While we are delighted Ascot has put a further £1 million into prize-money, the question remains as to why they have taken an equivocal stance on bookmaker sponsorship of races.
It is very disappointing our flagship racecourse has not clearly spelt out that they will not take sponsorship from non-Authorised Betting Partner bookmakers. When it is so important that racing shows a united front to combat those bookmakers who refuse to pay racing a fair and sustainable rate on all UK horserace betting, here we have an ambivalent message from our best and most prestigious racecourse.
All tracks should realise this is a time when they should be showing the same resolve as Jockey Club Racecourses and Arena Racing Company
Other major independent racecourses also appear less than emphatic. York falls short of giving total support by saying they will continue to take sponsorship from their existing bookmaker sponsors but not sign new sponsorship deals with any non-ABP betting brands, while Goodwood and Newbury remain suspiciously silent on the issue.
Surely, all tracks, while acting independently, should realise this is a time when they should be showing the same resolve as Jockey Club Racecourses and Arena Racing Company.
The income from bookmaker sponsorship is not, anyway, that significant in the great scheme of things. Certainly, not so significant to Ascot, which – although carrying the burden of a large loan – continues to make very healthy operating profits.
We must also view this in the context of British racecourses enjoying huge benefits from growing media rights income, so much so that it has easily overtaken the levy as racing’s main source of funding.
The decline of the levy is accelerating as the increasing number of bets placed online are directed overseas and therefore outside of the levy’s jurisdiction. In 2017, gross levy will have fallen to under £50m when only a few years ago it was regularly generating £100m-plus.
Racecourses may be content to take a ‘bird in the hand’ approach to the current funding situation, but I believe it is unhealthy for our sport that media rights income has now overtaken income from betting.
The ABP initiative is designed to put racing in a stronger position in the period between now and the setting up of a Racing Right which, with the best will in the world, is likely to take another three years.
In that period we cannot sit back and watch racing’s source of central funding get ever-smaller. Notwithstanding the prize-money agreements between horsemen and racecourses, racing is now vulnerable to the whims of betting operators who may one day decide to reduce their media rights costs by cutting back on racing pictures in their betting shops.
In a perfect world, racing will get to a point where a base rate is established with betting operators, reflecting the volume of betting on British racing whether the bets are processed here or overseas.
Getting to an agreed position on this so-called ‘blended rate’ would achieve a happy medium whereby the percentage currently charged on bets taken domestically was balanced with the percentage on online bets.
Racing may already accept that 10.75% on gross profits that is currently the basis of the levy would have to reduce if racing’s income encapsulated all online bets, but the real question is whether we can find mutually acceptable ground for negotiation with the betting industry which, in itself, contains a broad spectrum of business cultures.
The BHA is only too well aware of the consequences of getting this rate wrong even for an interim period. Because they know there is a very real danger that we would be saddled with it when the Racing Right is eventually adopted.
All of this points to the importance of racing having the strongest possible negotiating hand in the immediate future. It is why we, as owners, applaud JCR, ARC and all the other onside racecourses for the unequivocal support they have given to the ABP initiative. We hope the major independent racecourses will soon show similar resolve.