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New Broom in Cape

A Challenge Of Basics And Bridges

Phumelela will no doubt be wanting to make an early impact in the Western Cape. While the totalisator outlets and the lot of the punter are unlikely to be high on their new-broom agenda, it can only pay them to  devote some attention to this embarassingly inadequate aspect of their business.

It has never really been that fashionable to look after the foot-soldiers. In the pre corporatisation days of racing, at least the consumer had the beneficial spin-offs of two simply run clubs competing for his attentions. Besides that,  gamblers had little other choice, short of having a few inoculations and driving for two days to get to the Casino in Maseru.

But times have changed – for the better. Or should I say, ‘bitter’?

Corporatisation brought with it an ever widening gap between the governor and governed. Boards manned by men who probably believed they could make a difference,  have been living in cloud cuckoo land barking orders and issuing policy instructions to managers, who thought that the board were a bunch of priviliged clowns anyway. The management thus did little. They were also seldom measured.

In Cape Town, Phumelela ironically have similar challenges facing them everywhere else and while they may be inclined to address the perceived more powerful and supposedly important stakeholders first, they may want to consider starting at the bottom of the patriot pile. And deliver they will need to, with small field sizes, turnovers under pressure and a general lack of morale prevalent.

Simply really nobody has done anything about the customer here in ten years. And over this time, the service aspect has fallen into a black hole. The punter has faded further and further into the background.  Through it all though life goes on and the focus always remains elsewehere.  The Glamour always before the hammer. Bulldust baffles brains.

Let’s face it. We have elaborate racedays, a world-class Sale has evolved, we have champion racehorses and we have big name international jockeys visiting our beautiful shores. But try using the loo in your local tote. Or even worse getting a Soccer 6 timetable and a fresh cheese samie and coffee. Crazy?

And as correspondent A Popham-Lewis wrote in last weekend’s mailbag under ‘Cock-Tales & Racing’, don’t try and interfere when a few heavies from head office are there checking the cash and the paid vouchers. We have all missed a bet through their making an entrance at an inopportune time and the clueless arrogance and comical lack of interest  is the stuff of a Monty Python script. That is no exaggeration, and they are supposed to behave like they operate in a service industry.

The ample feedback received via email and sms from my piece, The Love Of The Common People,  in last week’s (SP 1805 ) issue  has been both heartening and eye-opening and it obviously touched sensitive spots. At least I didn’t feel alone and I even enjoyed the hate mail suggesting I try a Virgin Active spinning class membership and join the HNP- I didn’t know they even existed anymore!

I should clarify again that I am neither a convenient racist nor a person who particularly despises wealthy people. I was actually fortunate to attend one of South Africa’s top mixed race private schools in the heart of our dark past and some twenty years before Mandela was released. And while I would not want to ordinarily say that some of my best friends are black, they actually really are. But it is a personal choice of how we spend our private time and  I am not fearful of slaughtering the laughable sacred cows that graze in the pastures of plenitude. Some things just need saying.

Black people have themselves to blame. They have, in my opinion,  allowed themselves to be used as a means to an end by this industry. They have sat on boards as figureheads, being forced into subsidised ownership, granted licences to train horses in a make-believe world with an open cheque book and even seduced and lured to the races with unsustainable side-shows that defy the remotest of logic. It’s all window dressing. You know it. I know it. And what may work for Brandhouse, does not necessarily work for racing.

Besides the understandable natural disdain arising from the suspicions and poor treatment, our  Black brothers really just don’t appear to like horseracing as a population grouping – particularly sans the sushi, body rubs and music. And there is nothing wrong with that, for goodness sake . I don’t like Kaizer Chiefs. To each his own.

My questioning of the rationale behind air- bussing  500 Gauteng VIP’s to Kenilworth was not a racist jibe. It was simply related to what appears to be the wholesale rejection of the racing media and a frightening lack of care when it comes to the very folk that support the game every day. Some respondents blamed  Brandhouse or Eddie Cassar, but charity begins at home and the industry needs to answer for it.  The once-a-year reward of enjoying our top horse race in a pampered and luxurious facility should exclusively be reserved for those who have earned the moment and have given their heart and soul to it.

So many ordinary people have contacted me to say that they would welcome a chance to qualify for a day at the Met in return for supporting tote betting and horseracing. They are happy to be registered on a customer base. They want to be able to get double points for attending live horseracing.   They want to be part of an exclusive membership that guarantees pleasurable, if not winning gambling opportunities.

The reality is that there is no known focus or plan in place to protect the dwindling tote betting turnover base.  To my mind,  a broad two-pronged attack needs to be implemented through the implementation of a practical simple loyalty programme and an overhaul and review of the racecourse and tote experience and facilities.

Casinos have shown that loyalty programmes work. Patrons are directly and tangibly rewarded for their support by means of a commission kick-back on their gambling turnover as well as access to preferential facilities and rewards. The previous effort by Gold Circle to implement a programme was an unmitigated disaster and frankly an embarrassment. The exercise showed no understanding of what it was trying to achieve and with whom,  and it was tossed into file 13 as a costly practical and technical cock-up .

But  maybe some good can come of that. Source the project out to a casino partner rather. Simply acknowledge your market on a mutually beneficial reciprocal basis. Give them what they want and where they want it. Like a bowl of sushi  in an air conditioned tent on Met day even?

The loyalty programme should have as its main focus boosting betting turnover but it may also prove quite fascinating for the operator to finally get to meet their customer and find out what makes him tick. The stupid silly suicidal assumption that patrons that gamble are addicts who will return irrespective of how they are treated, to get their daily fix, is fatally flawed.  Nobody is denying that an element of involuntary chemistry plays its part in this passion, but one can only kick a dog so many times.

Phumelela though are going to have to address their  facilities as a start. And it may not just need too much cash either. Start communicating. Timeously and accurately. Then a few tins of paint, frames for notices, cleaning staff, and attitude turnarounds by management.  The average tote is sub-standard. Dirty, unkempt shops, plastered with an array of notices stuck with prestik on makeshift notice boards. Inhabited by a cross-section of society. Plastic chairs. The racecourse  public areas are  in the same state. Just stop ripping us off with R15 cooldrinks, crap food and service that makes the local traffic department fines counter look world-class and friendly.

But the bull also needs to stop right now with the other daily amateurish small items.

Like when you guys advertise, hype  and promote All To Come betting facilities into the J&B Met. Qualify it that the facility only applies in the build-up week to Phumelela regions. Then tell your tote staff. Maybe even tell your patrons too.  And  when Tellytrack declare that jockey Jarryd Samuels  is replacing Anton Marcus on the Charles Laird horse in the Pick Six first leg at Greyville last Tuesday evening. And the horse subsequently arrives- with Superman on board!

If  the Phumelela guys were punters and real racing people, they would understand the impact of that misinformation. But nothing changes. What’s the bet the same guy is still working in the Rivonia data room and he will do it again. It’s only a matter of time.