Strategies Are Apparently In The Eye Of The Beholder

A long while ago The Bulletin ran a cartoon with two tramps sitting on a park bench looking out through the trees towards the skyscrapers in the big city. One says to the other, “I used to be a big shot, but then I lost my list of things to do”.

That was a reminder of the first time the Greyhound Racing Authority (now GRNSW) produced a formal Strategic Plan, back in 1998. Unfortunately, it contained no strategies and no plans. It was just a list of things to do. Nevertheless it was launched by the Minister with a great fanfare and everyone was congratulated.

That time has rolled around again and GRNSW is now canvassing ideas for inclusion in an update of Chasing Dreams, the 2010 strategic plan. This year’s process includes a series of visits to country centres, and some focus groups in Sydney, all involving discussions with board members and staff. That’s good stuff. But what will happen to all the ideas and proposals that people come up with?

Consider some sample promises from 2010.

“Punter:  Improved race form and service levels leading to increased transparency and consistency”

In this column we have more than once pointed out serious issues with the complexity and over-padded nature of GRNSW formguides – too long, too cumbersome, too much low priority information and a shortage of sectional times. No corrective action has been seen. And I have no idea what “transparency and consistency” means.

“Government:  Infrastructure development and continued revenue growth”.

The bit about “revenue growth” is still a lost cause but, in part, no fault of the current GRNSW people. The NSW government has declined to over-ride the old intercode agreement, now requiring greyhounds to subsidise the other two codes.

“Infrastructure development” is a can of worms. Big money has already gone down the drain at The Gardens in Newcastle, with more likely to follow. There has been repair work done on Wentworth Park’s grandstand but nothing has been done to the track which badly needs re-design.

Other than normal heavy maintenance jobs, little track upgrading has taken place. Newcastle’s already disruptive 413m start was shifted to a slightly less disruptive 400m start. The rest of the circuit remains poor, particularly the two main turns. Much the same happened to Gosford’s new track. Bathurst has gained a diabolical 450m trip with a near 90 degree bend just after the start. Goulbourn attracted lots of cash for its refurbishment but the outcome is yet another poorly designed track with unsatisfactory box positioning and poor cambers. In a previous period, both Richmond and Dapto were rebuilt completely yet repeated the old errors – poor first turns and badly sited starts for Richmond 400m and Dapto 520m races.

Probably one of 2010’s most critical promises was this one about “Image”.

“GRNSW believes there is a clear lack of knowledge and misunderstanding of the greyhound

breed in the community. The negative image of greyhounds has a huge impact on the sport in

many areas, in particular, on the ability to re-home greyhounds through the Greyhounds as Pets

program. As a result, GRNSW believes it is imperative to increase public awareness of greyhounds

and will look to showcase the breed through a number of different channel in the future”.

Sadly, the recent adverse publicity on the ABC 7:30 Report and in the lead-up to the Parliamentary Inquiry suggests that GRNSW has failed to get any decent message across to the general public. Hence the biased and negative nature of the reporting. Image development is not an overnight thing and whatever you do must be organised before anything nasty happens, not afterwards.

Another plan by GRNSW was nice but very generalised. It calls for …

“Race programming that maximises the racing life of greyhounds”. 

An obvious technique here would be to encourage – or even demand – the programming of Veterans races at every club, as often pointed out in this column. It rarely happens in NSW, even though they are very popular with fans in Victoria. So much for suggestions?

On the whole, past efforts at Strategic Plans have been more words than action. That can be reversed, but only if GRNSW is realistic and transparent about where the code is heading. Two measures stand out above all.

First, fix the tracks. Those that promote higher interference must be attended to urgently.  Many of those “fixes” would not involve huge expense. The project requires a comprehensive audit program, done independently of GRNSW. In any event, GRNSW should obtain more objective advice about what to do. It’s most recent job – a fiddle with the first turn at Maitland – did little more than bias the track in favour of boxes 1 and 8, while it quoted evidence elsewhere that simply did not exist.

Second, concentrate betting turnover at fewer tracks so as to improve turnover sufficiently to attract more and bigger punters. Some should attain genuine premium status for that to come about, regardless of the current policy of sharing prize money equally around all TAB clubs. Alternatively, or as well as, GRNSW should be shouting from the rooftops about the need to create national betting pools, which would hugely benefit the greyhound code. So should other state authorities.

Either way, better pools, better fields and better tracks will encourage better punting. It’s not rocket science.

Finally, when GRNSW does spend significant amounts of (our) money, it should be required to justify it in advance and to report (to us) on the success or otherwise of those investments. A good start would be to analyse the return achieved by breeding incentive programs and distance race subsidies. Does anyone know what they actually do?

In that vein, some words from John Brumby are apt. He is a former Victorian Premier and, in this case, responsible for the Reform Council report on how the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) is working. He pointed out in roughly these words that “successes are too often assessed on inputs and activity, rather than on outputs and results”. (National Press Club, 6 Nov).

However, there is one strategic move that GRNSW did undertake early this year. The board approved a move to shift Border Park club at Tweed Heads to Queensland jurisdiction and issued a widely reported media release. No reasons were stated but the plan was welcomed by local dignitaries, Racing Queensland and some Queensland trainers. A slot was even found to fit it in to the Queensland TAB circuit as a replacement for an existing Albion Park meeting. The trouble with all this is that it can never happen, for a number of practical and legal reasons which were explained in our article on 8 March (Weed on the Tweed).

Since then, no further word has been heard from authorities in either NSW or Queensland. Nor from the Racing Minister, who would have to support such a change, or the state Treasurer who would suffer a blow to tax income, or from Tabcorp, which would be transferring part of its contracted revenue to TattsBet.

It’s very doubtful that Tweed Heads will appear in the next Strategic Plan.

Meantime, two jobs are available by rotation on the GRNSW board. It might be a good idea if the replacements know relatively little about greyhounds but a lot about running successful businesses.

PS: About my comments on the shortage of stayers last Monday (Shorter and Shorter) – I see that European-bred horses ran 1-2-3-4-5 in the Melbourne Cup. It bears thought.