In The Next Five Years?

It’s often said that there are no new ideas in marketing, just old ideas refreshed. So, here are some points that are worth pinching from a new guy on the block. Fairfax reported the thoughts of new ARL CEO David (“Benji”) Smith (SMH Mar 01), a former finance guru who is a newcomer to the sport.

“Smith repeatedly mentions the need for the game’s administration to be more “professional” … (he) targets to double just about everything over the next five years, including the game’s non-broadcast revenue, from $50 million to $100 million per year”

According to Smith, “that is a punchy target but nonetheless it is a target we should be able to meet by being more professional, driving the game the right way, widening the appeal of the game to corporate and different sponsor types and being more inclusive in terms of fans”.

Well that sounds pretty good, but time will tell. More to the point, would it not be a good idea for greyhound racing to go down that road, too? Doubling wagering and other turnover in five years is tall order but not an impossible one, given the way wagering and gambling is going these days. At least it would be an objective.

The hardest question for any racing code is where to start. The national body would be the obvious place to go to, but the prospect of action there is pretty doubtful. Greyhounds Australasia is the only national body we have and it says it does not deal with commercial matters.

That takes us back to the eight Australian states and territories which, with NZ, make up GA, but how on earth could eight different bodies mount a sensible campaign given that they don’t agree on a great deal anyway? And what they do accept usually takes forever and a day to bring about. Racing rules would be one example of those problems, a couple of years to change to the green rug another.

Those same state bodies have been in place now for sixty years or more, perhaps eighty or so if you count the formation of club organisations in NSW in the 1930s (following the 1931 Royal Commission). Essentially, they have never changed their structures, although Victoria’s clubs were privatised up until the 1950s.

Raceclubs are groups of locals who form a committee and like to do their own thing. They are dedicated volunteers but not necessarily professional about some matters. State committees are appointed by the Minister and they then hire some bureaucrats to fix dates, do the paperwork and police errant trainers. The names change occasionally, along with the colour of government, but the message is always more of the same. Battleships can take a long while to turn around, especially when they have to take a vote first.

Technical progress is not unusual – in feeds, medicines and drugs, for example – but there the major influences are companies and other folk outside the usual “participant” group. Betting has developed recently, although over a few dead bodies, only because NT bookies and Betfair blasted their way through hardened establishment attitudes, including those of some greyhound authorities – notably in NSW, Queensland and WA. Tasmania switched sides only after James Packer did a deal personally with the Premier of the day.

Otherwise it’s hard to see other major changes or initiatives in the way racing is organised and conducted. Since we are still using 1950s systems, that is not surprising. And the effect is clear – during all that time, the three racing codes have steadily lost their market share to other forms of gambling – down from over half to around 10% today.

So, can we be “more professional” and “widen the appeal of the game” as the ARL is planning to do, and as the AFL has done? Should we invent our versions of one-day cricket or T20 matches?

It’s possible, but not before a complete reform of club and authority structures. It’s tempting to look at all sorts of possibilities but a commercially responsible organisation at the top might be easier to bring about. I say that because it does not need approval from any Minister. We can do it ourselves. Right away. So what about it?

Incidentally, GA has just had one of its occasional meetings but I have yet to see anything released about the agenda or decisions taken. Not even the scores in the golf game. Not very transparent there either.

We have spoken of the AFL being quite progressive yet it still sees a need to keep on the move. Here are some thoughts from its number two, Gillon McLachlan, as seen by Patrick Smith in The Australian (Mar 4) during a discussion of law changes.

“McLachlan’s view is that the direction and future of the game is an issue not solely for the coaches or, for that matter, the laws of the game committee. He wants input from all stakeholders into what AFL is and how it should be played. He is keen to hear from the supporters as well as coaches, players, umpires and administrators. While the laws committee members have always had the latest survey of supporters thoughts about the game for reference when deliberating possible rule changes, McLachlan has guaranteed more refined and broader research.

From all of this information and with final input from the laws committee, McLachlan will oversee the development of the charter enshrining a vision for how football should be and will be played into the future”.

There are some more ideas to pinch.

Incidentally, McLachlan was the guy who pulled out of the race for Smith’s ARL job, preferring instead to keep working for Andrew Demetriou in Melbourne.

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