Having spent four years centralising back-end operations for its 15 racecourses, the Jockey Club has launched a new arm offering money-saving consultancy and services for fellow sports organisations. Matt Cutler reports.
“Prior to my time in racing, I worked at a lower-league football club,” says the Jockey Club’s Paul Fisher, looking back on his time as finance director of English football club Gillingham in the late 1990s. “I know any investment, and spare cash, goes on players. It never goes in the back of house.”
The “back of house” Fisher talks about covers anything from ticketing and HR systems to a reward platform for fans. It’s about as far away from the glamorous end of sport as you can get, but it is a vital part of running a financially-astute organisation, and an area of UK sport that has experienced significant under-investment.
Now, as group managing director of Jockey Club Racecourses, the body that owns and operates 15 UK racecourses including Aintree, and Cheltenham, Fisher is spearheading Jockey Club Services, a new venture that offers his organisation’s expertise and systems.
If we're doing it successfully for 15 racecourses, we can do it for football, rugby and cricket clubs
“The Jockey Club runs some of the UK’s biggest racecourses, but four years ago they were all individual businesses with their own accounting, HR and procurement systems,” Fisher told SportBusiness International. “A big part of my job has been to consolidate those businesses so they all fall under one group; to do that we had to concentrate on what I would call the ‘back of house’ functions – accountancy, payment centre, loyalty, ticketing…which we do centrally now.
“I thought that if we are doing it successfully for 15 different racecourses, we can do it for football, rugby and cricket clubs – or any organisation for that matter. Since then, Rob [Quick] and David [Dommett, both directors of Jockey Club Services] have been out talking to the industry to test the concept.”
The new Jockey Club venture offers a range of services, in particular procurement – leveraging the buying power it has already established for its racecourses – in addition to loyalty schemes and ticketing systems. On the
latter, two years ago the Jockey Club invested £1 million in a system from Canada-headquartered AudienceView, which it is able to offer on a white-label basis.
Cricket and football are two sports Jockey Club Services have been operating in since soft-launching 18 months ago, with 11 English Football League clubs and first-class cricket counties Hampshire and Kent receiving procurement services. It is also developing a loyalty programme for seven counties and helped Lancashire raise £3 million to develop its Old Trafford venue using a retail bond. The Jockey Club raised nearly £25 million from its own retail bond last year.
We've announced today that we are extending the offer for our Cricket Bond by 14 days – http://t.co/GapBZdWp4y
— Lancashire CCC (@LancsCCC) October 24, 2014
Welsh county cricket side Glamorgan, meanwhile, worked with Jockey Club Services to sell tickets for the first Ashes test in 2015. Glamorgan’s old Sophia Gardens home ground was revamped into the 15,000-capacity international SWALEC Stadium in 2008; however, international games are the only fixtures that generate enough demand to guarantee a sell-out. Despite the SWALEC hosting its first Ashes test between England and Australia in 2009, it has never felt the justification to invest in its own state-of-the-art system.
“Glamorgan came to us for our expertise in mass ticket sales,” says Quick. “It is not used to selling a high volume of tickets in a short space of time. We set up the complete ticketing operation, including call centre and call centre overflow to ensure the whole process of selling 75,000 tickets over the space of a few hours didn’t fall over and went perfectly. That’s exactly what happened – tickets went on sale on September 11, and the first four days were sold out by September 13.”
Quick says the Glamorgan ticketing agreement was a one-off deal, but he has a conversation coming up with Glamorgan CEO Hugh Morris about establishing a longer-term ticketing relationship with additional loyalty, procurement and live music services.
Using its expertise from Rewards4Racing – the programme launched by the Jockey Club in 2011 to grow its membership and reward frequent racegoers – loyalty is an area that Fisher believes Jockey Club Services can offer significant solutions. Rewards4Racing members collect points on purchases at any Jockey Club racecourse and through everyday spending with its online retail and high-street partners.
“Loyalty is the real standout one for me,” he adds. “Since launching at the end of January 2012 we have got 600,000 people on our Rewards4Racing programme…and we have 3,500 retailers on it. Every club I go to asks us to tell them about loyalty. That’s been a massive in for us.”
We’ve had conversations with a couple of big clubs in Spain
Live music is another area that could play an important part of the offering. Jockey Club Live was launched in 2013 as a joint venture with live music impresarios Andrew Wilkinson and Simon Halden, and saw 300,000 people attend music events at Jockey Club racecourses during its first year of operation. Last month, Jockey Club Live announced a partnership with AEG Live that will see the fellow live music promoters book artists to appear at Jockey Club Live music events from 2015.
Fisher says that Jockey Club Services have already made cost savings of up to 40 per cent for sports organisations it has partnered with. The cost structure of working with Jockey Club Services varies on a case-by-case basis, and though businesses that specialise on procurement for other organisations usually take a quarterly fee and then up to 50 per cent of the cost saving they can generate, Quick says they are looking to take a different approach.
“We think that model is flawed, because it creates a short-term relationship: you come in, make a few savings and then move onto the next thing,” he says. “We want much longer relationships, and that is also because we are working with the Jockey Club suppliers and getting them business with other organisations in sport. But at the same time, we are benchmarking those partners, so if the Jockey Club moves supplier and gets a better deal, we are offering that saving to our Jockey Club Services partners too.”
Fisher says that for the time being Jockey Club Services is looking to operate in the UK and Ireland, however working internationally is already on the radar.
“We’ve had conversations with a couple of big football clubs in Spain,” he says. “All the things you see on a small scale in the UK – in terms of clubs not investing in the off-the-pitch stuff – are happening in every sport across the world.”