Can we prevail on greyhound racing’s $5 million dollar man?
There is no other way to put this. The code is on a seemingly unstoppable trend towards mediocrity (see also last Wednesday’s THE MONEY OR THE BOX article). Look through the fields, day by day, and try to find a meeting that would attract and keep the interest of a keen punter. Time after time, the pickings are too slim to bother with. One or two reasonable races accompanied by ten crook ones do not cut the mustard.
Authorities no longer care how good the dogs are, only whether there are enough of them. Even then, full fields are getting harder to come by, particularly in higher grades.
Sure, some good dogs and some good races are still there, thank heavens, but once you leave that level the pickings are slim indeed. Fewer and fewer races are worth looking at, or not unless you are prepared to play the numbers like the rising tide of mug gamblers do these days. Today, fair, average and slow dogs are mixed in together, in or out of form, over-raced or not.
In the face of that onslaught, who else than mega-breeder-owner Paul Wheeler might be in a position to call our leaders to account? I don’t know the bloke personally but I can admire him from afar, as we all do.
Mind you, I might have had a little influence there as several years ago I wrote an article pointing out that it had become near-impossible to remember which Bale dog was which. All his dogs were Bales then. Soon after, the dynasty’s naming department came up with Dyna, Flex and Allen prefixes. The scoreboard immediately became a bit easier to read. Nice work.
But the question now is whether Wheeler and perhaps another dozen other big owners are satisfied with the way the code is proceeding. A major part of the answer boils down to an assessment of its long term financial future, or it should do.
To do that, first check the history. In the last two decades, greyhound income has maintained a level or grown for five reasons:
- Beaming SKY pictures all over the country from 1989 almost doubled meeting turnover,
- The introduction of SKY/TAB racing to several extra tracks during the mid-1990s,
- The arrival of fresh blood in the form of NT bookies and Betfair from the early 2000s,
- Some fairly recent changes to commission sharing, usually boosted by government policy moves,
- And most recently, by the addition of low class race meetings, as TABs made spots more easily available during off-peak periods.
Look closely at each of those factors and you will see that none of the five resulted from initiatives from greyhound authorities. Sometimes the reverse was true. For example, while GRNSW now points out that “racefield legislation is a growing component of our overall revenue” that very same authority violently opposed the arrival of corporate bookies at the outset (see speeches by then-chairman Percy Allan). Way back, SKY’s boss at the time, Warren Wilson, virtually strong-armed some clubs into taking up coverage in the face of what the clubs saw as ever increasing costs. Then a misguided WA Racing Minister tried to ban Betfair altogether, as did the ARB, headquartered in Perth at the time.
Racing authorities have therefore done no more than slot races into holes made by someone else, yet all now claim wondrous cash advances as their own work. It simply is not true. They have merely acted like policemen on point duty.
Nor is there likely to be another rabbit to pull out of the hat. Why? Because we have long since run out of dogs, especially good ones. Breeding figures have been flat or declining for over a decade now so any extra racers can come only from the bottom of the barrel, and that area is looking pretty threadbare now. Use of weaker dogs is also the reason for the steadily increasing proportion of less-predictable, ultra-short races. Equally, how many more vacant spots are there in an already overcrowded TAB program? Very little and only then where shift workers, insomniacs or retired folk are available to patronise them.
The remaining avenue for racing and betting growth will now rest with doing better with what we have. Yet that cannot occur while average field quality remains poor, betting pools are too small and marketing measures largely non-existent (preaching to the converted on SKY does not count).
What we need is more concentrated, high quality product and the people to push those wares to new investors. The situation demands a reform of the industry by chopping it in half. First, to create more and better fields at selected clubs and then attracting big spenders to those races. The mediocre half of the product then must be consigned to the “also-ran” area, together with unsatisfactory, disruptive tracks which continually turn off genuine punters.
Sure, Paul Wheeler and those other top dozen owners can’t bring this about on their own. Besides, you might say, they are probably doing alright as it is. But not only do these people usually have passion but they are also all businessmen who would be used to looking much further into the future than our racing authorities are able to do.
Desirably, they should be joined by our top dozen trainers, who are all doing nicely at the moment, thanks, because they get all the good dogs. But their future, and that of their children and grandchildren, is inevitably tied up with solid, long term growth.
Only such a high powered group would be capable of influencing Racing Ministers to take such a plunge. Forget the existing groups and associations; they are not the solution but part of the problem. However, politicians will never move on their own unless two things happen: first, a concerted move by the above industry leaders and, second, putting a question mark over the prospect of future tax flows.
We need a revolution, comrades.
“Great businesses get to know their customers better than their rivals and as a consequence produce an uncommon offering – a product or service with a strong emotional connection”. Bob Bloom, noted US advertising and marketing guru, quoted by Peter Switzer in The Australian 13 Oct 2012.
“Outgoing ARU chief executive John O'Neill has predicted a dim future for Australian rugby if the game does not modernise its governance. Unlike the AFL and rugby league, which have moved to independent commissions, rugby is still governed by an archaic federated model”. The Australian 13 Oct 2012.