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My Racing Story

My Racing Story

Lisa O'Connor

Lisa pictured at DundalkLisa pictured at Dundalk

My first experience with Dundalk Stadium was actually in 2007 when I worked in the Tote. It was thrilling and I really enjoyed it. There weren't a lot of hours in the Tote, but I enjoyed that side of it so I ended up in Bar One Racing. I worked in the shops and I did the on-course shop at Dundalk Stadium. I worked for Bar One Racing until I left there in August 2014. I loved the work in the bookmakers, but it was long hours and weekends, and I have a family, so I actually got into business insurance. I worked my way up there and I enjoyed it. It was a stressful environment and I thrived on it, but nobody growing up says they want to sell insurance! I was in charge of sales and marketing and that is where I learned a lot of my business knowledge.

Then the job as Sales and Marketing Manager in Dundalk came up. The best thing I ever did was take the plunge and go for the job. I was appointed in April 2019. So, while I might have been an expert on sales and marketing, it is so niche (horse racing and greyhound racing). It took me a while to work out what the sales and marketing role is at Dundalk and what I could bring to it. I'd say I was just starting to make tracks when Covid hit in March 2020. Until we opened the doors up again there was always fear, especially in the industry, as you didn't want to put that foot wrong because everyone needed it so much. It was that break from the normality at the time, and we always erred on the side of caution.

I remember one specific time there was a thrilling finish to a Group 3 race in 2020 and the horse came back in and it was just Jim (Martin, Dundalk Stadium CEO) and I in the parade ring clapping. It was eerie and it will always stick with me. There was also myself and Pat Healy (photographer) at the finishing line taking photos and videos. In the past few weeks, it has been very busy at the track and with that comes the thrills and the noise and the roars at the finishing line that you can't get on the TV. I said to Brendan Sheridan (IHRB clerk of several courses) recently 'I'll never forget when we didn't have this'. That will never be boring to me because I've experienced not having it. I don't take for granted being able to have the crowd here.

Our big days at the track are in July (12th) and August (15th). In 2020, nobody had anything to do because of Covid and it was important for us to keep the ladies' day going with a charity in mind. We held a virtual ladies' day and it was so well received. Everyone was just so glad to dress up and people had it in their house and kids were involved. It had a real feel-good factor to it. When we had our first one back at the track, people came who had entered the virtual ladies' day. They said it was so much fun that they wondered what it was like to go to a racecourse and do it. We had the highest number of entrants at our first ladies' day back with full crowds this year.

This is such a varied role. I would look after the sponsorship and sales, which includes corporate, and have an input into improvement work at the track. I'm trying to see what would incentivise people to go out. One of the things I do is to take on that customer persona - what would make somebody walk in the door at Dundalk? We have various customers. Some come for the racing while some come for a night out on a Friday. We are unique in that we have got such a varied customer base. We are trying to attract all these people at the same time. That takes up quite a lot of my time to get it right.

You are trying to navigate an ever-changing environment. When I first started, it would have been a lot of print and radio marketing. It would be very digital now or even Google ads or podcasts instead of radio. You have to keep up with all of that. I've built a website and we have online ticketing. The entire customer journey is one of the first things I did - where did customers first hear about us to how they bought the tickets, who are they seeing at the front door? I wanted to know what sort of impression they got of Dundalk Stadium at every point of their journey. Are they going to come back and are they going to tell their friends? That's something we've worked on and I think we have nailed it now.

Coming out of Covid, we were able to present to our customers a single place to go where it is not just entertainment as you've got your food, your drinks and your music all from the one seat. It was about communicating that and making people feel safe. For so long we weren't able to plan for the future, it was just about surviving each fixture. Everyone came into this year not being able to plan, but we are now able to plan next year.

I walk the track, on the ambulance road, on my lunch break and it is probably one of the most peaceful things you could do. Opening it up to the public just can't be done, but I am going to open it up to do charity runs. We have the first one scheduled for March next year. We might do a 5k or a 10k, or both. We have been approved to do that. I remember one of the first times I walked around the track, Jim drove up alongside me and said 'you can't argue with this, this is the best office you've ever had!'

Without the staff that we have, it doesn't just happen. Dundalk is a really good place to work and when you work for a place that is good to you, you work harder. We work so well together. When we do two horse racing and two greyhound fixtures a week in November, it is like a well-oiled machine. From that first time that I worked at the Tote, I knew this was what I wanted. I love seeing class horses like Blackbeard winning their maidens at Dundalk and going on to win Group One's. You are following all these amazing horses and their history.

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