Who’s In Charge?

Suppose you polled 1,000 people in TABs around the country and asked them if they could name the bosses of the ARL, AFL, Rugby Union, Soccer, horse racing and greyhound racing.

In all likelihood, more than half could identify Gallop and Demetriou in their respective home states. It’s doubtful if many would know O’Neill (Rugby Union) or Buckley (Soccer). Queenslanders might pick up Bob Bentley but mostly due to his position in local horse racing, not as chairman of the Australian Racing Board. Anyway, he’s not the ARB CEO – that honour belongs to Andrew Harding.

But how many could name Craig Taberner, CEO, or Russel Ware, Chairman of Greyhounds Australasia? Probably less than 1%.

Or even the boss of their local greyhound authority? Names like Tuttle, Hogan, Stephens, Corby and Simonette would not ring a bell very loudly with either customers or the general public.

There’s a reason for this situation. Our leaders do not talk to the public. To owners and trainers, yes, but not to the man or woman in the street. Clubs are not much better. It has long been the nature of the code. As a result, we are putting out a product but the public have no empathy with it, no “feel” for it. To the contrary, what evidence we have says that most people actually do not like greyhounds. Dogs, yes, but greyhounds, no.

This is a terrible waste, because there are far more greyhound events than in either of the other two racing codes, or the football codes. Greyhounds are on display every day of the week. Even so, daily newspapers seldom give greyhounds a run, reasoning that their readers are not particularly interested. Trade media concentrate almost totally on owners, breeders and trainers, not on the public, or even on punters. It is not surprising that their sales and their advertising revenue come only from the same people.

So, which is the chicken and which the egg? Who will make the first move for change?

More and more, the code is depending on the public at large, not on genuine punters who are a dwindling lot. Yet greyhound racing doe not rate highly on the social scene and, income-wise, it gets ever-increasing business from people seeking no more than a change from the pokies.

(Like more evidence of that? 20 years ago my own TAB in a 40,000 member club used to host between 10 and 30 people every night, depending on the day of the week. Now you might see half a dozen on the weekend, one or two during the week, and most of those have not a clue about what makes greyhound racing tick. The facilities are much better, there are more races (probably too many) and the betting choices more numerous. But people don’t use them. There are some 2,000 such outlets in NSW alone, so you can do your own arithmetic).

What does help sell the code? Well, Brett Lee got things going for a while, Plugger Lockett is an occasional, if reluctant, attraction (and, like Warwick Capper, was a huge influence on the growth of the Sydney Swans membership), displays at agricultural or pet shows do a bit and the retired greyhound programs are worthwhile. The odd radio tie-in is good but there is no continuity and they are usually regionally-dedicated. But that’s about it. It is nowhere near enough to make an impression in this day and age. Any messages that do go out fall on barren ground. Or worse, negative ground.

However, there may be some latent interest. A few years ago Sam Cauchi at Rocky Ridge Farm near Gosford put on an open day for charity. With negligible advertising an estimated 2,000 people, kids and all, flocked in to wonder at the hi-tech equipment and goings on and to see famous sires and dams. The event took greyhounds to the people and was a brilliant success. Since there are not that many licensed folk in the entire Central Coast and Newcastle areas the crowds must have included a good many ordinary citizens.

(Note – some of the backgrounding stories about dog breeding shown on SKY 2 look really interesting but they have a big problem: there is no sound in your TAB outlet as race broadcasts must take preference. The industry should develop and fund more of these to show on free-to-air channels).

You could probably say much the same thing for clubs which promote packages for sporting or social groups. These are good earners for both parties but are we doing enough to convert them to long term greyhound fans, or even owners? Hard to say.

What brings people to sporting contests is the thrill of the race, an association with champions, excellence in performance, and value for money. The Black Caviar effect. That attachment is then cemented when they debate the pros and cons with friends, when they soak up stories from sporting leaders. They closely follow what is said by Andrew Demetriou, Eddie Everywhere, David Gallop or Gus Gould and the rest of them, sometimes applauding, sometimes violently disagreeing.

Somebody and everybody in greyhound racing needs to stand up and talk. Importantly, we need an Australian leader to highlight the good and the interesting, to educate the public and to address any negatives on the way. The warning signs are clear: no public means no industry; a tiny public means an industry that is standing still; and an industry that is almost wholly state-oriented will never achieve anything really worthwhile.

Progress will be measured by the number of times the code gets a mention in the daily press, or around the water cooler on Monday morning.

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