Victorian annual report – good in parts

QUICKEST off the mark with its FY2015 annual report, Greyhound Racing Victoria has recorded a $5 million surplus on the back of rising income from both Fixed Odds betting and racefield fees from corporate bookmakers.

The turnover increase of 5.5% was helped along by a 3.5% jump in the number of meetings. Activity at the city meetings at Sandown and The Meadows was almost flat but country turnover rose by 7.4%. A breakdown amongst the 11 country clubs is meaningless as Traralgon was closed for reconstruction for the entire year and its dates distributed to other clubs.

Given the traumatic circumstances in the industry, that’s not a bad overall result. Even so, the improved cash flow is due much more to structural changes in commission agreements rather than a grass roots jump in patronage. If GRV were to look more critically at its long term strategies (as mentioned in the Sydney inquiry, state authorities’ long term plans are more aspirational than practical) it must seriously evaluate why the big two tracks with their premium products are not leaping ahead.

After allowing for inflation and higher meeting numbers, the 2015 result was actually worse than in previous years in the city and barely in front at the provincials.

There are a few suspects.

Sandown turnover is not helped by its Thursday night timing when business drops off sharply after 10 o’clock as workers remember they have to get up early the next morning. Still, that does not apply to The Meadows on Saturday nights.

Night time competition is stronger now that Tabcorp is pushing ahead with extra international events – either gallops or trots. Asian races regularly clash with night-time dogs.

The city clubs’ secondary meetings are of no great help. The Meadows lunchtime offering on Wednesday is too early to catch the best of daytime punters. Clubs like Horsham, for example, do much better than that in the twilight slot on Tuesday. Sandown is lumbered with a Sunday timing, which does no favours to turnover at any time of the day or night.

Overall, non-growth in town and somewhat better results in the country suggest that casual or mug punters are making up a bigger proportion of the total – ie there are many more meetings in the country which soak up passing trade, whatever the time of day.

Curiously, the smaller prize money at those secondary meetings in town – set at provincial level – has not deterred better dogs from taking part. Quite a number of races have superior fields to those in the prime Thursday/Saturday slots.

All that aside, my personal view is that one or both secondary meetings should be scrapped in favour of improved opportunities at key provincial clubs, perhaps with higher prize money. Feeding a greater number of quality dogs into such meetings is likely to return greater dividends than having them race in town. Far too many provincial fields taper off badly after just a couple of decent races, leaving those clubs with little to promote to the public. We already know that the country cups circuit does very well but after that the bottom drops out of the market.

The secondary meetings in town were introduced a decade and a half ago for no other justification than to make those clubs more efficient – ie better use of expensive facilities. Fair enough, but it has come at a cost to the week-round product. In any event, it has now done its dash and is not generating new growth.

The report makes no mention of the sudden resignation in August 2015 of long serving CEO and director, Adam Wallish, who had oversight of all the recent contractual changes to betting commissions. Several changes have been made to the board since the previous board quit following the live baiting saga.

Keeping it a secret

The Victorian annual report contains a very interesting item – given the current PR problem facing the industry. GRV spent over $45,000 on a consultancy study of public attitudes to greyhound racing.

No doubt this was helpful to GRV in formulating its marketing plans. However, it was no use to anyone else as the results were never distributed outside the GRV bunker. Inquiries to GRV got only a response that it was “commercial in confidence”. Hello! Who else would have a commercial interest in what people thought about greyhound racing? I doubt the gallops and trots could care less. Ditto for the casino people. They all regard greyhounds as small beer, notwithstanding the fact that the code’s much higher racing frequency makes the industry (especially Tabcorp) more efficient.

To deny this information to stakeholders in the industry – and not just owners and trainers, but all interested parties – is a short-sighted policy, typical of the way racing authorities operate. It conveys a “we’ll tell you what’s good for you” message and makes a mockery of claims about transparency.

The secrecy principle is emerging in the Special Commission inquiry in NSW and has frequently been the subject of complaints from participants about the way GRNSW runs the show. It peaks at meetings of Greyhounds Australasia where we have not the faintest idea what all the state delegates talk about, save only for the odd release about drug policies.

In Victoria or anywhere else, authorities make a practice of sending out only “good news” messages, often stale and always boring. So-called consultations with industry (which are compulsory under government rules) are limited to those trainers who can be bothered to turn up to meetings but really amount to no more than the authority passing on decisions it has already made.

These processes make a mockery of the stream of current pleas to report irregularities (eg about live baiting). At any level, good communications are a two-way street.

Incidentally, a single snapshot of public attitudes is all very well. However, to get full use of the information it is a job that has to be done every year. Any changes would be an important measure of how the industry is progressing. Since we are paying for it, we are entitled to know more.

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