Scotland business

New signings for Queen of Sports

Vivien Kyles
Image caption Vivien Kyles said all the profits from racing and other events at Hamilton go back into the business

At Hamilton Park Racecourse, its chief executive, Vivien Kyles, is gearing up for one of the biggest events of the year.

However, it is not a major race meet but a concert by former boy band Westlife on 23 July. It is Hamilton's biggest signing to date and all part of the strategy of its chief executive Vivien Kyles.

She took over the running of the course in 2008 and her plans included making the course pay on the 340 or so days in a year when there wasn't a racing fixture.

Vivien has always been a bit of a trailblazer. She took over at Hamilton Park after a spell as chief executive of Livingston Football Club - one of the few women to head up a football club not just in this country but in the world.

She said: "I probably miss the joys and frustrations we used to have on a Saturday just before the game - standing on front of the white board and asking why they are not using a certain player on the wing because he's faster - that's just the frustrated football manager in me but I certainly don't miss driving home after being beaten 5-nil."

Surprisingly, she had never been to the races before her appointment, although she admits to having had a flutter on the Grand National.

Her priority has been to make the course pay during a time of great change in the world of racing.

"It is a changed model," she said. "The money used to be made solely on the race days and there was a lot of central funding which came from the levy - that's the government tax that takes place in the bookmakers.

"We used to get levy figures northwards of about £750,000 six years ago and now we get about £240,000, so that's a £0.5m drop in our revenue streams."

The racecourse has had success in attracting other events. In 2008 there were eight weddings - this year there will be about 30.

Funeral teas

Vivien said there was a surprising diversity of functions booking the course: "We do a lot of private parties, exhibitions, dinners, funeral teas even - people are looking for something that's a wee bit different.

"So it is trying to make Hamilton Park a business and complement what's going on in the track."

Outside activities now contribute between 35 - 40% of the course's income so racing is still very much at the core of the business.

The average punter will spend £40 during the day on a flutter and some food and drink. For the evening it's usually more than £100 and in hospitality it can be much more than that.

Profits from all the activities are ploughed back in to the business and this year that is likely to be 50% more than the previous year.

"We are owned by a racing trust," Vivien said.

"So unlike some of the groups within the racing circuit we're not looking to pay dividends out to people - there's no shareholders cracking the whip (no pun intended) so what I have the luxury of doing is reinvesting the profits we make back into the racecourse and that predominately means putting the profits in the prize money."

The interview with Vivien Kyles can be heard on BBC Radio Scotland's 'Business Scotland' programme by free download.