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When Mark Goddard was at university he dabbled in a little betting on the horses. As his fascination grew, he bought a racehorse — then another. He now has two horses in training and an ex-racehorse as a broodmare. But he only came across the Thoroughbred Horseracing Industries MBA at the University of Liverpool’s Management School thanks to a sharp-eyed friend.
“He saw an advert for it in one of the broadsheet newspapers,” Goddard says. “He took a picture of it on his phone and sent it to me… and it sounded really interesting.”
Goddard had already sold one successful healthcare business and is currently marketing director at Wright Medical UK, an orthopaedic supplies company. He felt the MBA would complement his work experience to help him move into the horseracing industry. “It is difficult to break into when you’re 45 and haven’t worked in it before, so the MBA is a good route in,” he says.
He has joined in the first intake on the programme, set up in partnership with the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB). The aim of the course, says Neil Coster, the MBA’s director of studies, “is to bring the horseracing industry into the 21st century”. This was the main focus of the BHA and HBLB when a partnership to provide the qualification was put out to tender.
Liverpool’s Management School was chosen in 2014; its “world-class veterinary centre” was cited as one of the advantages, says Morag Gray, who at the time was an independent director at the BHA and now does consulting work for it. The school’s proximity to Aintree, home of the world’s most famous steeplechase, the Grand National, was also a plus.
As the horseracing industry expands globally, notably in North America and the United Arab Emirates, the BHA and HBLB are keen that the UK should be a world leader in the business. (The University of Arizona in the US has been running its race track industry programme for graduates since 1974.) Coster says there is a need to develop people with the business skills for all aspects of the industry, whether it is running a stud farm, managing a racecourse or working in the betting sector.
The demands of Britain’s racegoers have also changed. Racecourses across the UK are looking for new ways to attract customers and increase revenues. The MBA’s racecourse and event management module, for example, does not simply teach how to put on a race meeting; it makes students aware of broader trends in events, focusing on racecourses and what might be done with those venues on non-race days. Themed race meetings are also becoming popular, with courses providing racing as part of a real ale, cheese or music festival, for example.
“There’s a need to tap into the experience economy,” adds Coster, so the MBA equips future managers and executives with the knowhow to maximise revenue.
The first intake on the MBA is just 11. Most are already working in the industry, but the course is also aimed at those like Goddard, who have a demonstrable interest in racing but have not worked in the sector. Fees are significantly lower than for many MBAs, at £15,000 for UK students and £21,500 for those from overseas.
In addition to topics like marketing and finance, the programme gives tuition on horse welfare and ethics in areas such as breeding. Coster says that while students include people from stud farms, who have day-to-day contact with horses, others do not work directly with the animals and need further insight.
The MBA includes a “behind the scenes” race day — a highlight of the course for Goddard. At Haydock Park, near Liverpool, he had a chance to see what, for example, a general manager does, or a race-starter or a vet.
“This access was very open and honest,” Goddard adds, “and gave us a very good understanding of the complexities of running a race day.”
There are downsides. The MBA is part-time and Goddard finds balancing a full-time job with coursework a challenge. He also wishes that more information had been available before he started the course about the study programme and potential jobs. This was limited because he is in the first cohort.
The expectation is that once students graduate, they will secure a management position, although salaries vary. A job in horse welfare is of course likely to command a lower salary than senior roles in organisations such as the BHA and the HBLB. Goddard points out that if those positions in the “upper echelons of racing are paying anything less than £100,000, they are not getting the right people”.
The MBA has not attracted too many vocal sceptics, but there are those in the industry who are less open to change and do not see a need for such a qualification. “They do things in a certain way and think it should always be done that way,” says Coster. “Racecourses can be a little less forward-thinking. One course still does not even sell advance tickets.”
BHA consultant Gray also highlights the traditionalism of the racecourses at a time when the business has become increasingly global and more sophisticated. “Top-class human resources are needed,” she says.