Thursday 1 October 2020

The Keep Owners in Racing Campaign Enters the Home Straight – No Sign Yet of a Proper Recovery Plan

Since 12th July, when friend and co-owner Ged Shields and I launched our Blueprint, we’ve been working very hard to apply pressure on all the various leadership groups of British racing to come up with a meaningful Racing Recovery Plan that has the right mix of radical initiatives, short-term survival strategies and urgency of action. Unfortunately, over the last month, the crisis in the sport appears to be increasingly heading towards potential catastrophe, not least because of the government’s decision only to allow racing behind closed doors, possibly for the next six months.

We’ve produced lots of blogs (four of the latest are shown below) and films, and had numerous Zoom conference calls. There is still a considerable amount of work to be done as we head into the end of our campaign on Monday 19th October. We’re no longer convinced that the BHA has the authority or credibility to drive this Recovery Plan, and you’ll see that our major recommendation is for a cross-industry task force to be established and take charge. It really is a most worrying time for the sport, and everyone whose livelihood depends on it. At least Ged and I didn’t stand on the sidelines, and we’ve “done our bit” over the last three months.

Have you heard the bells of Peover? All will be revealed.

When Ged Shields and I launched our campaign on 12th July to make the retention and acquisition of owners the number 1 goal of a racing recovery plan, we challenged the industry to produce and implement that plan within 100 days. Fifty days out Nick Rust, CEO of the BHA, announced such a plan but unfortunately the reaction to it has been decidedly muted. While it is encouraging that at least the stakeholders have focused on a number of goals and duly published them, they don’t meet my criteria, as a former management consultant, of an effective and motivating plan of campaign to help the racing industry get back on its feet, bring in significant additional revenue, boost prize-money and do everything possible to keep owners involved in the sport. A plan needs very clear goals and objectives, well-structured and sequenced activities, specific timelines and deliverables, explicit roles, responsibilities and accountabilities and, most importantly, be designed to enthuse everyone connected to the plan so that they are highly motivated to implement it. It should galvanise proactivity with a strong sense of urgency. Anyone in a key position, when asked about a recovery plan, should be able to summarise it clearly and know their own role within it. Sadly this plan doesn’t achieve this (or at least, not yet).

General George S. Patton famously stated that: “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week”, or, if applied to racing, next month / quarter / year. There was no misunderstanding Patton’s colourful, and often profane, speeches. The one he made to the Third Army the day before the D-Day landings was immortalised in the film, Patton, starring George C. Scott, which won seven Oscars. Patton favoured strong, decisive action and commanding from the front. He wouldn’t have had much time for the wishy-washy, weasel words of racing’s leadership. Mind you, I don’t know if we need quite the level of exhortation that Patton is most famous for in his comment that: “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country.” Powerful stuff!

Long before my career led into consultancy, I lived up in Cheshire, not too far from Knutsford and Alderley Edge. One of my favourite pubs was The Bells of Peover, next door to a church. Many years before that, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Patton used to relax there in the evenings while masterminding the Normandy invasion. Maybe I should invite the top brass of the BHA to a planning meeting in this historic setting?

Owners – Our Sport Needs You! But Where Are the Incentives?
In the most recent Perspectives in Racing film, I became a bit carried away towards the end with the military theme that I had woven into Blog 11. This time it was to do with Lord Kitchener and the iconic and most enduring poster and finger-pointing of World War I. This hugely influential image – “Lord Kitchener Needs You” – depicted him as the Secretary of State for War, wearing the cap of a British Field Marshal. Over the decades since, it has inspired numerous imitations (and more than a few parodies).

When we published the Blueprint on 12th July, we emphasised to racing’s leadership that it was vital to do everything possible throughout Q3 / Q4 2020 to encourage owners to remain in the sport. In particular we felt that, as the main sales season progressed through to its culmination in the Tattersalls Yearling Sales at Newmarket, there would be a clear indication of the readiness of owners to reinvest, and so far they appear to be cutting back by 25%+ apart from at the very top. This is exceptionally worrying and we fear that it will deteriorate further.

In any other industry, serious attempts would be made to retain customers through various types of incentive. Any chief executive knows that it is far easier to retain customers than to acquire new ones. With owners we are talking about customers that spend £527m annually, and with the contraction that has already started, we forecast an immediate financial loss to racing of £124m but with the multiplier effect of 1:7 that means, in turn, a significantly more damaging £868m.

So where are the incentives? Has any owner received any communication from any racing body to encourage them to remain in the sport? Are you aware of reductions on any fees or charges? Does racing have a plan to reduce costs and reinvest the savings with owners? Are stallion masters going to reduce significantly the stallion fees? Are sales houses going to slash their charges? Are trainers and racecourses trying to provide any additional benefits to compensate for a sub-par raceday experience? If you are aware of any initiatives such as these, do please let me know. Unfortunately I’m not expecting too many emails.

So who will be the modern Kitchener to recruit and retain the next generation of owners? Somehow I’m not convinced on the evidence of the announcement of the Recovery Plan that Nick Rust, in his natty blue suit, is going to put fire in the belly of the ownership army. Bring on the new generals!

The Three Pillars – Not the EU or Zen Buddhism, but Our Critical Priorities for British Racing
Sean Boyce kindly invited me to take part in The Racing Debate on Sky Sports Racing last Sunday, and I concentrated on the need for an urgent focus by British Racing on three critical priorities, together with a task force based change model comprising industry leaders and influencers rather than bureaucrats. The KOIR campaign is designed to keep pressure on racing’s leadership to adopt a series of radical initiatives capable of transforming the sport’s funding in a way that makes it sustainable. Increasingly we believe a stretch goal of £250m+ p.a. of incremental revenue through a five-stream funding model should be driving the recovery plan. It also has to secure short-term financial support for the industry together with meaningful incentives for owners to stay in the sport. Finally, it is vital to persuade government and local public health officials of the need for owners and racegoers to be brought back on to the racecourse as quickly as possible through pragmatic solutions balancing economic need with public safety.

The £250m+ can be delivered through five initiatives: Levy development, phase 2 (£70m); betting innovation and international pool gambling (£100m); expansion of shared ownership (£50m); leveraging racing’s assets more effectively (£20m); and media rights pooling (TBD). In addition racing should set a £50m cost reduction target. Metrics such as these are vital to drive action, prioritisation of resources and ultimately accountability. Precisely who is responsible for the success of these initiatives?

Interestingly, when I came off the TV programme I saw in the Racing Post that both John Gosden and Mark Johnston had been similarly forceful. On Levy development, John commented: “We cannot let this drift. We don’t have six months to start floating about and having committee meetings and chitting and chatting, we need to get our heads together.” Mark, as he did in our Perspectives film, emphasised: “At the end of the day, owners accept that they are racing for poor returns in Britain, but when it gets so low and they are not getting pleasure going racing, the concern is it will focus their minds on what it is costing them.”

We’ve started to refer to the framework as “the three pillars”. You may know that the phrase has been much used, not least by the EU as it was their guiding legal framework adopted after the Treaty of Maastricht. Three columns also underpin Zen Buddhism and its view of the Tree of Life. That is not a bad metaphor to guide racing’s future.

Oliver Twist Asked for More – The Begging Bowl Comes Out Again for Sport and British Racing
There have been a number of metaphors recently about British Racing, the Recovery Plan and the funding crisis, and doubtless there will be many more over subsequent weeks. Take your pick from rudderless ships, the Titanic heading towards icebergs, baking larger pies, splitting bigger cakes and now it’s time for the magic money tree and the begging bowl. With the Prime Minister’s announcement this week of more pandemic restrictions and the disappointing news that there is a distinct possibility of no racegoers returning to British racecourses for six months, it really feels as though we’re sinking deeper into crisis. Indeed, increasingly, our view is that the Recovery Plan now has three elements within it: survival, rebuilding and then growth.

Only last weekend, during a discussion on Sky Sports Racing’s Debate, I argued that one of the three critical priorities for British racing was to bring racegoers and owners back on to the racecourses in significant numbers as soon as possible in order to stem the huge losses of income for the tracks, estimated at £300m. It is said that a week is a long time in politics, but my exhortation barely survived four days. Clearly it is a major blow, not least because such a considerable percentage of racecourse income derives from spectators and non-racing social gatherings. It is certainly at least 50% and, for some of the larger tracks, as high as 70%, which is four times greater than for a stadium sport such as football. This loss unfortunately will have a considerable knock-on effect on prize-money.

When Ged Shields and I ran a Zoom forum with MPs, we encouraged them to examine racing through the prism of a business sector making a £4bn contribution to the British economy, direct / indirect employment in excess of 80,000 jobs and a considerable ecosystem of small and medium-sized enterprises dependent on it. They responded positively and were sympathetic to supporting our sport. Following Rishi Sunak’s announcements yesterday of a new job support scheme, and the ongoing discussions that have been taking place between various sports bodies, including racing, and DCMS, it is most important that the case for additional funding for racing is positioned as part of a broader initiative led by the £250m+ of self-help projects that we have been advocating for the past month. Furthermore, rather than racing doing an Oliver Twist and asking for more on its own, it would be more effective to link closely with these bodies and to lobby government for emergency support over the next six months on a united basis.

I had to study a number of texts of Charles Dickens at school. I disliked his maudlin sentimentality and found it heavy going. Maybe I should go back and re-read Oliver Twist ….. and definitely another volume more relevant for racing, Hard Times.

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