Owners Rep Blog

Orchestrator, not just regulator

Owners Rep blog

Orchestrator, not just regulator

In attempting to write this latest blog I’ve been looking at a blank screen for a full 15 minutes. As Owner’s Rep I’m obliged to report everything back just the way I see it. There are many things I want to write about regarding my view on the barriers and blockers to us fixing (and growing) the sport again, but pretty much everything I say could to be counter-productive to me having any sort of impact in the year ahead. I must choose my words wisely.

Having said that, fundamentally I only care about one thing, and that is ensuring all owners benefit down the line from improvements we can make to the sport. So I will say it as I see it, even if that means ruffling a few feathers along the way.

Right now, part of me is feeling excited about what may lay ahead, with talk of a new vision, some new Board members, battles for media rights and increased demand for our product, news of global sales of our product and so on. But equally I have a fear. A fear that unless we understand and address the structural and political reasons why the sport is in the state it’s in, and the GBGB takes charge of the bigger picture, then these new opportunities may only ever benefit a few stakeholders, and not all of us.

So what’s the problem?

Self-interest is part of the problem. All the most powerful stakeholders, whether promoters, bookmakers or even media rights holders, seem to be so focused on their own short / mid-term goals (as you would expect from most businesses) that they are not working together for the greater good of the sport. None of these stakeholders will be able to deliver sustainable growth without a grand plan for the fabric of the industry – welfare and homing, reputation and image, breeding, young trainer attraction and education, ownership growth and fair owner reward, improved racing formats, quality of steaming and broadcasting and of course customer experience.

This self-interest is maybe to be expected, but it is made worse by the fact that historically the GBGB has not had the vision, commercial know-how, cash, or inclination to take control and orchestrate the industry - the ultimate collaborative force to work with all stakeholders has been required but has not existed. Greater emphasis has been put into the GBGB’s regulatory responsibilities (with a good deal of success) at the expense of commercial responsibilities.

If we are serious about fixing this, we need to decide if the Board is just a regulator, or if it needs to develop new commercial capabilities. We will need to improve the quality and range of skills of the Board. We need more vision, strategy and commercial thinking. Perhaps this can start with the appointment of the missing Independent Director onto the board (a vacancy does exist but there seems to be no urgency to fill it) – so let’s bring in someone quickly who can help with the vision, strategy and give a clearer commercial perspective.

Then lets organise a strategy project in early 2018, to agree the vision for the sport, facilitated by a professional who can help guide us to create a plan for the long term. Let’s collaborate with all stakeholders to get their buy-in and support for a shared vision, and of course the cash to deliver the plan. I’m convinced the GBGB needs a commercial and marketing department (or even a new commercial entity that runs alongside it). These issues must be dealt with if we are serious about growing the sport for the benefit of ALL of us.

And lets have a proper review of the committee structure and effectiveness while we are at it. A lot of box ticking and not a lot of real progress is the current state of play in my view. This system is unnecessarily complicated and ineffective.

There are many talented people within GBGB. Let’s be clear on where we are going and empower them to make it happen.

Back to the here and now - I attended the GBGB board meeting last week and I can report the following:

-          I am hopeful of securing a budget to test a syndicate scheme – although lots more detail about how the scheme could work will need to be discussed internally, specifically track selection, sourcing of dogs, trainer selection, and online vs live tactics.

-          The evolution of the Owners Bonus Series is still in discussion – I am keen for us to deliver  fewer, more impactful events and that’s what my Innovation Panel recommended to the Racing Committee. There is not a lot of common ground here yet.

-          Agreeing a solution for track surface guidelines and how they are monitored is frustrating – it seems to have vanished from the agenda and both Peter Harnden and myself are keen for a solution to be agreed that is beneficial to all stakeholders and not just the promoters. We are awaiting a document from Bill Glass but as far as we are concerned a solution hasn’t yet been agreed. Surely it can’t be that complicated to agree 1. best practice guidelines 2. training process 3. monitoring process and 4. penalties for non-compliance?

-          The Board did discuss possible budgets for PR if more money comes into the sport. The industry really needs to get a grip of PR from a welfare, re-homing and general promotion perspective. I’m concerned any PR will be far too reactive and too late (particularly with regard to the impending injury data being made public) I have made this point to the Board and I am unhappy with the current position.

-          No discussion takes place at board meetings on key industry issues such as the potential under-supply of dogs (which was mentioned in passing when I raised the point), widespread concerns that dogs may be forced to race too often next year due to busy schedules, and the uncertainty of the Sky contract for 2018.

-          The most bizarre item of the day was having to agree a refund to promoters for a significant budget surplus relating to the special licence fees they pay. We are in the illogical position of having to make refunds, yet knowing we don’t have enough budgets to do everything that needs doing in the year ahead. Totally bizarre but apparently ‘its always been done that way’! Enough said.

I met Lord Lipsey at the House of Lords earlier this month. A charming man. My take outs were offshore contributions are still hoped for from all the main firms. Moving forward, he agrees that we need to do a better job of showing the bookmakers what good use we can make of additional funds for collective benefit….an ‘investment’, not a cost.

I also visited Jane and Dave Houfton last week, and had a tour of their great schooling facility. They are seeing first-hand the real decline in owners and dogs generally, and also explained how hard it is to make it pay even when owning many dogs themselves.

Finally, I experienced first-hand the implications of public perceptions of greyhound racing this week. I introduced a well know social media agency to the GBGB last week. They specialise in sport and were potentially a partner we could have used for the online element of the syndicate test. One day after the meeting the team contacted me to say they had spoken to their agency bosses and due to concerns regarding reputation and the perception that many dogs don’t make the track – they declined to work with the greyhound industry.

We have a mountain to climb so let’s get our ship in order and not make it any more difficult than it already is.