Prepared for Sue Lloyd-Williams,
General Manager, Marketing,
Victoria Racing Club.
November 1999.


Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen.

Thankyou for inviting me along today. My presentation will discuss the way in which the Victoria Racing Club, specifically the marketing department, has grown the female factor in racing.


Let me start with a racing truism, a good colt will beat a good filly, and, to a point, it's not a bad way to pick a winner either.

But as little as 20 years ago it was more than just a theory used by punters and handicappers. It was law in all parts of the racing industry, and not just on the track.

This notion set the agenda in the Members enclosures and in the committee rooms, that thoroughbred racing was the sport of Kings, not Queens.

In the Members at Flemington, a white line kept the sexes strictly segregated and women were ineligible to become full members.

Around the track women bet, but it was still considered vaguely vulgar, not entirely ladylike. And although racing has always had women, they were kept very much in the background.

When Catalogue won the 1938 Melbourne Cup, Kiwi trainer Allan McDonald collected the trophy. His wife, Granny McDonald, trained the horse in New Zealand but was banned from training in Australia because she was a woman.

It took until 1975 for the first woman to obtain an Australian Jockey's Licence, and not until 1979 did a woman ride in an open race at Flemington.

It was a dozen more years before a woman was elected to the committee of Australia's premier race club, the VRC.

But by the time Sally Chirnside was elected to the VRC Committee in June 91, a new culture was beginning to bloom in Australian racing.

In 1979, the VRC relied almost exclusively on the registration fees, admission charges and its share of TAB turnover to provide its operating finances.

Almost inevitably, the narrow base had to be broadened and the change could only come by broadening the sport's appeal.

In hindsight the answer seemed obvious, as sure a bet as you get in racing, but it wasn't greeted by unanimous applause at the time.


Racing could not reach its full potential without appealing to the largest section of the population, the women who made up an almost untapped 51 per cent of the public.

Strategies began to be developed to sell racing in areas where it formerly lacked appeal. It had to be sold as more than just a chance to watch horses and bet.

The ‘idea's’ time had come as the 1980s began, but its origins stretched back more than a century.

The VRC's first secretary, Byron Moore, floated the notion in the late 1800s that women could be an asset to racing. He suggested ways to adorn the Flemington lawns to give racing a softer image that would bring women through the turnstiles.

And in one short line he captured a basic truth that has grown to be one of the strongest forces driving change in the centuries old sport…


Where women go, men will follow.

I use that line like a personal motto, and it explains a lot about the success of the Melbourne Cup Carnival. When I started with the VRC in 1979 as an assistant publicity officer, the racing industry was changing the way it did business.

And I view it more as evolution rather than revolution.

What the VRC did was pick up on something that has been around for 130 years, professionalised and streamlined it and modified it to what modern society wants and what its requirements are.

All we have done is re-invent the wheel.

Whilst women in the late 1800s had the power within the home to influence their husband and children and set the recreational agenda, they lacked the voice and this is the basic difference.

When I began as a publicity officer, old habits were hard to break. Like women jockeys and trainers, I was a rare species, a woman in the thick of top-level racing.

The VRC was a conservative and powerful body, which newcomers could find intimidating and it was a fairly different profile of committee to today, mainly made up of Western District farmers.

There were also three Knights of the Realm, including the former Premier, Sir Henry Bolte.


It was only in the mid-1980s that the VRC admitted women in their own right as full members. I recall walking through the Flemington Members’ with an "Anywhere" badge and commissionaires were still hesitant about letting me across the white line.

But being a woman worked in my favour when trying to change the way the VRC promoted racing. In fact, I believe it would have taken a male a lot longer.

They didn't know how to say no to me, and I did my homework thoroughly. I wasn't prepared to back something I couldn't deliver. Things are much different now and racing has become stronger for it.

Women trainers are becoming more than a novelty, with Gai Waterhouse ranking among Australia's highest profile trainers.

She prepared the 1996 Derby winner Nothin' Leica Dane and her horses have twice been runners up in the Melbourne Cup.

Female jockeys have also become more common, earning respect racing against the men. Approximately 300 women race around Australia, a growing number at the highest level.

Terese Payne and Sally Wynne are two Victorian women who have come to be accepted as jockeys who give the men a good run for their money.

Bev Buckingham-King, until a tragic accident that went frighteningly close to making her a quadriplegic, was Tasmania's top jockey. One of the wonderful moments of this year's Spring Racing Carnival was her appearance, walking, at Flemington on Oaks Day.


Women are also becoming more heavily involved in horse ownership and racehorse breeding. It is estimated that half of the racing workforce are women, and about one third of the VRC workforce are women.

Opening doors to women has thrown open a myriad of opportunities for racing to develop. When I began at the VRC, the annual report didn't carry a single line on marketing.

There was no formal marketing department. It was just a publicity office.

Five years ago, the VRC Marketing Department had grown to where it provided more than 40 per cent of the club's revenue.

The contribution was second only to income from TAB coffers and the party-goer had become almost as important as the punter.

When we started to get serious about marketing to women in the 1980s, we looked back 50 years for inspiration and began to sit down and look at other ways we could begin to promote the Carnival as a whole.

We flogged a dead horse, literally, but not just any horse.

The 1930 Melbourne Cup hero Phar Lap had for half a century held a special, unique place in racegoers hearts. In 1980 we brought Phar Lap out of the Museum of Victoria, where he had long been visited by racing's pilgrims, and returned to the scene of his greatest triumphs, Flemington, to celebrate his 50 years since having won the Melbourne Cup.

The punting public looked back on the Depression hero with reverence as we looked ahead to a new era, which would change the face of racing.

Then in 1981 we introduced the Miss Melbourne Cup Quest and the Parade of Champions as we know it today - a street parade through the city of Melbourne.

At that stage, selling the Melbourne Cup Carnival was still in its infancy and yet to prove itself a winner.

More hurdles had to be overcome than any steeplechaser ever battled, and overcome on a shoestring.

There was no budget in those days so everything had to be creative marketing along the way. I had to seek sponsorship but there was no budget to advertise it, for printing purposes, for bringing out special guests or anything of that nature at that point of time.

But now, because the Melbourne Cup Carnival has risen to such heights and its awareness level is so strong, the reverse now happens.

We’ve got a budget to drive it but we are also getting sponsorship for it. Staff has grown to where I have a permanent staff of 14, which roughly doubles for the six months leading up to the Carnival.

The job has become so huge that outside help is now required, but we still keep a tight rein on the direction marketing takes. And, at the end of the day, it still comes heavily under our control.

We have annual reviews, immediately after the Carnival, where we pull everything apart and analyse it from all directions.

With Fashions on the Field we not only sit down and go through our own internal review, we then sit down with the major sponsor and get their thoughts.


Racing arguably has the richest tradition of any sport, and the tradition has sustained it for centuries. Respect for that presented one of many fine lines we needed to navigate. Too-rapid change could backfire.

We couldn’t afford to be too adventurous because people are here for ‘today’; we had to tread the fine line in wanting to seem to be creative.

But by any standard, the line has been successfully navigated, with the proof never clearer than in the financial bottom line.


Since 1992 the economic impact of the Carnival has grown from $137 million to $223 million.

In 1998 the average Melbourne visitor spent almost $84 a day at Carnival events. Country visitors spent more than $175 and overseas visitors, $339.

An economic impact study estimated the Spring Racing Carnival was attended by over 270,000 Melburnians, 55,800 country Victorians, 77,300 interstate visitors and 25,800 tourists who flooded in from overseas.

They came to the Carnival cashed up, and bet, on average, between $190 and $266 a day at the races.

Accommodating them and swelling their numbers further has become a major priority, along with building a permanent base of regular racegoers.


A new $41.5 million dollar grandstand is presently under construction at Flemington, due to be completed by the middle of next year. A few hundred racegoers this year got a taste of the superb views over the course, standing in a still-spartan, unfinished concrete viewing area.

Next year we estimate the Grandstand will provide finished facilities for an extra 10,000 patrons.

In line with that, and supported by the new Grandstand's appeal, we have set a goal of increasing the club’s membership from 10,000 to 20,000.

It will be everything stylish and comfortable women racegoers will want and is another tool in attracting female members.

Lets take a quick look at some of the events that have shaped the Melbourne Cup Carnival into what it has become today, the Parade of Champions, Fashions on the Field and the Flemington crowds…

***4:19 seconds***


This year's Spring Racing Carnival billboard shows three glamorous women, two well-preened men and a horse dressed to kill. The women are putting on lipstick and perfume, holding bubbling champagne flutes.

There is not a sniff of a stable or the crush of the betting ring and the tote queue.

Instead, the Carnival is portrayed as a stylish party where champagne sparkles and flowers are as central to events as the bookmakers and jockeys.

The strategy centred on fashion and flowers, and with more than 10,000 rose bushes around the course, Flemington is the world's largest public rose garden.

The Carnival's image was unashamedly aimed at women in the knowledge that if women go, men will follow in their wake.

Last year almost 430,000 people attended the 12 metropolitan meetings over the course of the Carnival. And the marketing approach that generated record crowds is also vindicated by the Spring Carnival's booming balance sheet.


From a trading point of view, the Carnival has become a bonanza for Melbourne retailers only rivalled by Christmas.

Major sponsor Myer-Grace Bros considers the Carnival an event it must be involved in because "it makes the cash registers ring".

Overall, the Spring Racing Carnival created the equivalent of 2433 full-time jobs. And, visitors drawn to Melbourne, by the Carnival found it was more than an excuse to dress up, it was a reason to shop.

Shopping Spring Racing Carnival racegoers spent $17.5 million on 143,000 items. They bought 31,000 hats, 19,400 pairs of shoes and 15,700 other assorted garments.


We have started to drive this whole fashion focus from that beginning in September, right through and part of this push is the September ``Girls Day Out'' at Flemington which has grown in popularity over the last four years.

It is aimed at women in the 18-30 bracket and acts as an entree to the Spring Racing Carnival, particularly the Oaks.

The September Ladies lunch has also rapidly grown from where it drew 200 women to a must-do occasion that entices 600 immaculately dressed women through the door.

The Oaks Club luncheon, which enticed over 1,000 women this year, has succeeded in bridging the gap between Fosters Melbourne Cup Day and Crown Oaks Day.

Since its conception nine years ago, the Oaks Club luncheon has provided female interstate visitors with a reason to stay in Melbourne. To shop, party and spend. In fact, it’s the female answer to the Carbine Club Lunch – which, to this day, is an all-male function with a sprinkling of women.


Fashion also plays a vital part in attracting corporate funding. The fashion element of racing has brought in sponsors that would not otherwise be interested.

In the '90s, companies had far more access to research figures. The '80s were very much a developmental time for sports marketing per-se, and it was very much in its infancy.

Now, advertisers have recognised that women have the power of spending. They direct what the family is going to do in many respects. And in order for racing to prosper and reach its full potential, the realisation has been made that it needs women.

Our focus and strategy behind all this is that we are targeting women. It is evident in the middle of a membership drive, the number of women who are now joining the club in their own right.

Since August 1 1998, 926 women and 1,802 male members have joined the VRC, in total there are currently 2,376 female members.

A feminine touch and softer approach has also proven to work best in marketing racing, although it wouldn't work in rugby or Australian Rules Football because of racing’s unique nature.

Broadening the Carnival's appeal through marketing to women has value-added advertising opportunities.

As the appeal to women has grown, the international television audience has also surged from 60 million to more than 700 million in 170 countries and territories.


The Cup Eve Parade of Champions, through the centre of Melbourne, has become the only parade of its kind in the world, and our major sponsors represent some of the biggest names in fashion, jewellery, champagne and luxury motoring.

The names are both familiar and prestigious; Chivas Regal, Saab, Hardy Brothers jewellers, AAMI, Louis Vuitton, Salinger, Great Western, Moet and Chandon, Myer and Cadbury.

Two common threads bind together almost all of the Carnival's major sponsors. They are quality, classy retailers, and their products appeal to women.

The Carnival, with its increasing appeal to women and emphasis on their interests, is the perfect vehicle for these prime corporate clients.


Marquees around the course allow big sponsors to bask in their close relationship with the Carnival.

They are an ideal vehicle for entertaining clients and no company serious about making an impression, can afford to be left out.

Fully furnished marquees this year ranged from $19,000 to $180,000. Some were elevated, carpeted, silk-lined. A construction staff of 70 took 10 weeks to build about 200 fully-fitted marquees.

It isn't cheap, but corporate heavyweights and hopefuls consider it money well spent.

About 350 companies took up corporate packages and most will return for more next year. The marquees have an extremely high retention rate. And they are unquestionably the place to be.

As Robert Sangster once described it, "Flemington hosts the only week-long cocktail party I have ever attended".

Lets now take a look at some footage of corporate hospitality at its best during the Melbourne Cup Carnival, even when the weather isn’t on your side!!

***1:32 seconds***


Another highly successful marketing campaign was the introduction of celebrities to the racecourse.

In 1985, we were primed for one of the biggest Melbourne Cup crowds of modern times.

A train strike threatened to derail the plans, but racegoers refused to give in. People sat in traffic for five hours getting to the course and 77,000 eventually flowed through the turnstiles.

Each year we invite celebrity guests to the Carnival, taking the glamour to a higher level. But Cup Day 1985, will be remembered as the greatest success.

The late Princess Diana, the world’s best known woman and her husband Prince Charles were guests of honour.

For weeks leading up to the Cup, people wanted to know what Princess Diana was going to wear, and because of the hype and the media interest ... there was so much fever going on.

For the record, Princess Diana wore a straight black skirt, white jacket and huge white hat, an outfit Royal watchers said she had worn before at Royal Ascot.

A motorcade and mounted horse procession took them down Flemington straight, and racegoers craned for a glimpse of the Princess during the Cup presentation.

Her husband backed the second place getter but Diana was the unchallenged success on the day.

Guests from the worlds of fashion and film grace the course each year, each adding something to the colour. We endeavour to get the celebrities to arrive early, helping to build the Cup’s pre-promotion.

This year's guests included Chinese model, singer, TV and movie star Qu Ying, actors Geoffrey Hughes and Linda Robson and designer Fredrica Balestra. They added spark around the Members' and the lawns.


But some of the high-strung show-ponies can also be a gamble. Designer Bruce Oldfield, who came out to judge Fashions on the Field, indicated he didn't think much of the event, or the fashion, and couldn't wait for the whole thing to be over.

In 1995, model Daniela Pestova found it hard to raise a smile on Cup Day and she was in celebrated company.

Clive James had spent 18 months working on a Melbourne Cup postcards television special, but the skies opened on the day he came to film. It rained and rained and rained, and I think Clive's sense of humour got a bit washed away.

Actor Jack Klugman turned out to be something of a talent scout when he presented himself at Flemington. He would arrive each day with his towelling hat on to judge Fashions on the Field and finally, on Oaks Day, he said: `This has been absolutely wonderful, but what day do they wear the bathing suits?'

He may have been pulling my leg!

Author Dick Francis was another charmer who loved the ladies and Priscilla Presley was a crowd favourite.

But watching the parade of stars over the past 20 years Freddie Fox, the Queen’s milliner, was certainly my favourite.

It is not often that you are fortunate enough to get someone back a second time, and it is not often that you invite someone back.

He has become a wonderful ambassador for the Melbourne Cup Carnival. Wherever he goes overseas, he talks in glorified terms of his experiences at the Cup Carnival. Freddie Fox epitomises what you would like all your special guests to be.

Celebrity photographer Rennie Ellis managed to raise eyebrows in the stewards' room. He wanted to get a dramatic shot of the horses galloping towards him.

So he threw himself on to the track near the winning post, which was an extremely foolish thing to do. Obviously, he was quickly pulled off, marched into the stewards' room and asked if he knew how dangerous what he did was.

He said: `Yes, I could have been killed.'

The stewards replied: `We are not talking about you, we are talking about horses and jockeys'.

Good or bad, celebrities are talked about and the procession through Flemington plays an important part in marketing the Carnival. It adds a touch of sparkle and provides the pre-publicity to whet racegoers appetites.

Now let’s take a quick look at some of the celebrities that have adorned Flemington’s racecourse over the years…

***2:13 seconds***


Fashions on the Field started as a promotional scheme to try to bring women through the turnstiles.

When it began in 1962, not everyone in racing appreciated the glamour. The industry's firmly entrenched boys club was uncomfortable that the horseflesh and the punt might be overshadowed.

And the noises racing's traditionalists made were loud enough to threaten the stylish competition's survival.

In the late 1960s, Fashions on the Field hit a formidable hurdle in the form of the Herald newspaper's influential chief racing writer Jack Elliott.


He campaigned against the feminisation of racing; he saw it as a threat to the way racing had long been managed.

Elliott argued the glamour was spoiling the event, complaining there was ``too much nonsense at the Melbourne Cup Carnival.''

``Let's make November 5 a day for nags, not rags," he said.

The backlash added to other pressures that saw Fashions on the Field cancelled after 1971, or at least spelled.


Smaller competitions went some way to filling the gap in the remaining 1970s but they never quite captured the appeal.

In 1981, we brought Fashions on the Field back, sponsored by Schweppes and quality Victorian fashion retailer, Fletcher Jones.

Two years later Myer, the most solid of Melbourne's retail giants and the city's premier fashion house, became the major sponsor.

With heavyweight corporate support and half the population firmly on its side, Fashions on the Field has now become a ritual. It's a spectacular tradition and the blueprint for similar competitions at racecourses around the country.

When I started with the VRC in 1979, Fashions on the Field was in recess. Instead there was a ``Myer Girl of the Day'' contest.

In the few previous years, various ideas were tried, none which would match the scope or success of Fashions on the Field.


In 1978 there was a Thoroughbred Fashion competition held on Derby, Oaks and Cup days. In 1977, there was a ``10 Elegant Women'' competition.

But by 1979, various forces were at work that would help propel women's fashion back in the spotlight.

Channel 10 first televised the Flemington Melbourne Cup Carnival in 1978 and a special guest in 1979 gave the show the necessary extra glamour.

In 1979, Myer brought out Zandra Rhodes as a special guest. She was just the person to force people to notice Flemington's alternate race, the fashion stakes.

Her shock of clothes and different coloured hair had people talking, and more importantly, thinking about style.

In 1979 we had as our special guest the Aga Khan and the Begum Aga Khan, and everyone was extremely interested in what the Begum was going to wear.

She was an elegant lady, a former model from England, and the strong focus began on fashion again in 1979. And in 1980, we reintroduced Fashions on the Field.

The resurrected competition began with sections based on the cost of an outfit.

The notion fitted the times but by the late 1980s, the thought of divulging the cost of an outfit appeared gauche and was unflattering to women on a budget.


One of the things we had to do was listen to the voice of the average person wanting to enter. That is why for today it has now developed to `Classic Racewear' and `Best Classic Hat'.

One of the things that has happened during that span of 20 years is that the fashion industry has now embraced it and that has given it enormous credibility.

While some outfits raised eyebrows, the contest was unquestionably serious to the competitors. Years ago it was very hard for us to get the fashion people involved as judges. These days they are the first to put up their hands and say they want to be there.

Judging is held each year in the most visible spot at the course, directly in front of the Members stand but within the public area.

It has not always proved ideal, being occasionally at the mercy of rain and hat-wrenching gusts, but the location has remained fixed.

No other spot would so ideally suit the needs of the public, the members and television.

The competition has flourished in recent years and sponsors, like judges, are eager to be involved. This year's judges included Charlie Brown, Ita Buttrose, Rhonda Burchmore and Maggie Tabberer.


And the prizes in each of the two sections - classic racewear and classic hats - make it seriously attractive to aspiring women with over $100,000 of prizes on offer.

And not to be forgotten, they also won their weight in Salinger Champagne.

As part of our overall push to attract women to racing, Fashions on the Field fits like a lace glove. It seems to have a strong future. It has matured. It has so much drawing power.

To protect that future we have also developed strategies to ensure it will continue successfully.

Kids' Fashion on the Field competitions have grown steadily more popular since inception four years ago. Their success goes hand in hand with the growing appeal the racing carnival holds for women.

Mothers bring their adorably dressed children, even if sometimes the youngsters appear almost a fashion accessory.

Sections range all the way up to 17 years, the age at which young girls can graduate seamlessly to the adult Fashions on the Field.

They are almost being bred into it, and the influence of the competitions is also being felt in all parts of the country.

Every Victorian country racecourse now runs a Fashion on the Field contest in conjunction with its Cup day, and the same happens on courses as far afield as Darwin and Broome.

Racecourses in places as far removed from Flemington as Singapore and New Caledonia have taken up the idea.

We are also strongly linked with Melbourne's Spring Fashion Week, a retail-based promotion, and we are working to develop a larger involvement with February's Melbourne Fashion Festival, the wholesalers' event.

And in a small hoofnote to the growing importance of fashion, not even the runners on the track are immune to Flemington's increasing penchant for style.

Race Four on Crown Oaks day even boasts colour coordinated competitors; all the horses in the Myer Plate are grey.

Now let’s take a look at the screen and witness some of the Fashions on the Field competitors and judges over the past 20 years….

***2: 36 seconds***


It has taken less than 20 years for the Crown Oaks Day meeting to move from near the tail of the field into second place.

And we have achieved that by taking a non-traditional approach, starting from an outside barrier with a giant handicap.

Of the four meetings that comprise Flemington's Melbourne Cup Carnival, Crown Oaks Day is at a unique disadvantage.

Derby Day is arguably the best day of Australian racing. Every race on the nine-event card is group-rated.

It and Emirates Stakes Day are held on Saturdays, when work doesn't get in the way for most racegoers.

Foster’s Melbourne Cup Day is a public holiday in Melbourne and stands a real chance of becoming a public holiday as far afield as Queensland. It does stop the nation, with more than 12 million estimated to watch on television or tune in on radios.

Cup Day has long been Australia's premier racing event and holds a huge natural advantage over other meetings. But of the Flemington Carnival's four meetings, only Oaks Day is conducted on a ``working day''.

In the early 1980s, the Oaks Day attendance rested around 37,000. Conversely, the Cup drew 101,000 to Flemington in 1980 and Derby Day crowds generally topped 40,000.

But the pecking order has changed remarkably in more recent times. In 1997, 98 and 99 Crown Oaks Day attracted record crowds.

In doing so it cemented itself as the second most popular Spring Racing Carnival meeting, only trailing the Foster’s Melbourne Cup.

It took less than 20 years for Oaks Day crowds to more than double, and it took girl power to do it.


The more recent surge in Crown Oaks Day’s popularity could partly be put to the success of the Girls Day Out promotion in September.

From its inception, the day has been heavily promoted in the places young Melbourne women want to be seen.


Brunswick St and Chapel St, two trendy strips which are the heart of Melbourne's cafe society and young fashion, are two prime target areas where the promotion "clicked".

The long lead into the Spring Carnival helped build the anticipation and excitement, and promote racing to the important but non-traditional market.

Last year's Spring Racing Carnival comprised 71 meetings - 12 in the metropolitan area. It extended over 45 days and drew a total attendance of more than 580,000.

Of all the city meetings, Oaks Day showed the strongest growth since 1993. It has beaten the Derby for the last five years at a time when the Derby meeting, too, has been setting records.

This year 83,870 people packed into Flemington for Crown Oaks Day.


Although record Oaks crowds have come to be expected, this year's record performance was exceptional. It smashed the previous mark by about 6500.

So where else in Australia, or the world, would you get this sort of crowd to a race meeting on a working day?

The short answer is nowhere, because there is nothing like the Oaks.

Other days have better racing but none have the style. The new breed of lady racegoers can be thanked for that.

Derby Day fashion is always very much the black and white. It is the day for the serious racegoer, for top hats and tails, a little bit of Royal Ascot. Melbourne Cup Day is people's day and anything goes.

But Oaks Day's softer, more feminine line, its flowing gorgette or organza, has proven irresistible to women and men who love women looking their best. It provides a reason for dressing up and women and men respond to that.

The women come and the men follow in droves, bringing Crown Oaks Day to the point where some commentators have begun to jokingly rename it "Blokes Day".

We also firmly believe that having such a heavy focus on fashion through the years has been a large part of the reason why Crown Oaks Day attendances have now spiralled.

I would like to conclude by reiterating my motto, "where women go men will follow". Ladies are having their say, and their day, and because of that racing has never looked better.



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