Before wonderful words in expensive annual reports begin to emerge from the bunkers of state racing authorities I thought it might be a good idea to work out where we are and where we might end up – the industry, that is.
The first question might be how we can afford those fancy productions, or even the hard to use computer programs they put them in. But we will leave that for the moment.
1. As ever, the top bracket of dogs and the skills of their trainers give us wonderful weapons on which to base the industry.
2. Back-up services in veterinary, breeding, medicine, feeds, transport, housing and air-conditioning have come along in leaps and bounds over the last couple of decades, and continue to do so. But note most of this is in the control of private firms or individuals, not racing authorities.
1. Our tracks have completely missed the bus, lacking the investigation and analysis that would produce more trouble-free designs.
2. Money is becoming a major hassle, partly due to the lack of initiative internally, partly due to the degeneration of the wagering market, and partly due to the varying policies of state governments. Some states are better off than others, creating a serious imbalance across the nation.
3. Public image of the industry is still poor and lacks a national perspective to improve it. The current NSW parliamentary inquiry brought to light many aspects of this subject. The knowledge gap has also left the industry vulnerable to biased attacks such as those from the ABC’s 7:30 Report and in the Sydney Morning Herald.
4. Average field quality continues to decline as more low standard dogs are inserted into the mix, mostly to staff extra races being crammed into an already overcrowded calendar.
5. The reduction in the standard and numbers of dogs with staying ability, and the parallel increase in attention paid to shorter races is reforming the industry genetically, and in a fashion contrary to customer desires, as we understand them. There is no future in 300m races.
6. Generally, the “product” is being created in the eyes of administrators, rather than being pitched professionally to the desires of customers and the public. There is no evidence that we even know who those customers are.
7. The industry’s governance and organisational structures do not meet the standards of the modern world, being based on 1950s patterns and a survival theme.
1. As by far the dominant code in race numbers, greyhound racing has the potential to reach more customers, more often, providing only that they first understand what greyhound racing is all about.
2. The development of cohesive and authoritative national leadership could lead to more effective and efficient operation of the industry and play a greater part in influencing both governments and the public.
3. Creation of a national betting pool could build turnover significantly, almost overnight, by giving genuine punters something practical to use.
1. By far the industry’s greatest problem is the devolution of control to betting operators and their targetting of short term profits at the expense of the excellence of the product. Those operators are competing with each other (but seldom on price) at the expense of catering to a once-discerning customer group.
2. In turn, the industry is now largely dependent on income from mug gamblers who owe allegiance to nobody.
3. Breeding numbers (of both horses and dogs) have been flat or in decline for many years now, indicating serious shortcomings in the nature of the package on offer.
4. The industry is hugely dependent on the will of a tiny handful of large owner/breeders, to the extent that at least two states have, or will have, risks to their viability.
5. State governments are notoriously reluctant to view the racing industry constructively and therefore to introduce necessary reforms. The commonwealth has no power to intervene, even if it wished to do so.
The upshot of all this is that, were Australian greyhound racing listed on the stock exchange, its price would drop faster than those of an airline or a shonky property developer. There was a time when you could get away with anything, mostly because people in their thousands had no choice but to descend on the racetrack for the thrills and to have a go at making a million. That is no longer the case. Too many other choices are available and racing authorities (and state Treasuries) have failed to bring racing into the modern world. It is no longer as relevant as it once was. Major reform is the only answer.
Dismal? Perhaps, but what is the point of ignoring the facts? How else can you find solutions? Anyway, racing owes a greater return to its participants, who should be earning 50% to 100% more than they do now, while any genuine punters still in the game must be getting very frustrated. That’s incentive enough.