Tone-deaf response to glimpse of industry reality

How do you defend the indefensible?  If you are the NZ Racing Board, it seems to come quite easily.

Last week in the front-page story of The Informant editor Dennis Ryan spoke to Casey and Michelle Dando, who were agonising about their future in the industry. Both have generational links to the racing industry and the desire to continue within it, however the realities of the business are making them question that decision.

They are not the only ones doing it tough now, but they were prepared to speak out and cop whatever reaction might come from that.  Interestingly, the usual online chat forums – aka talk-back radio for those who have mastered the keyboard but aren’t quite smart enough for Twitter – which tend to pick up on all things negative in the racing industry didn’t even register the Dando’s despair.

Instead, it was the CEO of the NZRB John Allen who reacted with a carefully crafted response in this week’s copy of The Informant.

I say carefully crafted because the piece was designed to present Mr Allen and the organisation he represents in the best possible light and ticked all the appropriate PR boxes.  However, it smacked of insincerity.

It is difficult to sound sincere when you are so far removed from the people you are effectively working for you have lost sight of your key role.

A little reminder of what that role might look like can be found in Section 9 of the 2003 Racing Act which, until we come up with something better, is the Act the NZRB is currently operating under.

Section 9

The functions of the Board are—

(a)

to develop policies that are conducive to the overall economic development of the racing industry, and the economic well-being of people who, and organisations which, derive their livelihoods from racing

Mr Allen seems to see no relationship between the decisions made by his Board “investing to enable a sustainable future” and the fact “many across the industry who started with a dream and a passion but the current level of investment and participation in racing is at a level they are right now talking about walking away.”

Apparently, he wants the Dandos and those in a similar position to have faith that the NZRB’s “investment” in a new fixed odds betting platform (which wasn’t met with glowing reviews when unveiled) might help create a brighter future.

The other areas of “investment” he mentions in his response – outside broadcast facilities, customer acquisition and racing infrastructure – will apparently all aid the cause when it comes to lifting profitability.  This in turn will “lift distributions to the racing codes and give hope to those people who have a dream and really want to make something of their lives in racing in this country.”

While it all sounds as though it adheres to the spirit of Section 9 the reality is that most in the situation that the Dandos find themselves will consider it lip service.

In the world they occupy there needs to be a return on any investment they make.  This would explain the clients with three or four mares deciding to cut back and just breed from one mare this season.

The impact of this is going to be felt by all of us – even at the NZRB should it still exist – down the track.

Fewer mares being bred means fewer foals being born.  In an industry where our foal numbers are already perilously low this deserves a serious response from the body which controls the industry purse strings.

The old “I hear you and have every sympathy” followed by a smoke and mirrors, “but look at the mega-millions we’ve thrown at these projects which will eventually pay off” is a tone-deaf response.

The Dandos, and others like them, have seen the stories about the $40m-ish betting platform and the fact it is yet to have the desired upward impact on turnovers, so their faith that the NZRB does have their interests at heart is already tested.

Perhaps it is time that more of those whose livelihoods depend upon the policies developed by the NZRB began insisting the reduction in costs Mr Allen speaks about happen.  And they will need to happen quickly as Mr Allen points out somewhat ominously: “this industry does not have the luxury of time.”