Paltry rewards to players led to the formation of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket in 1977, with coloured clothing and drop-in wickets, much to the horror of the sport’s establishments, which fought to the death to retain their dominant positions, notably in the UK and Australia. More recently, the Board of Control of Cricket in India has exercised massive influence over anything involving its national teams, including media coverage.
Gideon Haigh, leading cricket commentator at The Australian (Oct 5), cut to the nub of it when he pointed out how national sporting bosses “never lose their hankering to control”, particularly in India but also now in Australia.
He identified a shift occurring from “one in which they held the game in trust on behalf of its public, to one in which they seek to own the game and sell it to “cricket consumers”. They are on the wrong track, he says, when “the mildest aspersion is construed as talking down the product” and perpetrators told to toe the line. Coincidentally, that is the basis of Racing Queensland’s so-called marketing effort at the moment.
It’s not a problem, claims Haigh; “cricket will not perish if it doesn’t control every message and monetise every product for the sake of its income streams; (however), cricket will suffer if its public starts losing a sense that the game is theirs, and they’re simply being sold something they thought they owned.”
Can we learn from those thoughts? Consider how the public gets it greyhound news today.
1. From state and national authorities and the Greyhound Recorder, which are invariably good news stories or “look what nice things we have just done”. These are the same people who got it so badly wrong on Betfair and NT bookies, originally telling us we should have nothing to do with them.
2. From the national dailies, but only when something really nasty happens and warrants banner headlines. Normally, two of the biggest – The Australian and The Age – contain absolutely nothing about greyhounds. No news, no fields, no form, no results.
3. From the code’s two independent news sources – australianracinggreyhound.com (free) and National Tabform (by subscription).
It is, of course, also a chicken and egg problem. If the general public are not very interested in greyhounds or just don’t like the breed, they will not be looking for news anyway. Yet to reverse that trend, and to try to get them interested, we need to do stuff that attracts them. At the moment, pretty much all we have are SKY pictures and racing radio broadcasts, which are relevant only to those who are looking in the first place. It’s called preaching to the converted.
(I might also advise GRV to save its money as you have to be really alert to note when the Watchdog’s tips come up on SKY and, even then, there is no time to make a note of them. The same goes for the celebrity tips at major events, most of which appear as the dogs are going into the boxes. Having said that, both are better than the amazing selections that appear under the Skyform banner. Stick to the pictures, fellas).
Certainly, we know that displays at agricultural shows, retired greyhound programs and occasional community tie-ins are successful as far as they go. WA has done well with shopping centre promotions in the past, while SA is pretty aggressive on radio. Then Uncle Ben used to run a “dog caravan” around the traps which kids loved. But no more.
However, without the continuity that is essential to sell a brand, a product, a sport – whatever you want to call it – nothing will sink in. Whether it’s PR or advertising, in today’s competitive world, promoting anything has to be national, full-on and continuous to succeed.
We have a national body, Greyhounds Australasia, which theoretically is in a position to develop programs to spread the word but it does not see that as part of its charter. In fact, sometimes it is even worse than that.
For example, the chairman’s address to the Racing Minister’s Council not long ago told them that everything was fine and dandy, thanks. He ignored the massive trends occurring in betting – falling betting pools, declining field quality and a declining base of genuine customer – and in breeding where the numbers of Dogs Named and Litters have been flat or falling for the last decade.
He also ignored the desperate need to tell them about the potential of a national betting pool, which would benefit greyhounds far more than the other codes. That would be a commercial matter, you see, and GAL does not go there.
Indeed, as of this moment, the latest statistics published by GAL are for 2011, due either to its own failure or that of member states to send in their figures. Either way, there is no news there, is there?
Consequently, by default, “control” devolves to the individual states, all of which have their own way of doing things. Few make substantial attempts to take greyhound racing to the general public and none of their activities are co-ordinated. Personal experience tells me that a couple never even bother to attend to their correspondence, that they may act badly to criticism, and that they rarely seek outside advice. (Three states, WA, SA and Queensland, have conducted inquiries of one sort or another in recent years, and solicited public submissions, yet none has published the eventual reports, let alone responded to contributors. The SA one is ongoing, though, but it addressed only trainers in any case).
The broad outcome is that the greyhound breed, the most central aspect of the sport, is often poorly regarded. In turn, that means that prospective owners or punters become harder to find and enthuse. The most obvious symptom of that is the continuing decline in serious punter numbers and their replacement by mug gamblers. Only the latter would take much interest in the tiny, erratic pools and poor fields on offer, themselves a function of the badly overcrowded racing programs we see today.
In short, the great racers and the top personalities are unknown to the public, leaving them nothing to cheer about. The rare exception – Miata, for example, in company with Black Caviar – simply proves the rule as she was an outstanding PR success, albeit primarily in only two states, WA and Victoria. Without their champions, the blokes in the street will be half-hearted at best in following greyhound racing.
The starting points? Well, two matters stand out.
First, we need a massive national campaign to educate the public about the quality of the greyhound breed, its purity, its long history and its gentle nature. How to pay for it? Chops bits off the prize money here and there. It will return dividends in the long run.
Second, national betting pools are a must. They will not only help the code but also put more cash in state Treasurers’ pockets as more and bigger punters return to the fold. Win-win.
There are other needs but they will flow from these two and can wait.
The challenge for our “boards of control” is to recognise what might happen in the near future when no more slots are left in the racing programs and, even if there were, extra races would simply split the same cash more thinly amongst them, and further prompt more competitors to be drawn from the bottom of the barrel.
In reality, we have already exhausted quantitative devices, so only qualitative improvements are left to exploit.
Kerry Packer, an inveterate punter, would have known what to do. Still, James owns half of Betfair so he might take an interest.