The reports recently published by the IGB are welcome in terms of transparency. The IGB’s strategic plan highlights seven objectives (pillars) which are positive but it lacks ambition in terms of key performance indicators.

For example the report sets a target to “increase the Tote Turnover to an average of €1,200 (2010 level) per race run within the lifetime of this strategy” (page 28). This represents a targeted annual tote turnover of € 24 million. However if the IGB’s tote turnover is only €24 million in 2022 then there will be more TRACK CLOSURES. This target should at the very least be the 2007 figure of €50 million and there is a strong argument that this target should be €90 million which represents the HRI’s 2016 tote turnover which the IGB matched in 2007.

In addition appendix 3 projects the allocation from Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund at €20 million. This figure seems high based on the inroads that the anti’s have made in terms of the public’s perception of greyhound racing – how did the IGB arrive at this figure?

The strategic plan highlights seven key pillars or objectives.

PILLAR 1 – DEVELOP & SUPPORT OWNING, BREEDING & TRAINING
• Breeders and trainers are dependent on owners to fund their businesses. To attract owner’s the industry needs vibrant betting markets to attract people who love taking on the bookmakers and allows owners to claw back some of their costs.

Page 22 of the Power report shows that bookmaker betting had fallen from €90.2 million in 2007 to €12.7 million in 2016. This represents a drop of 86% and if you take into account that no bookmakers offices will take a bet on Irish greyhounds, and there is no internet betting then it becomes obvious that tracks will struggle to get new owners to buy greyhounds and existing owners will just exit the game.

Only a few greyhounds can win classics and major races each year and if you exclude Shelbourne Park betting on a Saturday night then the betting at all the other 16 tracks has to be abysmal.

• If you sort out Pillar 2 & 3 then you will go a long way to achieving this objective and pillars 4, 5, 6 & 7.

PILLAR 2 – PROMOTE A FOCUSED RACING CENTRIC AND BETTING MODEL FOR THE INDUSTRY
• The plan states that “the Tote is a valuable income stream for IGB” whereas I would say that it is the vital KPI (key performance indicator) for the industry. Benchmarking the IGB tote returns against horse racing is the most important number for the industry. If your Tote returns are growing then your figures for attendance, ownership and technology are being maximised.

If you consider the IGB’s 2016 tote returns against horse racing then you quickly see that greyhound racing is in dire straight as the HRI outperformed IGB by €73.379 million compared to 2006 when the IGB outperformed the horse racing industry.
(see my post on greyhound data under “IGB’s Seasonal Messages, Forums & Opportunity Cost)

• “Co-mingling from other countries” was the excuse that the IGB used at the PAC when presented with the fact that the HRI has outperformed the IGB in terms of Tote returns to such an extent. However if you consider the HRI tote breakdown for 2015 below it shows that just €5.4 million came from the International pool. EXTERNAL LINK

On-course Tote €13.3 million
Off-course Tote (Irish pool) €60.6 million
Off-course Tote (International pool) €5.4 million

And the majority of the off-course Tote (Irish pool) of €60.6 million would be punters using their apps at the race track instead of queuing up at the Tote window.

Alan Kelly questioned Colin Walsh on why the IGB’s tote revenue has gone from being €1.5 million higher than the horses in 2007 to being €60 million lower in 2015. He justified the IGB’s dismal performance by stating that the “HRI has managed to offset the on-track decline with an exceptional performance in international markets”.

Alan Kelly queried Colin Walsh at the second PAC stating that international markets only represented €5.4 million out of the total tote revenue. Colin Walsh argued that “the narrative at the time, and in advance of the meeting, was that HRI’s on-track tote was outperforming that of IGB”. In effect he was trying not to include the off-course Tote (Irish pool) €60.6 million in the HRI’s Irish Tote turnover.

He was being disingenuous and splitting hairs regarding his “HRI’s on-track tote” comment by not accepting that punters at tracks might use their smart phones instead of the Tote window due to convenience. It was obvious to me that this line was given to him by the PR Company that charged the IGB €40,000 + for advice in the run-up to the 2nd PAC meeting.

Bottom line is that the greyhounds should be at least on a par with the horses because it is a night time activity which is when people spend most of their disposal income while horse race meetings are usually confined to afternoon events held in the countryside.

PILLAR 3 – IMPROVE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE AND DELIVER INCREASE IN ATTENDANCES
• This requires a segmented marketing campaign that maximises technology. EXTERNAL LINK

The strategic plan states that “marketing is a critical function to support the industry… the preparation of an updated marketing plan will address key elements including understanding consumers, customer segmentation, and market sizing.”

However on talking dogs the IGB advertised for a sales & marketing director with a closing date of 22/12/17. EXTERNAL LINK

Has this role been filled and if not then should the IGB be preparing an updated marketing plan for the industry without having a sales & marketing director in place?

• Appendix 3 budgets marketing and promotional activities as follows;
2016 – 1.538 million
2017 – 1.780 million
2018 – 1.819 million
2019 – 1,921 million
2020 – 1,949 million
2021 – 1,977 million
2022 – 2,005 million

The strategic plan does not go into any great detail with regard to marketing activities. In fact the only detail with regard to marketing activities comes on pages 22 & 23 of the Power report where he mentions the IGB has revised and re-developed its Tourism Sales Strategy “and as part of this, appointed a Tourism Sales Manager. 2016 was the first full year that this position existed, and the results have been very positive”.

How he can say “results have been very positive” when you benchmark the IGBs financial data beggar belief! Are tourists going to drive the IGBs tote turnover and become regular customers?
Is the IGB still spending €300k+ a year on a call centre in Thurles to handle restaurant bookings when their website has an on-line restaurant booking system?

PILLAR 4 – ENSURE THE HIGHEST STANDARDS OF INTEGRITY AND REGULATION IN THE SPORT
• In June 2017, Clonbrien Hero tested positive for cocaine that resulted in the Irish Minister for Agriculture photographed with a coked up greyhound, appearing in newspapers worldwide including the Washington Post. The IGB allowed the dog to race on, subsequently winning the Ledger, despite testing positive for cocaine.

Then in November 2017, “Mr Justice Donald Binchy granted lawyers for Mr Holland permission to challenge the inquiry on grounds including that Mr Holland has not been told what exactly the case against him is.” So while the IGB spent €400k on a ‘state of the art’ machine to catch drug use in the greyhound industry it would appear that they failed to develop a legally tested process to prosecute these positive samples.

Amazingly Clonbrien Hero has been nominated for greyhound of the year in the same week that the IGB published their strategic plan despite listing pillar 4 as an objective. How is this nomination by the IGB conducive to ensuring the highest standards of integrity and regulation in the sport?

PILLAR 5 – ENHANCE ANIMAL WELFARE AT THE CENTER OF OUR INDUSTRY
• A pro-active approach to repair the damage of the IGB’s 2011 ‘China Deal’ is required by developing a welfare PR campaign that is aligned to their sales & marketing activities. (see my post on greyhound data under Greyhound Industry’s Ticking Time Bomb)

• “The Irish Retired Greyhound trust received just over €200,000 in funding in 2014. That is the most recent data available. By comparison, in the same year, The British RGT received £1.4M. Indeed the Indecon report of 2014 recommended a significant increase in funding to rehoming organisations but we have seen nothing to date.” EXTERNAL LINK

PILLAR 6 – DEVELOPING OUR PEOPLE AND CREATING AN ORGANISATION STRUCTURE THAT REFLECTS THE NEEDS OF THE INDUSTRY
• “Goal: to support a single, committed, and innovative team across IGB” – many would feel that the way to achieve this goal would be to replace the current board.

• Appendix 1 mentions “other stadium renovations including Kilkenny”. Why does Kilkenny get specific mention? I can understand Shelbourne Park and Cork getting special consideration due to their populations but including Kilkenny smacks of parochialism and is not conducive to supporting “a single, committed, and innovative team across IGB”

PILLAR 7 – MAXIMISE USE OF INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY
• This board and executive have shown that they do not have people with the necessary training and experience to develop the required information and communications systems for the industry. Barking Buzz is not fit for purpose despite spending millions on technology over the tenure of this board and is an example of doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. EXTERNAL LINK

The strategic plan’s executive summary stated that “the industry has been the subject of a range of studies, reports and analysis in recent years” and while this is true, the IGB has cherry picked these reports to maintain board members control over resources rather than drive the greyhound industry forward. For example the IGB leant heavily on the Indecon report to justify the sale of HX while they ignored recommendations to limit the terms of board members with some individuals being on the IGB since 2008. EXTERNAL LINK

The Power report certainly seems to be a case of ‘he, who pays the piper, calls the tune’ as this report states; “The financial data would indicate that despite a severe recession the industry has ‘turned a corner’ with the IGB accounts showing an increase in operating surplus in 2015 and again in 2016”.
Every dog on the street knows that these operating surpluses are derived from prizemoney reductions over the past decade and this fact is repeated twice in the executive summary when he stated “Total prize money paid out at all racetracks peaked at €12.2 million in 2007. It declined to a low of €7.2 million in 2012. It has subsequently recovered somewhat and in 2016 total prizemoney came in at €8 million.”
Well there is €4/5 million in operating surplus for starters!!!

All he had to do was benchmark greyhound racing’s first cousin to discover that this ‘perfect storm’ or ‘severe recession’ has not adversely affected Horse Racing Ireland’s financial data.

The current Irish Greyhound Board consists of members appointed from 15/04/2008 to 21/12/2015 and have returned some of the worst financial returns for a state-sponsored body in the history of the state.
They have over seen the rapid decline of a once thriving industry and still politicians and senior civil servants in the Department of Agriculture refuse to make the obvious and necessary changes. The €23 million windfall from the Department of Education will only prolong the inept management of the greyhound industry – history will not judge them well.

Kieran B