Any end-of-term report would have to conclude that 2012 has been the most fabulous year on the racecourse. Topped by the incomparable Frankel, British racing has secured its reputation as being the best in the world.It provides some small comfort that the Levy Board has at last managed to arrest the decline in their total income
And yet we continue to grapple with the paradox of having the worst funding model of any major racing country. It is a system that saw total prize-money in 2011 return to where it was eight years earlier and has put the British owner in a position where prize-money, as a percentage of keep and training costs alone, is only 21%, compared with 54% in France.
It provides some small comfort that the Levy Board has at last managed to arrest the decline in their total income, but it is hugely disappointing that the government’s previous commitment to resolving the deficiencies in racing’s funding mechanism have taken a back seat following John Penrose’s recent departure as the Minister for Gambling and Horseracing. A public consultation had been planned for this year but this now appears to have been somewhat delayed.
The BHA under Paul Bittar should be playing a leadership role within tri-partite talks to facilitate such agreements
The levy is incapable of the reform that, amongst other things, would see it capture all forms of betting activity on British racing by British consumers.
Moreover, under the existing levy structure, racing will continue to suffer from a system rooted in one-year deals and in which it has no formal negotiating platform, nor appropriate control of its income and distribution. These issues can be addressed only by the government honouring their previous commitments.
A related issue is racecourse contributions to prize-money. Although we can give credit to the courses for their £15 million increase in their executive and sponsorship contributions in 2011, with a further small increase likely in 2012, it cannot be right that a racecourse’s allocation to prize-money remains completely at its discretion.
Neither is it right that there remains a lack of transparency around the issue of media rights – although, to its credit, the RCA has confirmed that by 2013 racecourses will be receiving media rights of at least £84m, nearly £30m more than in 2010. Based on around 1,400 fixtures, this means that racecourses will receive close to £60,000 per fixture, yet some courses don’t even contribute £10,000 of that to prize-money.
Contractual prize-money agreements providing a fair and reasonable return to horsemen would transform British racing from its traditional state of acrimony and dispute, to one of partnership and joined-up thinking.
Instead of fighting over the crumbs, prize-money agreements based on horsemen receiving a guaranteed percentage of revenue streams could, finally, bring together racing’s stakeholders to maximise the value of our combined assets.
And, of course, the BHA under Paul Bittar should be playing a leadership role within tri-partite talks to facilitate such agreements. After an excellent first year, Paul will face his biggest test in assisting horsemen and racecourses to work through the inevitable challenges over detail to deliver the agreements.
Of course, the future of British racing is more than just about prize-money. We need to see competition within the fixture list so aspiring and progressive tracks have the opportunity to grow their business; we want to see the delivery of a co-ordinated race programme that meets the requirements of an ever-changing horse population; we must deliver further savings in industry costs as well as simplifying the copious levels of administration that face every new owner; we need to ensure that, through the Racing Foundation, the sale of the Tote leaves a lasting legacy for the sport; and we need to find ways to support racing’s exclusive broadcaster to take our fabulous sport to a new, younger and more culturally diverse audience.
All of this can be achieved if British racing adopts a much more constructive and collaborative approach. This, then, must top our list of priorities for the New Year.