Last Monday’s industry ratings averaged out at just over 50%, or barely a pass mark (see The Scorecard, 23 July). We thought Breeding, Welfare, Trainers and Support Services categories did better than average, although some queries remain. On the other hand, Wagering, Tracks, Racing and Customers failed to meet desirable standards.
On the whole, this paints a dubious picture of the industry’s future. It is not a question of viability. People will always be prepared to throw their money away on racing, just as they do on poker machines. Somebody, somehow, will make the sums add up.
But it could easily be so much better. Some of the fix is obvious – just redesign tracks and pay more attention to producing better quality fields. What is hard is convincing the public, especially potential wagering customers, that it is worthwhile getting serious about greyhound racing. The available evidence tells us that the majority of men and women in the street don’t particularly like greyhounds to start with. The breed’s public image is poor, partly deserved and partly not. Like it or not, old time live hare coursing, the use of muzzles and chasing rabbits and cats outweigh the greyhound’s amazing and lengthy history, its purity, its athleticism and its normal gentle manner.
That shortcoming should not be a surprise. Publicity of the breed’s qualities has been sparse while the industry’s treatment of customers is either ineffective or non-existent. We expect the customers to come to us and so sit back while the TABs do their thing and send us a cheque later.
This is why the industry – or at least the establishment – reacted in horror when it realised existing customers were flocking to operators it publicly despised, ie NT bookmakers and Betfair. The industry’s managers simply did not realise anything was wrong, that their systems were obsolete. Some are still of that view, even though they are now raking in the dollars provided by the newcomers. The penny has not dropped.
It is also why the TABs’ promotional efforts are now massively concentrated on sports betting. They are still big in racing but have lost their edge. Apart from mug gamblers, Tabcorp is therefore chasing its only real growth product – football and the like. For evidence, try opening the new (and clumsily designed) Tabcorp website and check the only two words on the screen. One large outlet I know has relegated its big SKY screen and replaced it with an even bigger one for football matches. Tatts is trying to expand into overseas lottery fields rather than put its efforts into finding new local customers. Anyway, its smaller pools leave four of the lesser states in an uncompetitive position until a national pool is created.
All that is why our final ratings will read ...
MANAGEMENT – 2/10
The management system gets two points only because it is neatly set up to perform administrative tasks to do with licensing trainers, working out race dates, paying out prize money and issuing meaningless media statements. Yet these same people are morally and legally responsible for the progress and development of the industry.
Such progress is not evident in our ratings. Indeed, in some cases the reverse is occurring – in field quality, for example. Queensland is a sad illustration of how to go backwards steadily. In that state, dog numbers are down, fields are poor, tracks are troublesome. Nationally, most numbers are flat or declining.
Even if everything else were hunky dory the continuing disappearance of genuine customers would of itself condemn the industry to – at best – mediocrity. No business in the world can hope to develop without a happy and growing customer base. Greyhound racing has long since resigned its position in favour of the TABs, but they are not doing much of a job of it either.
The underlying reasons for this decline are threefold:
1. The absence of a meaningful, accountable national body and the differing, parochial actions by each of the states cause disruption and confusion. For example, Greyhounds Australasia is responsible for national racing rules yet each state tears those apart and then makes up its own. In NSW alone the local rules take up 102 pages. GA wisely decided to get rid of the dirty brown rug and replace with a green one. Yet it took nine months for that to filter through the various jurisdictions, each of which decided to conduct its own checks before making the change. SKY viewers were watching a brown rug in one race then a green one a couple of minutes later. Can you imagine the rules of cricket or AFL changing from one state to another?
2. Every controlling group – at club, state or national level – is comprised of a committee and it alone is responsible for decision-making. Irrespective of the people involved, management by committee is a guarantee of mediocrity and a lack of innovation. The lowest common denominator triumphs. No business can hope to achieve efficiency and profitable growth under such a system.
3. The views of insiders have dominated the way the industry is run. 50-years-old practices and structures are unable to cope with changes in the society around them. The industry has ignored the need to run faster to keep up with its customers, and therefore those customers have left for greener fields. The pressing need to introduce independent thinking gets no more than lip service. Indeed, it is often resented.
Nothing short of major reform will put the industry in a position to overcome these challenges. The first step is to accept that there are shortcomings and tell the Racing Ministers about them – in other words, the opposite of what several authorities have said recently.
Only then can we expect governments to act. But, without a big push, that action will come very slowly, if at all. That would be a terrible waste of the industry’s assets.
TODAY’S RACING – A PRIME EXAMPLE
Tomorrow, Friday, the next batch of around $100,000 of punters’ money will be handed out to semi final winners in the Laurie Helion Maiden series at The Gardens in Newcastle. Even the heats ($3,500-1,000-500).were worth about as much as a standard Friday Wentworth Park race.
And there were some very good runs in those heats, too. Obviously, any sensible trainer would be keeping back his good ones for such a lucrative prize. Many runners will go on to better things. But sit back and consider the facts involved so far.
· In the seven heats, only one favourite won.
· That’s not a surprise because 52% of the runners had no published form at all - they were having their first start.
· The last point runs counter to the GRNSW policy which requires all maiden entrants to have completed a qualifying run. Maybe the NCA had a dispensation?
· The average Win dividend was $6.10, which is nearly the same as you would get by throwing a dart at the racebook to select your runner.
· Amazingly, the average Win pool on these maiden races was $24,094. That was higher than the pools for well qualified dogs racing at Wentworth Park on the same night ($22,890).
Where on earth did that cash come from? Their mums and dads? Mug gamblers? Local supporters? Why would they invest so much on the great unknown, particularly as The Gardens track is prone to hassles on both turns and has a fairly high proportion of race falls?
These were almost certainly promising, if unproven, dogs. But they ended up as no more than four-legged poker machines. It’s good money, of course, but where will it all lead? What sort of investor prefers unraced dogs over the cream of the state’s crop at its major track?