‘Achieving long-term change through collaboration’ – David Jones’ full speech from the Horseracing Industry Conference
David Jones, BHA’s Senior Independent Director and chair of the Commercial Committee, was the keynote speaker at the 2023 Horseracing Industry Conference, which took place at York Racecourse on Tuesday 24 October.
David’s speech, which focuses on achieving long-term change through collaboration, can be read in full below.
It is in my capacity as Chairman of the Commercial Committee that I am speaking to you today. And I want to focus on a theme that is crucial for the future success of our sport: Delivering innovation through collaboration. I learnt in industry that collaboration delivers far greater sustainable results than mere competition.
It is through the Commercial Committee that much of the industry’s exciting and ambitious plans for change are channelled, and the truly cross-industry collaboration which I have witnessed as part of this group gives me great hope for racing’s future.
It is apt that the theme of change and working together sets the tone for this conference for we are all here today to share, discuss and debate views about the future of the sport. That is collaboration in action right there.
The journey so far
So let me start this discussion by telling the story so far of how this wonderful yet complex sport, with all of its unique interdependencies, has gradually positioned itself for change. All would agree that it has a complex landscape of stakeholders, some of whom are in competition with each other. If we can grow racing, however, all will benefit.
The past 18 months have seen a huge amount of work taking place behind the scenes. And while little of that has yet made its way through to the sport’s customers, it has at least allowed the industry to create a framework based around the simple concept of delivering innovation through collective working.
The first important structural change we undertook was an improvement in the sport’s governance structure. Under the old, tripartite members committee, there was too much scope for the power of veto, and for vested interests to override the spirit of togetherness.
Under our new structure we have the BHA board sitting as the ultimate decision-maker, but with its decisions informed by true cross-industry collaboration via the various committees which feed into it. We now have the best of both worlds.
The creation of this structure then paved the way for the second main area of change: an agreement by the racing industry to come together as one to work on an industry strategy.
It is impossible to understate how significant an achievement this was. Doing nothing was no longer an option. Had we continued on our existing trajectory we would have consigned racing to a bleak future: Declining attendances, an aging fan base, deterioration of betting turnover, marginalisation, loss of revenues, loss of owners, loss of our best horses overseas, reduced competitiveness with our international colleagues, loss of relevance. The list is long. And really grim.
It is made worse by the very substantial headwinds we face, with the challenges presented by the Gambling Commission’s current consultation among the most pressing and most threatening. While concerns about the Commission’s proposals are keenly felt across Racing I am encouraged to see that the industry has been incredibly unified and effective in both its public and private lobbying and campaigning around this issue. There we see it again: collaboration.
So, two significant structural changes. But to what end? Well, last September we gathered many of the industry’s core players into a room on the north bank of the Thames for two days to put rocket boosters under the process of developing an exciting Industry Strategy. And what we found in that meeting was a huge collective appetite to work together to address the challenges facing the sport.
The overall vision of the strategy agreed by the people in that room is: “A sustainable model for British racing, enabling revenue growth, retention of our social licence to operate, and innovation”.
Unpacking that a little leads us to ask: What exactly does this word “sustainability” mean for our sport?
Firstly, you can’t do anything if you’re not financially sustainable – that’s fundamental. So, what does financial security look like in British racing? Essentially it is about looking after, and growing, our key investors and customers.
For Racing that means:
– Ensuring owners are excited by the sport, enjoy their experience, feel valued and encouraged to continue their investment
– Ensuring existing fans stay with us because the sport they know and love sustains their interest
– Ensuring we attract new fans because we have a world-class, thrilling product which they understand, stars they can identify and a memorable sporting and social experience
– Creating a product which is enticing and valuable for major investors
Put like that, I hope you can see what we are trying to achieve. While we are a huge industry upon which tens of thousands of livelihoods depends, we are, first and foremost, a simply glorious sport. And our industry is ultimately reliant on the quality of that sport.
This also extends, of course, to the funding the sport receives through the Horserace Betting Levy. The sport is currently engaged in extensive discussion with the betting industry to reach an agreement on a Levy deal without the need for Government intervention. Those talks have been conducted in a spirit of huge goodwill and we must wish all those involved in them the best of luck.
Secondly, you need your operations to be sustainable through your supply chain, which in our case can be characterised, for example, through a sufficient, happy, motivated workforce (nothing happens without well trained motivated people) and a supply of horses across all echelons of the sport. It is also about showing resilience against external challenges such as environmental threats.
Finally, it is about the need to sustain our social licence to operate. I am sure we are all acutely aware of the existential threat to Racing should we lose public support for that licence. We cannot be blind to society’s direction of travel on animal welfare, and how we deal with this issue should be at the forefront of all our collective thinking. I think of my retail days. When I was a meat buyer in the 90s we thought of the vegetarian market as no more than 4% of the population and the vegan market ultra niche. Now 30 years later how things have changed. Vegan food ranges in all supermarkets and if you buy a coffee in London-dairy milk would be a minority against, soya, almond or coconut. This is a manifestation of how our relationship with animals has changed.
Looking at the Industry Strategy then, it can broadly be divided into three main strands, covered by the main areas of the industry governance structure:
1. Our revenue drivers: Namely customers – fans, bettors, owners, racegoers and viewers. The commercial committee deals with this area
2. Our social licence and enablers: Namely our people, our horses, our communities and the environment. The industry programme group oversees this work, with working parties such as the Industry People Board and Horse Welfare Board playing a key role
3. Integrity, which is covered by the Integrity Advisory Committee
So, twelve months on from that pivotal meeting in September last year, what exactly have we achieved, and what can people expect to see as a result.
Let me start with the Commercial Committee.
The most obvious area of progress here has been in the development of the 2024 Fixture List which contains significant innovation – delivered through collaboration – and about which I’m sure you are familiar.
The progress that has been made to deliver these changes cannot be understated. I would like, here, to pay testament to all the members of the Commercial Committee who were involved in this process, in a genuine spirit of cooperation. I was clear from the outset that if there was dissonace I wanted it on the table so all could acknowledge it. I also wanted people to be curious if someonelse’s view was the polar opposite of theirs. I wanted us all to listen to each other!
Everyone engaged in this process in a constructive and reasonable manner, the proposals which the Commercial Committee submitted to the Board carried the endorsement of all parties, while at the same time the concerns that various parties held regarding some of the proposals were shared with the Board so that it could factor them in to its decision-making.
Moreover, the Horserace Betting Levy Board played an important part in this process. As would be expected they subjected the financial proposals to detailed and intense scrutiny, and we applaud them for the rigour with which they assessed those proposals, and thank them for giving them their approval.
Strategies mean very little without targets the BHA has committed to shortly publishing some key performance indicators and targets for what is a two-year trial of these proposals.
While we will test and learn throughout the trial period, it is important that these targets are considered in the round and over time. The proposals that the sport has delivered will, we hope, bring about behaviour change. But behaviour change does not happen overnight.
In addition, many of the factors which will be under review may well be influenced by external factors beyond our control as much as by the changes themselves. For better or for worse.
Any targets and measures must therefore be seen as a guide and a basis for discussion as opposed to a black-and-white defining measure of success or failure.
Nevertheless, I am pleased to see the BHA committing to transparency and openness around its targets.
The publication of the Fixture List inevitably led to the industry and media asking us what will our new flagship “premier racing” meetings look and feel like? How will it be different on the racecourse or on TV? How will it be promoted?
These questions, and others like them, also fall under the remit of the Commercial Committee, and there are workstreams and groups dedicated to all of these areas.
Fan engagement is being looked at from various angles, which includes:
– Premier racing, and how we take advantage of the opportunity provided by the premier structure
– Broadcast innovation, putting the customer at the centre of our considerations
– Customer-experience enhancements on-course, linked to premier racing
– Betting, including innovation and initiatives to support premier racing
– Looking at the future fan, and how we engage a younger audience
– Looking at the longer term of racing’s revolutionary strategy…what changes can we make to really disrupt the status quo and get racing noticed and part of the national conversation once again
The Commercial Committee has started to make some choices about our priority initiatives in these areas, through the lens of our customers. In the coming months you will be hearing much more about how we will use the sport’s new structure to maximise engagement, work with broadcasters to assist them in innovation and presenting our sport in new and exciting ways – that word again: Collaboration – and what premier racedays will look and feel like.
Also under the auspices of the Commercial Committee are the plans to increase the recruitment, reward and recognition of owners, with the objective of creating an enhanced ownership experience at all stages. This includes:
– A greater focus on recruitment of owners
– Improved regulatory and administrative processes for owners, which will be driven in part by the vast project to develop Racing Digital, which will bring racing’s administrative and data capacity flying into the 21st century
– Working with trainers on an improved off-course owner experience, including improved communication, again utilizing technology and data
– Working with racecourses on an improved on-course owner experience – collaboration, once more
Finally, the commercial committee is also looking to develop a plan around encouraging high-level investment in sponsorship, bloodstock, horses in training and participation, in particular looking at critical overseas investment.
It’s a broad remit and there’s so much to be done. Inevitably some areas are more progressed than others, but it all harks back to our long-term vision of sustainable development and growth. And delivering innovation through working together.
Industry programme group
The second main area of the strategy falls under the remit of the Industry Programme Group, which is chaired by Julie Harrington.
The Group is concerned with key enablers for the strategy & our ability to operate. Its areas of focus include:
– horse welfare
– industry people
– equality, diversity and inclusion
– corporate social responsibility
– social licence
– environmental sustainability.
The Horse Welfare programme is the most mature of these areas, with the Horse Welfare Board continuing to implement its “A Life Well Lived” strategy, of which 20 of 26 recommended projects are now well under way or completed, covering best-possible quality of life, collective lifetime responsibility, safety and growth and maintenance of public trust.
At the same time work on another important area – The Industry People Board – continues at pace. Chaired by Neil Hayward it is expected to publish its strategy in the early part of next year, and it will include a focus on how we promote working within the sport, improve standards, satisfaction, wellbeing, safety and career progression for those in our industry, ranging from racing staff to jockeys, stud staff and beyond.
In addition we very much hope that we will see a number of racing staff roles added to the shortage occupation list. This will help us, to a certain extent, to fill the gaps in our workforce while the sport works on ways to better attract and retain staff from these shores.
I am also pleased to reveal that in the coming weeks, the BHA and Diversity in Racing Steering Group will be launching a survey for racing staff, aimed primarily at those within the sport from ethnically diverse backgrounds, to help us better understand their experiences within the industry.
Obviously British racing has a jewel in its crown when it comes to the recognition of our workforce in the form of the Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards, which is organised by the BHA and sponsored by Godolphin. The Awards are now in their 20th year and will be held at Ascot in February. Nominations are open to anyone, so if you know anyone who deserves recognition for their efforts in racing yards or studs or the racing community please do visit the website.
Other areas covered by the programme board include an environmental sustainability project which follows on from an important report published last year. We will hear more about environmental sustainability at this conference, it is one of the more important long-term branches of the strategy as it may well have a profound effect on our industry in years to come.
I am also pleased to say that funding has now been confirmed for the recruitment of a contract role to scope this project out in more detail.
As a retailer I understood that our customers took a real interest in the environment and its sustainability. We only have to think of the impact of climate change and the questions that are asked about the long-term health of the planet to understand that all enterprises need to raise their game in this space-we are no exception.
The third leg of the strategy is integrity. Without this we have nothing. Racing as a sport has a strong relationship with betting. Those who bet and whose money flows back into racing through the Levy have to believe that racing is straight. This requires resource and top-level professionalism. I saw this on course as a raceday steward and it is a priority throughout the BHA as racing’s regulator. Unusual betting patterns are followed up, as are the administration around drugs and prohibited substances for both horse and rider. This needs continuous research as when a regulator defines the line, those less scrupulous do all they can to cross it!
Finally, a note around data and its importance to decision-making. Last year the BHA Chair Joe Saumarez Smith was the keynote speaker at this event, and his theme was the importance of data. This will continue to play a huge part as we increase our capacity and capability in this area.
We already have better data than this time last year which means we now have a better understanding of our customers, including owners and fans. We know better who they are, what motivates them, and which audience should we focus on because they deliver the most for us (which means we have to deliver the most for them).
The subject of this talk is delivering innovation through collaboration and I hope that I have illustrated how the sport’s progress is being underpinned and inspired by this concept. I’d also like to provide a personal reflection on a few of my learnings and insights into this process.
Firstly, I think the strategy work has clearly benefitted from the shared vision to which I introduced you earlier. From day one everyone has bought in to what we are trying to achieve because it is understandable and realistic and it will continue to drive our thinking.
Secondly, I will stress the importance of getting organised for success. This is about far more than just assigning roles and responsibilities to so-called “leaders” in the sport. It is also about providing a structure beneath that leadership role to actually deliver projects, ensuring that they are properly resourced and funded.
Thirdly, gathering a wide range of perspectives is essential, giving everyone space to express their views, and being respectful of dissonance – in fact, more than this, utilising it. Through debate and sharing of views is, usually, how the best decisions are made.
Fourth, when we talk about collaboration we shouldn’t fall into the trap of just listening to ourselves, the same people who have been in the room for many years. The focus must always also be on our customers and investors, as it is through understanding them and their needs that the path to growth lies.
Fifth, trust between all parties is key, as is people taking ownership. There is no room for passengers on a journey of this nature.
Sixth, using data is essential, and the sport has come a long way on this front.
And finally, it is extraordinarily pleasing to see how behaviours have changed as this process has played out. Openness, trust, empathy may all seem like soft words when you’re talking about a multi-billion pound sport and industry, but their importance should not be underestimated. The ongoing behaviour change must continue or we are unlikely to achieve the innovation through collaboration that we need now and in the future.
The work we have delivered so far has attracted a lot of attention, especially the innovations around the 2024 fixture list, but in reality it is just a foundation. This is a long-term project of work which aspires to deliver genuine, meaningful, lasting change.
There are a number of challenges that we face. The foundations of this work are fragile and we will need to continue to demonstrate the spirit of cooperation and collective buy-in if we are going to continue to innovate.
At the same time, our confidence will grow as we start to see ‘the new way’ of getting things done, and as it starts to become clear what is going to work and where our paths to growth lie.
It is important that our work does not become siloed, we must keep talking.
Measurement and transparency will be key if we are to move towards a new ‘test and learn’-style approach.
We must not be afraid of failure. Not everything we try will work. We will learn as we go, focus on the things that do and not be afraid to let go of the things that don’t. This is not failure, it is leadership.
I’d like to conclude by saying that I have never been more enthusiastic about our sport’s future. Yes, we face difficult headwinds but I have witnessed, first-hand, the qualities of the people within our sport and the collective commitment to change. It will not be plain sailing, but with enough determination we can build a brighter future for our industry.
Finally, I call on all of you present here today to play your part in this process. You are all leaders or influencers in the industry. Take ownership of the strategy yourself, understand it, speak to us about it if you like, and criticise or make suggestions. But don’t cavil from the sidelines – that way failure surely lies. Engage in a genuine, open and honest way. Collaborate.
Thank you. I would now be pleased to take any questions from the floor.