Jones
Robert Manfuso
Clem Murphy
Satish Sanan
Richard Santulli
Oliver Tait
Barry Weisbord

1 comment:

Georgiana said...

Ugh. So sorry to hear this but no surprise with Stronach involved. I've spoken to dozens of people who go to the Preakness to party in the infield and never watch a single race.

And then there are the people who take the bus to Dover Downs, play slots all day, maybe listen to some music, come home and are surprised to even hear there were horses there.

It's very, very depressing.

Also, have you seen this piece on why psychopaths make "good" CEOs?