Wednesday 1 October 2014

First Class or Third Class: The Beastly Business of Bargaining for Badges

Very occasionally in my management consultancy career I enjoyed entering an aircraft and turning left to fly first class. Bearing in mind that I was a procurement specialist, it would hardly have been an impressive action on the part of the client to spend all that money on me. However, when I did travel like that, I really enjoyed it, and it was always on the Heathrow to JFK run. Currently a first-class flight with British Airways and onward helicopter into Manhattan is just a whisker under £5,000. You book your ticket and check in online; there is a limo to the airport; you are fast-tracked through security; you can relax with a glass or three of Krug before being feted by top-class cabin staff while enjoying an excellent gourmet dinner; before a relaxing sleep in a luxury fold-down seat.

You’re probably wondering why I’m wittering on about such luxuries. It is because, if you take the average price of the average racehorse and its average training fees over its average career, and total it all up before dividing it by the number of races the horse runs, you’ll find that it is between £4,000 and £5,000. If you take into account the purchase price of the bloodstock and write that off completely, it would take the average racecourse appearance cost up to nearer £7,000.

So next time you go racing as an owner, you may (but then again, may not) want to consider the fact that your investment for that afternoon is somewhere between £4,000 and £7,000. You may also want to reflect upon whether you are being treated in the same way as someone with a first-class ticket on British Airways.

That, in a nutshell, is the difference between being a purchaser of racehorses and a purchaser of other luxury goods and services. In one, we have traditionally been treated as relatively unimportant, whereas in the other we are the number one customer.

Let’s just examine one aspect in more detail – badge allocation and collection. In our house, my wife Jack and I share the same office to do all the admin and communications for Owners for Owners. One of the biggest sources of tension is dealing with racecourses and persuading them to allocate as many badges as we need for our owners. Some courses are miserly, while others are generous; some are highly inefficient, requiring lots of emails and phone calls, while others appear far more switched-on and customer orientated; some hide behind health & safety rules (“we can’t have too many owners in the paddock”), while others will do everything they can to accommodate; some of the staff on O&T desks haven’t a clue, whereas others are highly professional “owner ambassadors”; the one common denominator is that you will invariably have to join a shuffling queue and be given the once-over by someone who suspects you are trying to blag your way in for nothing. Allocations can vary between 6, 8, 10, 12 or more. Sometimes there is a free hot meal and sometimes only a bun and cup of tea. Some accept ROA swipe cards, some don’t. Hardly ever do you see a computer. Usually there is just a long list of names by horse and race, and someone has to track down manually who you are.

I don’t think airlines selling first-class tickets would keep many customers paying £4-5,000 a time for the privilege of being treated so shabbily and inefficiently. Surely it’s time to catch up with modern customer relationship management and jump several decades at a single go, by introducing smart technology, owner recognition systems, privilege cards, professionally trained customer liaison staff and also some old-fashioned courtesy towards racing’s number one customer, i.e. the owner. Many decades ago I worked with British Airways on their behavioural training programme, “Putting People First”. It’s about time racing and racecourses did the same: “Putting Owners First”, and genuinely meaning it.

I am always interested to hear your views so please do leave a comment. If you can't see the comment box at the bottom of this post then navigate to the post using the right hand navigation or click here > and scroll to the bottom of the page. Look forward to hearing your views. Thanks very much for sharing them.


  1. Superb piece Jon and I couldn't agree more! This is one of those most infuriating things to deal with as an owner yet relatively easily fixed. Wonder if we could create a league table of the good, the bad, and the ugly and name and shame until the courses start to do something about it..