At a time when many racehorse owners may be questioning their involvement and investment in our sport, we must demonstrate that we can navigate a path through the Covid-19 crisis and offer hope of an improved industry in the years to come.
The recovery plan recently announced by the BHA offered some broad-brush objectives for racing. The ‘nine goals’ covered all aspects of the industry, including people, the raceday experience and establishing an appropriate fixture list in 2021.
Goal nine focuses on putting in place foundations for a long- term sustainable recovery for British racing. It is eye-watering how disadvantaged British racing is when comparisons are made with other jurisdictions around the world. While we cannot go back in time and rewrite history, we can make the best of what we have and grow the incoming revenues streams together, ensuring they are directed fairly to all participants.
Media rights income has flowed into the sport, and out again, for over a decade. We can argue about the quantum but £250 million per annum is a good gauge. Changes to the structure of the picture deals means that this revenue stream will continue to grow as online betting becomes ever more popular. We must continue to improve this rich source of income and ensure that a fair proportion finds its way to the horsemen.
First stage levy reform made an immediate impact; the next stage of reform is now on the agenda and the industry must speak with one voice to ensure the best possible outcome.
Data from the betting industry since racing resumed shows that our product remains very popular; pre-conceived thinking that increasing the number of races per meeting could cause ‘punter exhaustion’ appears to be wrong, with races 7, 8 and 9 producing very healthy figures. This information can help frame the future race programme in Britain.
“We must secure the vast investment that owners make to the tune of £600 million each year”
British racing retains its strong appeal to international punters and the development of a unified platform to bet into a Tote-run pool has the potential to significantly enhance the pool-betting contribution to the levy.
If we work together, forge commercial agreements that access the growth in revenues and continue to lobby for further levy development, we can lay the foundations referenced in the recovery plan and both protect and grow the industry. However, we have to demonstrate progress on these vital goals as soon as possible, as we have seen the threat of international competition for our best horses and jockeys, while retaining owners remains one of the sport’s biggest challenges.
The level of prize-money, while crucial, is not the only factor affecting ownership numbers. Research from 2016 presented a stark picture, with over 44% of owners who left the sport citing racecourse facilities and treatment, and 20% of owners saying they would be decreasing their level of horses in training.
Clearly, there is a considerable amount of work to do to make our sport more attractive. That’s why the ROA will be rolling out its ownership strategy to help retain owners and inspire the next generation. This will not be easy as the impact of Covid-19 continues to affect the country, but simply doing nothing is not an option.
A cross-industry effort is required to improve the situation. Whether it is on-course facilities, prize-money, marketing, syndicate regulation or administrative costs, we need to improve the whole ownership experience to secure the vast investment that owners make to the tune of £600 million each year.
The ROA has a number of ideas to take ownership forward, including better promotion and regulation of syndicate membership, next generation engagement specifically with under-25s, modern and effective trainer engagement and communication, new data collection and sharing agreements in the industry, and better prize-money distribution amongst the winner and placed horses.
Now is the time to start addressing these issues, whilst working closely on the sport’s future funding model and of course making progress on the all-important commercial agreements with the racecourses over their contribution to prize-money.