Friday, 15 January 2016

What are the Motivations of Owners to Own, and What Demotivates Them?

It’s funny how the start of the year seems to have thrown up a huge number of subjects for me to write about in the blog. Initially I started drafting one on the change of broadcasting contract from Channel 4 to ITV, but I was also considering coverage of Ascot and Cheltenham prize-money increases, Richard Johnson’s 3,000th NH winner, authorised betting partner stand-offs and whether Ladbrokes will lose the sponsorship of the World Hurdle, whip bans / rules, etc.

However, I’ve just been invited to be interviewed by a research group for a study that is being carried out for the Department for Culture, Media & Sport on the economics of the horseracing industry. This is taking place today, so in preparation for it I started thinking about what motivates and demotivates owners. Many decades ago, when I was studying social psychology at university, I liked the “two factor theory” of a chap called Herzberg. He suggested a range of factors that motivate people in work and another set that had the opposite effect. Sometimes they are one and the same, but equally they can vary.

Interestingly in the recent BHA Review of Jump Racing there is a section that explores the problems of low return on ownership while arguing for a greater emphasis on the pleasures of owning horses through an emotional return on ownership. That resonates with one of my new year resolutions as an owner: we often see the “Keep Calm and Carry On” message, but I’m trying to adopt my own racehorse-owning version as “Stay Positive and Keep Spending”. I’m sure that all the OfO trainers will be delighted to hear that!

So, bringing these ideas together, I’ve created a chart of ten “satisfiers” of being an owner and then ten “dissatisfiers”. Do let me know what you think about them. By the way, this is only a listing – I’m not implying a prioritisation. I’m sure there is an interesting research study to be done in that area. One for the ROA?

Emotional return on ownership: Low
Financial return on ownership: Low;
Emotional return on ownership: High
Financial return on ownership: High
Factors that may drive an owner out of the sport and / or lead to a reduction in ownership involvement. Factors that may attract or retain an owner into the sport and / or lead to an increase in ownership involvement.
Experiencing a horse fatality or serious injury that keeps the horse away from the track. Buying and owning a winning, progressive racehorse that stays sound over several seasons.
Making the costly mistake of selecting a poor performing trainer with the wrong personal values. Selecting and working with a competent, professional and empathetic trainer.
Winning next to nothing in prize-money and finding that place money doesn’t cover the costs of racing. Securing sufficient prize-money to mitigate some costs and provide some capital for reinvestment.
Finding yourself in a racing syndicate when the trainer, racing manager and owners don’t get on. Forming close friendships with like-minded co-owners, trainers and within the racing community.
Discovering that the horse possesses little potential and / or was sold to you with physical defects. Buying a young horse and watching it develop over a number of seasons to realise its potential.
Frequenting lesser tracks at lowlier meetings to watch your horse finish way down the field. Savouring the buzz and excitement of racing as an owner at the larger meetings and race tracks.
Being treated as a “wallet on legs” with costs continually going up and prize-money coming down. Feeling that your financial investment is properly valued by trainers, racecourses and the industry.
Poor car parks, problems with badges, hostile O&T desks, dreadful food and inadequate facilities. A high quality, hassle-free ownership experience when going racing.
Infrequent and over-optimistic communication leading to a mismatch of expectations. Regular, comprehensive and honest communication and feedback from a trainer using a range of media.
Inflexible and overly harsh handicapping forcing the horse to race at the wrong grade for too long. Being able to enter your horse in races that it can win, without unnecessary cost or restriction.

Doubtless every owner would have their own personal list of positives and negatives. I’ll be interested to hear more from you, in particular about the factors that could encourage you to increase involvement and own more horses, and equally the combination of factors that would make you decide to cut back or even abandon the sport. In view of the centrality of ownership to racing, it is absolutely amazing that there is so little information digging into this line of questioning in a properly analytical and well-researched manner.

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.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Ten Simple Steps to Improve the Owner Experience – An Action Plan for 2016

Over the autumn I’ve covered a number of the big strategic and funding issues confronting British racing. I’ve summarised how the BHA has framed its strategic vision, created a new governance structure and set a small number of key targets:
  • Increase the number of horses in training – 1,000 additional horses on average by 2020;
  • Raise betting participation levels – up 5% by 2018;
  • Increase racecourse attendance levels – reaching 7m by 2020;
  • Secure new income for the sport - £120m p.a. by 2018.
The bottom line is that racing needs growth and, particularly, to secure considerably greater income and investment, not least to attract and retain owners in the sport as the number one contributors to the game. Inevitably the big changes will take 3-5 years to be implemented, and frustratingly, shorter-term improvements often appear to be just the wrong side of the horizon. So in this blog I’ve decided to focus on a number of relatively minor changes and “feel-good factors” that hopefully will appeal to owners.
  1. Celebrate Dickie Johnson as champion jockey. Everyone in racing wants Dickie to become the jump jockey champion and not succumb to any bad luck or injuries that could prevent it. Certainly the rate of wins has been extraordinary this winter, and there should be a magnificent celebration when he achieves his long-overdue ambition. As a superb ambassador and role model for racing, it would be great if racing could find a way to use him and other similar ambassadors to bring owners into the sport.
  2. Launch a “smarten up” campaign for racecourses. For a relatively small amount of money, racecourses could really improve the owner experience. Each course should appoint a non-executive director to their board (an active owner) to help them on this. It’s not about superficial PR, but following the “owner journey” on the race track. So for example when owners drive to the course, signage is often poor; car parks are too far away from entrances, muddy and pot-holed; Owner & Trainer entrances are not smart enough, and are inefficient; too many O&T bars are far too small, hot and noisy, and there is a chronic lack of seating. The recent 2015 Review of Jump Racing, for example, flags up that the average age of NH sole owners is now 59.9. Start looking after them properly!
  3. Acknowledge improvements with a “Track of the Month”. Lots of good things are happening at racecourses, and more acknowledgement should be given to that. Find ways to publicise better practice, particularly through the BHA, ROA and RCA. Publicise grass-roots improvement in the owner experience.
  4. Introduce “local food halls” at each racecourse. The food hall at the last Paddy Power meeting at Cheltenham was a revelation to all who visited it: local cheeses, pies, beers and all sorts of artisanal goodies. Lots of scope here for racecourses to be a showcase for excellent speciality produce from their areas. Particularly worth doing at the bigger meetings.
  5. Rewards 4 Owners. Rewards 4 Racing appears to have been a great success; why not launch something similar for owners, and tie it in with an incentivisation scheme? Find a way to identify owners who are investing more in the sport and who go racing more frequently, and provide them with valued benefits.
  6. Promote good syndicate practice. At their best, syndicates and shared ownership schemes provide tremendous enjoyment at manageable cost. At their worst, they exploit owners and pursue fraudulent practices. Finalise a code of practice that makes clear what is meant by both good and bad practice.
  7. Introduce syndicate races. Frame a series of races that are restricted to shared ownership horses, particularly at the grass-roots level. Follow the lead of tracks such as Newton Abbot and have free entry into them. Work closely with syndicates to encourage as many owners as possible to come along, and give a greater than normal allocation of O&T badges to syndicate horses.
  8. Promote ownership in racecards. Why couldn’t every racecard have at least a page promoting ownership, and then tie it in with recommendation 9.
  9. “Meet the Trainer” events. If there is one activity that provides so much enjoyment to current and prospective owners, it is visits to yards, and seeing horses on the gallops in their home environment. Every visitor is potentially a new owner. Set up a network of these events and advertise them through the racecourses.
  10. Owners for Owners horses have a great 2016. We’ve lots of lovely young horses coming through, as well as a number of seasoned campaigners. Here is hoping that Lord Ben Stack can go on to be a Group horse; Jolievitesse to show his undoubted class; Timeless Art to be a real 3yo star; Sunday Prospect to take his owners to top tracks; Future Gilded to return from his injury; The Fugitive to build on his early promise; Bilbrook Blaze finally to put a win on the board; Thady Quil to give his owners something to sing about (particularly the Ballad of Thady Quil); and our flagship NH horse, Shantou Magic, to put his best foot forward in a valuable handicap in the spring.
All crossed for a really enjoyable New Year and throughout 2016! Looking forward to catching up over a pint of local brew in one of the new food halls!

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.