Wednesday 16 January 2013

“Big E” and “Little e” Resolutions for the Racing Industry

Apologies that the blog is a day late. I went to Ffos Las yesterday and underestimated how long it would take. As Jamie Snowden said to me – it’s easy to get there, just head towards Ireland and turn left!

Years ago when working in a huge global company, the CEO told me that every year he made a distinction between “big E” and “little e” projects. I received a pretty withering look when I asked him what that meant. “All that really matters is that you focus on the biggies”. So what would be your “big E” and “little e” resolutions? In this blog I’ll share my views on some of the big ones.

“Big E” racing projects – the ones that would really make a difference 

1.    The racing industry needs to know exactly what their “big E” projects are, and how on earth they can achieve them. At the moment the industry is in a complete strategic mess. The BHA, in particular, has a dismal track record with a long list of failures and weak leadership. Some sort of strategic coalition is needed to weld together all the major parties in order to frame that strategy.

2.    The starting point of the strategy must be far more clarity on precisely how racing should address its deep-seated funding and, in turn, revenue maximisation issues. Yes, you can spend a lot of time bickering and fighting over how to divide a pot, but it is far more constructive to have a strategy that builds a bigger one. Without that, prize money remains on a downward spiral.

3.     Long term (3-5 years +), our greatest asset is the quality, variety and (despite a few high-publicity incidents and the belief of some punters) extremely high level of integrity. The “big E” challenge is how to leverage that asset. One strategy is about capturing a bigger slice of the global betting market and for the profits from that to be channelled into racing, rather than just the pockets of the bookmakers. The industry could set up its own bookmaking venture in conjunction with racecourses (after all, if the BHA hadn’t been so useless, we would have owned the Tote), and then actively compete with bookmakers who continually tell us that racing is no longer that central to their business. We would soon find out whether it is or not. Don’t argue with them, just take them on.

4.     Medium term (1-3 years), levy funding is well past its sell-by date and definitely no longer fit for purpose. It should be scrapped. Equally, the way in which funds are allocated is not meeting the strategic goals of racing, nor the day-to-day requirements of trainers, owners, breeders, customers and bookmakers. One option would be for race meetings to be put into three bands. Group A would consist of the highest quality meetings, on which the brand of racing and the quality of the breed depend. Prize money for all races at these meetings to be well above tariff. Group B, the next tier of meetings, should have prize money at a tariff level agreed with the Horsemen’s Group. Group C fixtures, with the lowliest races acting as betting fodder, should receive no funding at all and be sponsored by the racecourses and bookmakers themselves.

5.     Short term (2013), BHA to drive a strategic planning exercise to a successful conclusion. If they prove incapable of doing that, then heads should roll. One important aspect of the review must also be a fundamental assessment of the costs of running the BHA and the woeful inefficiencies that exist within the transactional side of racing. Anyone who has ever tried to register a racehorse knows what this means in practice. Administration is not joined up, needlessly laborious and the process cost of it is huge. Racing’s bureaucracy needs a wake-up call.

As you can see, a long journey to Ffos Las and back gave me time to think quite deeply about racing. The fact that our horse didn’t run particularly well, and probably has a serious underlying physical problem, put me into a gloomy mood. In the next blog I’ll come back to some of the less weighty issues. 


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