By Conrad Bandoroff
As a very recent graduate of the Godolphin Flying Start program, it was with great pleasure and relief to attend this year’s US industry conference at Keeneland alongside fellow alums and industry leaders. Unlike last year, I was able to enjoy the evening without the stress and pressures of having to present. The topic for the night’s discussions was how to make American racing a top-10 sport by 2027. The proceedings began with a welcome from Godolphin America Chief Operating Officer Dan Pride before passing the baton to our emcee for the evening and fellow Godolphin Flying Start alum Kate Galvin.
In developing their strategic approach, the 12 trainees used a balanced scorecard–a multifaceted measurement framework originating from Harvard Business School’s strategy department. The scorecard facilitates translating a strategy or mission, i.e. making horse racing a top-10 sport by 2027, into measurable goals. The audience was given the context that our industry currently sits at 13th in terms of popularity and that only 1% of Americans prefer racing to all other sports. The trainees identified four key perspectives that made up their strategic map and used these as the framework for formulating how racing would make the jump from 13th to 10th in 10 years’ time. The four perspectives were: learning and growth, internal obstacles, customer experience and financial considerations. In groups of three, the trainees defined the challenges they uncovered within each perspective, outlined goals and initiatives to create value and defined key performance indicators to measure their progress.
The Learning and Growth Perspective group highlighted that horse racing has a public relations problem and that our industry poorly and ineffectively manages negative publicity. Madison Scott, a trainee from the US, discussed how a culture of apathy and a tendency for industry members to have “tunnel vision” as a contributing factor. We are all fans and proponents of racing who believe that we treat our equine athletes in an ethical and human manner; because of our beliefs, we follow like-minded individuals on various social media platforms and block those who slander our sport—leading us to become blind to the inflammatory comments being made about racing. This group also discussed the importance of human capital to our industry and the need to increase our investment in the people within our sport in order to grow. The trainees highlighted a lack of diversity in racing as a problem and called for opening up to software engineers, entrepreneurs and other innovative sports developers to see what they can do for horse racing.
The next group discussed the internal obstacles with operations management and regulatory processes and changes that could be made to improve the sport. Paramount among these challenges was the increasing staff shortages in both the racing and breeding sectors of the industry. The cancellation of the H2B Visa has led to a contracting migrant workforce. To counteract this problem, the trainees suggested promoting programs centered around encouraging and improving a healthy work-life balance. The creation of swing-staff organizations and the continued development of staff awards and employee recognition are important in improving the workplace.
Improving the on-track experience and promoting our sport was the focus of the customer perspective. Making racetracks more family friendly through more non-smoking areas and additional entertainment options such as equicizers available for attendees to put themselves in a jockey’s boots were some of the suggestions made. Luke Morgan from Ireland emphasized providing race goers with an ease of information through simplified and free race programs that will not overwhelm them with massive amounts of data and information. The group additionally highlighted the need to promote and increase the public’s accessibility to horses. Parading retired horses is something that is widely done throughout Europe and is an effective way to give people attending the races a more intimate interaction with our equine stars, as well as backside tours to demonstrate the fastidious and world-class care that our horses receive on a daily basis.
Swedish trainee Amie Karlsson discussed innovative media solutions, particularly how virtual reality could be adopted by horse racing and used to promote our sport and importance of encouraging user-generated content–let fans engage with our sport through social media platforms and provide them with the content to do so. This could be done by streaming big races live on social media outlets such as Twitter and is something that was used by the Australian Turf Club for the first time this past year for the Melbourne Cup.
The final group spoke on the financial perspective and focused on the problems with complex betting, cost inefficiencies and lack of foreign capital being invested in racing. They highlighted that racing is not maximizing handle opportunities–suggesting a restructuring of simulcast contracts to increase money coming back to the racetracks that put on the product.
Meg Hebbert from the UK touched on how cost inefficiencies are preventing racing from growing as a sport and offered the creation of a national administration (not governing) body through the redistribution of take-out in order to reduce cost. This would free up capital to increase purses and increase returns on investment for owners. Michael Yi of China presented how racing could attract foreign investment from China through promotion and education on Chinese media. He highlighted the fact that there are 568 billionaires in China waiting to be tapped into.
This year’s trainees faced a daunting task when asked to tackle such a wide range of issues that the industry has been facing for several years. Although there are no easy answers for many of our industry challenges, this group of bright and passionate people should be commended for their ideas–many of which could be feasibly implemented. Once again, the industry owes a debt of gratitude to Sheikh Mohammed’s vision and commitment to training our industry’s future leaders.
Conrad Bandoroff completed the Godolphin Flying Start course this year and is currently the Vice President of Denali Stud and Sales Manager for Elite Sales.