Confessions And A Ray Of Hope

The NSW National Coursing Association is now officially gone, dead and buried. The GBOTA will take the licences over for a few months while GRNSW sorts out what to do with the NCA fallout.

This is a blessing and a huge opportunity. Never before has such a substantial racing organisation come up for grabs. It has been a major force in NSW greyhounds, a supporter of several country tracks and a publisher of a newspaper with a long history. But it has failed. Now, the next move is critical.

But first, why did it happen?

It is easy to say that finances got the better of them but it is more than that, much more. It’s about management, about corporate structure, about strategy, about professionalism, about complacency, about customers and modern society.

The NCA, a club of a few hundred members, run by a handful on the committee, simply could not cope with running a business. It was responsible for half the action in the state until 2008 (when it left Wentworth Park) as it and the GBOTA had effectively controlled the state board for donkey’s years. But in 2005 it had started to develop The Gardens complex at Newcastle.

Yet already the NCA-owned Greyhound Recorder was on a downward slide, helped by a national decline in newspaper readership, a slide in serious punter numbers, a narrow outlook and a general failure to offer relevant and timely information. It was introverted when the world wanted a more lively and more interesting approach, preferably digitally as well. The Recorder was – and maybe still is – potentially a great vehicle to expand public interest in greyhound racing. But it has not been doing that, relying instead on traditional club and breeder advertising and a bit of a chat about trainers. In its own way, deFax was not too different, for that matter. Indeed, all three national greyhound publications (including National Tabform) reflect what the proprietors want them to be, not what the customers or the public might want.

In recent times, both the club and the newspaper have been “managed” by a curious collection of part-time directors, crooks, unqualified journalists and promoted secretaries, all of whom were always subject to the whims of those really in control – the NCA Committee and the powers inside it that made the decisions, including the joint decision to sign an ill-considered 99 year agreement for distributing TAB commissions. Even the oddball earlier version of the Wentworth Park boxes – later discarded – came out of that boardroom.

I admit to having form there. After some years writing a column for the Recorder I was sacked because I delicately pointed out that management by committee was a relic of the ages. They did not like that but it was their right to act, of course. I had been hired by Phil Bell, the last NCA general manager with any nous, because he saw the value in telling it like it is and encouraging change, rather than gilding the lily every week. He eventually realised it was all impossible and quit, followed some time later by myself. We are both doing fine now, thanks.

NCA Newcastle’s early move to take over ex-Wyong dates and convert them to 272m squibs’ races on Saturday afternoons was another tactical error. Those sorts of races have no future. Another error was the decision to remove support from the strategically-located Singleton club, with GRNSW blessing, and take their dates to The Gardens. More eggs in the one basket, if you like.

The Gardens was poorly built anyway, despite protests from the management of the day that it was designed by “experts”. At the outset the view of 515m starts was blocked and the 413m start was a disaster, leading eventually to an expensive shift of the boxes to the more amenable 400m spot (somewhat similar events occurred at Gosford and its awkward 400m start). The camera position still distorts race pictures – a straightforward design error. The track camber is also wonky, leading to higher interference levels.

All these things could be fixed, of course, but are unlikely to get the attention they need if GRNSW simply plays musical chairs with the appointment of a new club with a new committee. Let me repeat here what I wrote on 15 July – Newcastle Failure Also a Great Opportunity.

“First, the Hunter needs an over-arching business supremo to take control of its tracks, promote the sport, upgrade the business model and handle the money. Re-organised traditional clubs can still organise the racing as such, mainly because that’s what the law demands (another relic of the ages)”.

In other words, commercial structures and disciplines could give the industry a real chance of winning. Club committees will just offer more of the same. It matters little how brilliant are the members individually; it’s the committee concept that retards innovation, growth and development. Primarily, it is why racing in general has been losing market share steadily for the last 30 years. Perhaps the NCA fate will cause the penny to drop?

Passing the Buck

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission says it is not interested in addressing the porkies and exaggerations told every day by Tabcorp and Tatts – those where First Four dividends are exploded beyond the ability of the pools to service them. As we pointed out in the Brunker v Bet365 case (June 30 article), the alleged $14,623 dividend posted by Tatts was supposed to come out of a nett pool of $3,658.

The ACCC referred us to the NSW racing department, which obviously has no jurisdiction over any of the other states. Why NSW? We have no idea. The event occurred in Queensland, the legal claim was heard in the Northern Territory where Bet365 is based, Tabcorp is based in Melbourne and Tatts in either Melbourne or Brisbane – take your pick, while punters are located everywhere in the nation as well as overseas.

This is a disgraceful bureaucratic cop-out. Here is a brief extract from the ACCC website telling the public what it covers.

Schedule 2 – the Australian Consumer Law
The Australian Consumer Law (Schedule 2 of the CCA) – misleading or deceptive conduct, unconscionable conduct, unfair practices, conditions and warranties, product safety and information, liability of manufacturers for goods with safety defects offences, country of origin representations.

If Tabcorp and Tatts are not misleading the public then my dictionary has a problem.

However, what it does highlight is that racing is a national business for everyone except the regulators.

Meantime, we will keep chasing the ACCC. We have objected to their referral of the subject to NSW authorities and asked for a review. Also, we are still waiting for responses from the NT Racing Commission, Bet365 and Queensland stewards on this subject. It is also odd that the Brunker case has apparently not been referred to Queensland police following the evidence before the NT Racing Commission and its finding of “unlawful” activities.

Past Discussion

  1. A brilliant article Bruce.
    I am not sure how “commercial structures and disciplines ” away from  “Club committees ” constitionally will come about, but agree they are clearly needed.
    Perhaps the starting point is REQUIREMENTS that clubs have open memberships and that boards include professional persons.  To me that’s your starting point.
    There is no doubt that we need as an industry to learn from the NCA debacle. We can not just put it behind us and move on without understanding the key factors to avoid such a monumental mistake every occurring again.

  2. A brilliant article Bruce.

    I am not sure how “commercial structures and disciplines ” away from  “Club committees ” constitionally will come about, but agree they are clearly needed.

    Perhaps the starting point is REQUIREMENTS that clubs have open memberships and that boards include professional persons.  To me that’s your starting point.

    There is no doubt that we need as an industry to learn from the NCA debacle. We can not just put it behind us and move on without understanding the key factors to avoid such a monumental mistake every occurring again.

  3. Congratulations Bruce Teague on a brilliant and thought leadership article.  It is critical we do not simply put NCA behind us but learn as an industry what went wrong and how we ensure it does not happen again. I am not so sure how (constitutionally) we will or can implement ‘commercial organisations’, but to me a hybrid is the starting point. That is, the governance requirements should include OPEN club memberships (to all local region participants) and professional persons on the board. That is something that can be implemented short term and what I am hoping is an immediate benefit of the debacle called NCA and Gardens.

  4. Congratulations Bruce Teague on a brilliant and thought leadership article.  It is critical we do not simply put NCA behind us but learn as an industry what went wrong and how we ensure it does not happen again. I am not so sure how (constitutionally) we will or can implement ‘commercial organisations’, but to me a hybrid is the starting point. That is, the governance requirements should include OPEN club memberships (to all local region participants) and professional persons on the board. That is something that can be implemented short term and what I am hoping is an immediate benefit of the debacle called NCA and Gardens.