LAST Wednesday Greyhound Racing NSW (GRNSW) confirmed it had selected Tony Mestrov as the new CEO to run the commercial operations of the sport.
Mestrov will commence his role on November 20 and will be assisted by Dayle Brown, the outgoing Racing Victoria integrity boss.
A former Manly Sea Eagles forward, Mestrov is the Chief Operating Officer of the Gold Coast Titans and the former CEO of Hockey NSW.
Australian Racing Greyhound caught up with Mestrov over the weekend for an exclusive interview on his new role.
If we were to Google your name we can find out all about your professional career, but who is Tony Mestrov away from the CEO’s desk?
I was brought up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney. Obviously some of my roles have required me to be quite busy and under high pressure at times, but I am a pretty relaxed guy on the weekends. I am a mad golfer – a tragic – and even though I am not very good I use it as a hobby to get away from work. I spend a lot of time with my family too, I have a 14-year-old daughter. I also enjoy going to the beach and having a quiet beer socially.
Being the CEO of GRNSW is going to be completely different to any role you have taken on in the past. Do you think this is an advantage?
I think having fresh set of eyes is a distinct advantage. It’s really important to come into this role with a new perspective and fresh ideas. My role at Hockey NSW was the same – I wasn’t a hockey player and I didn’t know that much about the sport, but the key principles in my skills I was able to use in order to seek new commercial opportunities and speak to stakeholders on all levels. I think those same principles will apply to greyhound racing. I’m not foreign to racing in general – I’ve been an owner of a number of horses so I generally know the industry itself. I’m not going in absolutely blind and I’ve obviously done a fairly extensive amount of background work and also Dayle Brown will be amazing – he’ll be able to hit the ground running around integrity and welfare.
What flagged your interest in the role as the CEO of GRNSW?
How big the challenge was really attracted me to the role. Everyone knows what has occurred over the past few years in greyhound racing and I think the sport deserves the right to be prominent. What happened won’t happen again.
I want to modernise greyhound racing, to actually get people back to the track, to improve the accessibility in regards to wagering – I think the commercial opportunities are really strong and I don’t think they have been explored because of where the sport was at. It is challenging – but I know what I am getting myself into – and I am excited about the challenge of giving greyhound racing a sustainable future and bringing the community with us on that journey.
In the past transparency and trust have been an issue between GRNSW and participants. Do you see this as something which needs to be addressed?
Part of the discussions when I did get the role were about trust. One of my first jobs will be to build relationships with stakeholders – the community, the greyhound community in country and regional areas. I really want to build that trust, to be accessible and I don’t want to have that divide. I think that’s really important.
What was your take on greyhound racing’s recent controversies such as the live baiting scandal and the greyhound racing ban?
It was unfortunate for the good people in the industry –there is a high percentage of good people in the industry and I think that’s probably in every industry. Now there is the opportunity to apply the recommendations that have been put forward…and I think everyone has learned a pretty harsh lesson that what has happened in the past cannot happen again and the right recommendations are in place to prevent that. Moving forward I think there is a huge learning curve. Everyone wants greyhound racing to be sustainable and be successful and I think the opportunity is there, particularly for myself and the board. I am really looking forward to working with Morris Iemma and Dayle Brown.
What is greyhound racing doing right and what needs to change commercially for the sport to grow and be sustainable?
I don’t think people realise the potential of greyhound racing. We’ve seen how powerful the industry can be – it is a real community based industry. The people are real and I want to bring that out more. I think there is also the opportunity for people to buy in to greyhound racing and be an owner – it doesn’t cost the world – I don’t think that aspect is sold enough. I also think it is a great day out – that’s not sold enough either. There is plenty of upside. I want to showcase the people of the sport and create a strong digital footprint – to personalise the owners and trainers that are out there, in the country and who have been a part of the industry for a long time.
We need to re-brand greyhound racing. It has been perceived to have welfare issues…but we need to change that perception of the sport and that will be key. Commercial returns won’t come until that’s right – welfare and integrity play a huge part. They are the main priority and then there will be commercial partners which will come on the back of that and that’s when we’ll see the perception changed.
If we are doing the right thing regarding welfare and integrity the commercial gains will come.
A major concern of many participants is the cost of reforms and the growing costs of being involved in the industry. How do you plan on making the industry more profitable and increasing participant returns?
I have been aware of the reforms particularly regarding welfare and integrity. I think we need to increase the commercial viability of the sport and that to me is working with the individual clubs to increase their commercial return and their revenue. Once that happens you can look at the better returns. [Greyhound racing] hasn’t been commercialised [fully] with sponsors and other opportunities. Once you can increase those the [financial] returns will come, they are not going to come overnight, but it’s part of my role to increase them.
The key to it is bringing new people [into the industry]. We have to retain the people we’ve got – but how are we going to get more people to the tracks, involved as participants and wagering and so on?
I use the word ‘modernising’ greyhounds and I think it’s really important to move with the times.
The new GRNSW will be in charge of the commercial functions of the sport with the regulatory functions to be overseen by the NSW Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission. What relationship do you foresee between the two?
A lot of my role will be building a relationship between the government, the commission, our board and the community. It will be really important to balance that, but I think that’s why they went for a CEO with my skill set knowing that was part of the role. I am enthusuastic and really passionate about the challenge, but at the same time I have a job to do, I am not emotional about it – it’s business and we need to improve the business.
Where do you see greyhound racing in NSW in five year’s time?
I’d love to see it thriving with a much higher profile and getting the positive PR it deserves. I want to see it purely sustainable, increasing the returns for [participants] and getting more people to the tracks.
What would you say to reassure those participants who may still be questioning your appointment?
The proof will be in the job I do. But what I will say is that I am going to endeavour to give them a future. I think it’s really important that the industry has a sustainable future and that’s my priority.