Greyhound transparency lost in translation

Just a couple of weeks ago I highlighted the reluctance of state authorities to tell the public and industry participants what was going on. They seem to adopt a kind of “need to know” approach which lets out only that publicity which makes the authority look good. Mind you, Racing Ministers are no better.

Apparently, it's a bigger problem than I thought. Here is what a respondent to The Australian wrote on June 29 when talking about the just released Intergenerational Report:

“Apart from the fact the PS (Public Service) is almost only focused on its own interests to the exclusion of everything else, the other factor that exacerbates this problem is that those administering the PS (i.e government ministers) are among the most incompetent people managers in the nation.

Consequently, we have this huge administrative yoke around the neck of the economy and the PS administrators all have the desire to nudge policy in the direction of having more administration (so they have a number of higher tiers to aspire to), so it just grows and grows. Additionally, they also wish to be remunerated more highly, even though they do not face the risks that those in private enterprise have to deal with (one only has to look at the gigantic PS salary bills that governments are paying out at present)”.

Many would place Greyhound Racing Victoria in a group like that. While it has displayed some enterprise in setting up some innovative racing programs, it falls short in telling us how it runs the shop.

In fact, only a week ago it put out a waffly media release which proves the point. They called it an “Industry Update”. Here are some examples, together with my own comments.

  • GRV: “the was one of several new initiatives to expand Victoria's racing program to 26 meetings a week which enabled increased returns to participants at every level. “GRV's ability to grow its racing program has been underpinned by major reform over the past five years,” Mr Clayton said.”

    COMMENT: True to a point but today's increased returns were matched against a troubled Covid emergence in the previous year plus an increase in race numbers – using low quality dogs. More critically, we have no idea of what the actual increases were, nor what sort of types were involved, nor who placed the bets. All we know is the claimed percentage rise. Amongst other outcomes, the Victorian GOBTA has calculated that the proportion of GRV income ending up with owners and trainers has shrunk from 53.0% in 2013/14 to 42.9% in 2019/20. Hardly a good sign.

  • GRV: “euthanasia rates fell by more than 90 percent and race fatalities fell by nearly 30 percent. Also, during the financial year 2020-2021 race injuries fell by 10%.”

    COMMENT: Again, we hear only about percentage changes to the figures, not the actual changes or why they occurred. Those changes are at almost unbelievable levels, which make it even more important to find out what the detail was and how the improvements occurred. We are led to understand that GRV has been keeping detailed records of the nature and place of injuries but not a word of this has escaped from the North Melbourne bunker. Figures could be distorted as GRV results show euthanased dogs as “retired”.

  • GRV: “since 2015-2016 GRV has invested more than $12 million in infrastructure reforms to improve and race day operations. GRV now has two track design experts that are used across Australia by other greyhound racing jurisdictions, providing ongoing advice on all track upgrades using bio-mechanical science to radically re-design tracks and drive injuries lower”.

    COMMENT: Really? What upgrades exactly? Over recent years GRV has played around with the track by replacing the 511m bend start with a 520m bend start for zero improvement. Levels on the home turn are also suspect and the camera is positioned too low. Cranbourne supposedly got some attention but, again, we don't know what it was and dogs are still running off at the turns. Several mid-distance provincial starts have been moved closer to the turn, thereby increasing the potential for clashes. 's 550m start is now a 545m start but still on a bend. No changes have been made to disruptive starts over the 600s at and . Broken bones continue to occur at Sandown's first turn. Drop-in, tightly located boxes for the short trips have been installed at Horsham and , leading to crowded fields early and increasing fall rates. Some science! Some experts!

  • GRV: “The rate of breeding also matches our race program and overbreeding has been eradicated.

    COMMENT: It's hard to say whether this is just a non-statement or a plain lie. It forgets the fact that breeding numbers are around half the pre-2015 levels (as they are in NSW). Overbreeding cannot have been eradicated because it never existed in the first place. Prior to 2015 the previous couple of decades showed small but steady declines in litter numbers. Post-2015 those numbers fell dramatically and have never recovered. Consequently, when coupled with higher race numbers, more empty boxes have appeared – fields of 3, 4, 5 and 6 are now a daily occurrence. In an unprecedented move, next Saturday's three meetings (July 3rd) have been cancelled due to the lack of nominations! The shortage is chronic and longstanding. It constitutes a major structural change to the industry.

  • GRV: “A new Code of Practice was introduced by the to clarify minimum standards for keeping racing greyhounds.”

    COMMENT: This “white picket fence” code had little to do with racing but was palmed off to the department responsible for household pets. It introduced fresh rules for feeding greyhounds, when to go to the vet and how to house the dogs. It raised trainers' costs but had no effect on the benefits or otherwise to racing participants or the code at large. It was a political and bureaucratic response to the negative public impact of live baiting. The equally bureaucratic GRV organisation will say it had no choice but to bow gracefully to the government's wishes. Still, it could have made more noise but didn't.

In total, observers are still left in the dark. Who are our customers? How have they been changing? Why is breeding still in the doldrums? What is motivating potential future owners? Why are track building efforts not more productive? Are the alleged benefits of those changes properly audited? Can someone explain why income is up when field sizes have been dropping? What will be the end effect of declining Tote figures and increasing corporate bookies' turnover (ie the outcome of the move into digital devices)? How is the relentless move towards shorter races going to affect the breed and future income? Are the continuing rises in staff numbers justified? And so on.

To take a broader view, let's consider that the vast bulk of publicity from state authorities is directed at insiders rather than to the public. This is called preaching to the converted and therefore fails to advance the industry. Occasional efforts like the race or coverage on TV are good but they are one-offs and lack continuity. The message is soon forgotten.

On this narrow but vital subject, here's a reminder in a report to the Advertising Council of Australia (The Australian 28 June 2021) which pointed out that “that the business case for treating advertising as a growth lever and not just a cost to the business has never been clearer”.

Its studies “showed that those whose extra share of voice (ESOV) – that is, advertising spend that is higher than their share of the market – were able to strengthen pricing and acquire more new customers”.

About 25 per cent of those with a positive share of voice saw their pricing position strengthen due to significant improvements in brand quality perceptions and 40 per cent drove very large increases in new customer acquisition.”

We might never reach Harvey Norman proportions but small moves in that direction could work wonders.

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3 years ago

Great Article!

John Tracey
John Tracey
3 years ago

Thank you Bruce for a most important and informative article. Project workers on the original freedom of information act decades ago were advised that releasing information to the larger public was a very efficient way of reducing disputes and also it encouraged the public to participate in projects at no cost to paid administration. I do a lot of research on the greyhounds and get quite a few requests from participants groups seeking ways to obtain information on financials from GA. The response from GA is usually that the information is commercial in confidence. GA is a public company and… Read more »