With the introduction of a funding mechanism which for the first time automatically collects money for the sport from offshore betting operators, and the new racecourse media rights deals that come into effect during 2018, British racing can look forward to a better, more sustainable financial future.
Unlike most other major jurisdictions, which enjoy the certainty that comes from operating under a pool-betting monopoly, British racing’s environment is dominated by fixed-odds betting. That situation is hardly likely to change, which has meant that British racing has had to work hard to generate income from other sources.
Prize-money is undoubtedly the key driver of horsemen’s behaviour. However on-course facilities for stable staff and owners and trainers are also important
We can be proud of the success that our racecourses – in which I should declare an interest as Chairman of Newmarket – have made of raising extra income, through encouraging large numbers of the public to go racing, from festivals to ladies’ days and concerts to improving facilities and catering for customers.
Britain’s racing festivals, from Ascot and York to Cheltenham and Aintree, represent an enormous success story, and I doubt if such good results would have been achieved without the necessary, constant drive for financial improvement. So, I have no qualms in celebrating the racecourses’ hard work and success, while pointing out that they recognise, for the most part, that the raw material for the product they sell is supplied by the horsemen.
In recent years racecourses have made great strides in acknowledging the importance of prize-money, as evidenced by the fact that the annual total on offer rose by 12% between 2014 and 2016 to almost £138 million. For 2017 to produce record, or near-record, prize-money, at a time when the ‘old’ levy contribution was falling so badly, is a sign of how much racecourses recognise the need to encourage horsemen.
Several factors encourage people to own racehorses – and to give up on the exercise – but I am sure that the level of prize-money is undoubtedly the key driver of horsemen’s behaviour. However, on-course facilities for stable staff and owners and trainers are also important, and there has been good progress in these areas as well.
With the new funding model comes a new distribution system, and initially a combination of the Levy Board and Racing Authority will be allocating some of the extra ‘levy’ money for 2018 along lines already announced, namely in favour of the lower tier of racing and with appearance money to support owners. Racecourses will have to decide where their extra media income is allocated and prize-money must still be top of the list.
The BHA race-planning department has more than £1.5 million available from fixture bidding and the incentive fund, and I am delighted with proposals to boost prize-money for the staying division, where the TBA has highlighted the need for investment to help recognise the extra costs involved in producing the slower-maturing horse. The seed corn and matched funding of this initiative is innovative and worthy of horsemen’s support.
Racecourses themselves also have a real chance to think innovatively by competing for the horsemen’s custom across the board. Any racecourse that builds an interesting and varied programme and takes up the funding proposals for stayers should be applauded, and hopefully will be rewarded by presenting a better racegoer experience. In the medium and long term, racecourses are going to need the same number of horses, or preferably more, to keep their programmes supplied, and so they need to encourage more owners and owner-breeders to keep that supply chain on an upward curve.
On behalf of the breeders and the industry, the TBA is leading discussions on this topic, and I am sure ideas will come forward to help identify key areas in which support for growth can deliver results. A healthy, well-funded and well-supplied competitive race programme is in everyone’s interest, and the key drivers needed to support growth that does deliver results need to be understood. This is the only way that the whole sport will benefit.