In last month’s magazine, the TBA Leader suggested a golden opportunity now exists to review all the sport’s income and expenditure. We would certainly agree with this but it will require a new spirit of openness from all stakeholders, and particularly racecourses, to make it happen on the level that is required.
With racecourse media rights being by far the biggest driver of racing’s income these days, it is essential for the whole of racing to be able to share more detailed information on how this income is made up before we can think in terms of creating a proper overall financial plan for the industry.
All we know at this stage is that racing’s media rights income now amounts to £150 million per annum. Also, that the 37 tracks represented by Racecourse Media Group generated almost £110m in 2018 and most of the remainder is made up from the ARC courses, although Ascot and Chester, sitting outside of the two main groups, are other significant contributors.
One of the key reasons why racing should undertake this extensive work is underlined by the annual publication of the fixture list. It is rare, if ever, for there to be an overall industry consensus to emerge from the fixture list compilation and the list for 2020 was no exception, with a reduction of 23 fixtures compared to the 2019 figure.
In general terms, racecourse media rights deals are structured so the more fixtures a racecourse receives the greater its income. Racecourses are therefore forever pushing for a greater allocation, with many also wanting to boost their finances by racing at weekends and summer evenings.
Of course, they are run as businesses and, if this were the only consideration you wouldn’t blame them for trying to squeeze every last penny out of their fixtures.
The same might be said of bookmakers, who are similarly quick to remind us that fewer fixtures means a reduction in income for the sport.
The problem is racecourses and bookmakers are not the only consideration. There is a whole industry of horsemen out there who have to service these fixtures, to say nothing of the horse population. Trainers, jockeys and stable staff come under extreme pressure at certain times of the year.
Only recently a report highlighted the growing mental health problems in racing and it was not difficult to link this to the burgeoning fixture list.
There is an obvious need to make better use of racing’s workforce and equine population – in short, to make racing more efficient – but this can be done only if there is greater transparency throughout the whole industry.
What, for instance, would the impact be on media rights income if we staged more races across a smaller number of fixtures?
Nobody could ever expect the racecourses to simply open their books for a public inspection but the use of non-disclosure agreements, for all the bad publicity they have received of late, are a perfectly logical way to allow the sharing of confidential information.
The true financial value of fixtures and the intricacies of the contracts between racecourses and the betting industry should be details shared with carefully chosen industry insiders. This can only lead to improved decisions being made.
The fixture list has to be compiled by the BHA as racing’s only impartial adjudicator, working on behalf of both the horsemen and racecourses, but ultimately making the final decisions as a fair and honest broker.
It is therefore encouraging to hear that Portas Consulting has been appointed to assist in providing independent analysis of the financial and economic state of British racing prior to the compilation of the 2021 fixture list.
It is even more encouraging to hear that all sides of the industry have given their support to this external analysis. If it is conducted in a mood of transparency, then maybe the publication of the fixture list next year will be greeted with universal approval.