British Owners Tell It Like It Is

In a wide ranging survey of 6,000 British owners (of whom one third replied) the Great Britain Greyhound Board (GBGB) asked for views about the conduct of the sport and its future. Results are published on its website – gbgb.org.uk.

Some of the key suggestions were:

  • Communicate the ‘emotional’ benefits of ownership in targeted advertising
  • Dispel public myths/negative perceptions about greyhound racing
  • Publicise the role and activities of key industry bodies
  • Publicise ongoing work at GBGB – demonstrating its commitment to the medium and long term future of the sport
  • Produce step-by-step guides at tracks to support new owners
  • Publicise the sport as one of the UK’s largest spectator sports by capturing the passion that owners have for the sport

British owners are predominantly over 45 years and male, half have been in the sport for 30 years and few expect to make a profit or break even. While the vast majority regard it as a hobby, many are concerned about costs and the number of rules and regulations.

Most are fairly happy with their chosen trainer, but a third of them would like to be consulted more.

The long term picture was much cloudier and many owners expressed concerns. GBGB summarises their views this way:
“Owners regard the sport to be in decline with significant under-investment in facilities at some venues coupled with the closure of several flapping tracks* which have traditionally seen owners and trainers develop their interest before crossing into licensed racing. Seeing Oxford recently close down (despite being perceived as profitable and popular) has left many owners feeling very pessimistic about the future of the sport.

Owners blame the decline on the disunity between key industry stakeholders (each with their own conflicts of interest) and land prices – particularly in the South East – creating too big a temptation to sell the land, leading to underinvestment in tracks and their subsequent closure.”

The survey was conducted by a professional research organisation.

*(A “flapping track” is one that is independent of the control of the GBGB, which oversees 26 official tracks).

THE GREYHOUND “ASHES”

At 25 official tracks in England and one more in Scotland, Britain runs about 70,000 races annually using 6-dog fields. This is some 80% more races than in Australia where 70 raceclubs operate. The relationship would obviously be more than double if the flapping tracks were included.

Betting in the UK was formerly limited to on-course bookmakers (as seen on several cop series on TV) but from 2005 off-course betting shops were authorised to handle greyhound racing and some $4.1 billion is now invested annually. That compares with about $3.5 billion in Australia (exclusive of Betfair turnover), despite having much smaller race numbers and only one third the population of Britain. Australia’s 50-year history of TABs and licensed social clubs has obviously had a huge influence on its higher per-race turnover.

Attendance figures are not meaningful these days because of the large numbers of fans in both countries who use off-course venues or electronic access to race pictures and betting operators. Even so, the Greyhound Board claims that greyhound racing is the third most popular sport in the UK. Australia would not get anywhere near that rating. (The pecking order varies with the surveyor and the methodology but the digital media company Perform classes them as (1) Cricket, (2) Rugby League and Tennis eq, (4) AFL, (5) Soccer).

A major organisational difference is that the Greyhound Board is the only over-riding authority in Britain (ie no states or counties are involved) although it does not directly control the activities of integrity staff – stewards and the like. They are closely associated but independently managed.

On the other hand, flapping tracks are subject only to whatever rules and regulations are imposed by local councils and animal welfare authorities.

All tracks in Britain are privately owned and a racecourse manager sets up fields and seeds dogs into boxes according to their racing habits. The outcome is interesting as British winning box data shows a fairly even spread while the 8-dog fields in Australia reflect quite wide variations due to track bias and higher interference.

While Britain may be regarded as the traditional home of the racing greyhound its involvement in mechanical hare racing started only in 1926, or slightly before that in Australia. Both were prompted by visiting American enthusiasts. Coursing and hunting with dogs is, of course, many centuries older. King Henry VIII and Queen Victoria were fans with the latter’s husband commissioning a statue of his favourite greyhound in the castle grounds.

It would be good to publish comparable information about Irish greyhounds but the Irish Greyhound Board is horribly deficient in providing data about racing there at its 17 tracks. Its website shows annual reports up to 2010 only, for example. Considering its great influence on UK racing, or racing internationally, and the presence of Australian breeding stock, this is more than disappointing.

But keep your eye on the Greyhound Racing Victoria website. Its CEO, Adam Wallish, has just returned from a visit to Ireland.

Apart from hard data, the industry as a whole clearly needs to pay more heed to the value of promoting the greyhound as a magnificent canine athlete with a history unparalleled in the animal world. To do less is to let the naysayers take over – and there are plenty of them, both here and in the UK.