Recently I have been meeting and working with a lot of different organizations to talk about standardbred horse racing and our association.
Some of these organizations have included USTA (both the staff, and presenting to the USTA Board of Directors), the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Ontario Racing, and some Standardbred Canada members from Rideau Carleton.
One of the most valuable meetings and discussions I had was sitting down with our members at Rideau Carleton to discuss their concerns, and get their input on what we should be addressing as an association going forward.
The participants at our focus group included Gordon McDonald – President NCRHHA/Breeder/Owner; John MacMillan – Director NCRHHA/ Driver/Trainer/ Breeder/Owner; Michelle Jerome – Administrator NCRHHA/Breeder/Owner; Brian Jerome – Administrator NCRHHA/Breeder/Owner; Ernie O’Dwyer – Paddock Judge; Blake Curran – Trainer/Owner, Jamie Copley – Trainer/Owner; Matt McDonald – Trainer/Owner; Brett MacDonald – Driver/Owner; Gerard Demers –Driver/Trainer/Owner.
As you can see, we had great representation from all facets of the association, and the industry, which gave me strong confidence that the discussion would be balanced, allowing for input from all in the room.
So, it was a privilege to have face-time with these hard working individuals who came on their own time and dime on a Tuesday night to sit with me for two hours over coffee and cookies and talk about Standardbred Canada and the industry (past, present, and future state).
Without going into too much detail, as I want to conduct similar focus groups across the country, I would like to provide a snapshot of what was discussed and what I heard:
When the members were first shown the Standardbred Canada logo, the first thing that came to their minds was; the website, being an industry leader, the association representing Canadian harness racing and of course, fees.
As a matter of fact, we had a large discussion around membership fees and the perceived value that is (and isn’t) associated with the fees collected.
In addition, the group pronounced concerns regarding the laborious licensing process and the length of time it takes to get all corresponding licenses, citing it as a deterrent for getting young people involved in our industry.
The group recommended a “Young Drivers of Canada” type of program to encourage and promote harness racing for our next generation of stars.
These are just a few ‘Coles notes’ that I took from the discussion we had, and is an example of some of the key insights that were tabled.
As I mentioned to the group, the meeting was the first of several that we need to have with our members, with the hope that, once completed, I will take all the key learnings and messages from these meetings and share them with the Standardbred Canada team and our Board of Directors, to come up with ideas and ways to improve our service for our members in the future.
Like life, this is not a sprint, it is a marathon.
We need to ensure that we understand the issues before we can attempt to solve them, but what was articulated that Tuesday night was a great start. And, if this first focus group is any indication of what we can expect to get from our members at other like-meetings, we will be well equipped to address the common concerns and key learnings that are being shared by you, our members.
I would like to thank all those who volunteered and participated in the Ottawa Focus Group including Gord McDonald, who not only made all the arrangements for us in Ottawa, but also helped facilitate and narrow the focus of our conversation as a team.
Kudos to you and your members at Rideau Carleton!
P.S. We have now closed the National Survey on Regulations, Licensing and Officiating with over 300 respondents. The plan is to bring the survey results to the next Standardbred Canada Board of Directors meeting at the end of this month and we will provide you with further detail once our Board has had time to be briefed and discuss next steps. We will follow through and follow-up with all whom participated, and for all of our members as a whole. Thank you.
President & CEO, Standardbred Canada