Friday, August 06, 2010

What's in a name?

Last night’s episode of Undercover Boss, in which Jockey Club Chief Operating Officer Paul Fisher tried his hand at a number of entry level jobs at different racecourses, left a strange taste. What shone through above all else was the commitment, dedication and enthusiasm of the people at grass roots level and I have nothing but admiration for the individuals featured in the programme. Paul Fisher’s concern was that those individuals, like the majority of racegoers I suspect, were unaware of the Jockey Club brand and what it stood for. Of course, the Jockey Club has no monopoly on individuals of the sort portrayed - I’m sure you’ll find similar employees working for groups such as Arena Leisure, responsible for seven courses and the largest operator of UK horseracing, or Northern Racing Limited with its portfolio of ten courses.

My problem with the brand is the name, the Jockey Club. Now, I’m not particularly well versed in the history of the turf, fascinating subject that it is, but for a very long time the Jockey Club were the oligarchy that ran racing in this country (and ran it with the proverbial rod of iron). As a kid who started following racing in the sixties, my heroes were the men in the saddle, but when those heroes made mistakes, they were ordered to Portman Square and invariably returned with a (harsh) suspension and a flea in their ear. If a rider had the temerity to lodge an appeal against a decision, the result was often further punishment. I totally accept this is my own personal baggage but terms I tend to associate with the Jockey Club include oligarchy, gentleman’s club, authoritarian deliverers of punishment, an organisation slow to change.

Having said that, the Club has embraced change, has modernised - Paul Fisher’s focus on the importance of the customer experience is testament to that. Perhaps it’s time for a re-brand?

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