An interesting piece in the Guardian by the excellent Greg Wood suggests that an elite group of British racecourses are keen to pool their high profile meetings and sell them as a package to the highest TV bidder. The comparison made, as is so often the case, is with the ‘Premierisation’ that we’ve seen in the world of sports, most notably football.

Well, here’s a prediction of what the going rate would be for a mixed package of Racing’s very best flat and jumps meetings; bugger all squared.

It’s staggering that there are people working in the highest echelons of the horseracing industry who still labour under the misapprehension that what they have to offer is a sport at all in the eyes of the outside world, let alone a sport that TV companies will pay good money to put in front of an audience. Comparisons with the Premier League of football are ridiculous. Millions of people throughout the country care what happens when Liverpool play Manchester United or when Arsenal play Chelsea. A tiny number of people care which horse can run faster than another on any given day. If you restrict your headcount of interested observers of a horserace to those who have not had a bet the number you’ll come up with is almost incalculably small.

The bulk of terrestrial TV coverage that Racing currently enjoys comes courtesy of a deal with Channel Four Television. The deal is simple. Racing pays Channel Four to be televised, not the other way round.

BBC TV has meanwhile, not altogether surprisingly, drastically reduced the amount of racing it covers and is already hard pressed to justify what it does spend on coverage given that Channel Four actually receives an income from racing for what the BBC pays for the right to show. The only half way saleable item in Racing’s entire range is the Grand National; a handicap chase of such an extreme nature that it bears almost no resemblance to anything else that takes place in the calendar. Anyone who thinks that there is an audience waiting to be entranced by events at Newmarket and Goodwood wants their bumps felt. Racing is not a sport in the true sense. It’s about the betting, stupid!

What is Royal Ascot to an armchair sports fan without the betting? It’s Henley on turf. What’s Cheltenham without the betting? It’s a kind of Anglo Irish cross country event in a field in Gloucestershire. What would any TV company pay to televise such events?

Time and time again there seems to be a confusion about what it is that racing offers. When I asked BHA chairman Paul Roy whether racing was a sport, or a social event, or a betting medium he replied that it was all of those things. That’s the problem. It’s only really , definitvely, one of those things.

It works as a day out for those who attend. That’s the case whether it’s a works do to Wolves on a Saturday night or a huge corporate and society splurge at Royal Ascot. That side of the business is what needs concern the individual racecourses in particular. Beyond that, and far more importantly, racing works as a betting medium. In fact, it is the betting medium.

There is not a single betting business of any size in these islands that was not built upon the back of horse racing betting, from Ladbrokes and Hills, to Betdaq and Betfair every one of them was founded on the high frequency racing betting medium. Sports do not stagger their events at timely intervals throughout the day, day in day out all year round. Racing does though because that’s what maximises betting turnover. If horseracing had never existed TV would be exactly the same as it is now but there would be no high street betting, no betting exchanges and no established sports betting culture in this country. It’s about the betting, stupid!

Racing’s repeated failure to acknowledge the fact that it is first and foremost the finest betting medium around has led to its leaders repeatedly underselling its product to the one customer who really needs to buy the goods and that’s the betting industry. Time and time again, when racing was the key staple in every betting fan’s diet racing’s rulers preferred to think of themselves in terms of breeding, of society, of the season, of anything but what racing is.

For the purists, there is drama and there is narrative aplenty and for those who find their way into an appreciation of the equine and human athletes there is much to admire. There is though, no meaningful comparison between the impact that events on the racecourse make on the sporting public’s consciousness compared with events in true sporting arenas.

The sooner Racing realises this and understands there is no shame in this truth the better. Look at the money that the Turf TV deal generated on top of the existing SIS deals. Look at the success of a channel like ATR in terms of the money feeding back in from punters to racecourses in both the UK and Ireland. When the old ATR channel came off air every major betting chain and exchange felt the impact. With no access to race by race opportunities phone and internet betting plummeted. Bookmakers, exchanges and spread betting firms don’t have telephone call centres and internet systems in place 24/7 to cater for the weekend football business. They have those systems in place, primarily to do business on the one betting medium that matters more than any other and that’s racing. Being the best in the entire world of betting is nothing to be ashamed of it’s something to be proud of and it’s something to be effectively charged for. Racing isn’t rugby, it’s not cricket and it sure as hell is not Premier League football.

Racing needs to get on and focus on what it has which no sport can rival. That is the perfect balance of luck and judgement, form and variance which, allied with frequency of turnover opportunity, makes it the ultimate betting challenge and the ultimate betting turnover generator. Racing needs to either effectively leverage that product through betting partners or compete in the betting market with its own products but either way it needs to forget all this nonsense of being a sport.

Some would argue that in Frankie Dettori, Racing has its own David Beckham. Fine, but where is Racing’s Lampard, Cole, Rooney, Terry, Torres, Ronaldo, Cantona, Ferguson, Wenger, Rednkapp? When Denman was ridden by Sam Thomas rather than AP McCoy did it make any difference to the casual viewer? No, of course it didn’t. There is no way that a sports fan can appreciate the different levels of ability and attainment of either horses or jockeys in the same way that they can judge a well struck cover drive, a beautifully curled free kick, a blistering 100 metre run or 149 break.

That’s why there is not now, nor ever will there be, an audience for horses running round fields without the betting element being absolutely central to the experience. Joe Bloggs doesn’t care which brown horse, ridden by an anonymous crouching figure who looks identical to his eye to all the other anonymous crouching figures, finishes in front of the other brown horses. Joe also can’t tell the difference between Sea The Stars covering 12 furlongs round Epsom and Eric Alston’s Star Addition covering 10 around Pontefract. Both achievements look identical to the untrained eye whereas no great education is required to know that nobody on your pub football team could hit the ball like Diego Forlan did in the World Cup and that nobody in the village first eleven can meet the ball like Kevin Pieterson does.

I’ve been saying it a long time and I’ll keep on saying it, it’s about the betting stupid!


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  1. fawwon says:

    Quite amazing that these “premiership elite” tracks are only on C4 because the broadcaster is being paid to show racing! What genius now thinks that something that they cannot give away to terrestial is now worth anything. I suspect that somewhere in the mix is a “consultant” who is floating this one whilst milking the racecourses out of some more dosh.

    Racing 4 Change and all the other initiatives – “It’s about all the consultancy fees stupid”. Racing is paying upfront for worthless advice.

  2. Tonk. says:

    Very well put Sean!!

    Watching this year’s coverage of Royal Ascot on the Beeb, I was struck by just how little racing was within the content of the programme; There were fashion presenters that went around commenting on people’s outfits, one of whom was so catty that I wanted to offer him a saucer of milk. They had features on catering, turf care, HM the Queen but, little on racing.
    The betting info was amusing, but one would expect that from the poor man’s Laural and Hardey. Little effort was made to explain anything about how betting works and what the odds presented represents. I know how the bookies come up with the odds and what they mean in reality but, I follow racing; I suspect most people that watch Royal Ascot are not seasoned racing fans and if they were, the Beeb would concentrate more on the racing side of Royal Ascot rather than other aspects of it.

    There are one or two races a year that gets the public interested; The Grand National and perhaps the Derby, I suspect those two races could be a marketable commodity but, I doubt TV companies would be prepared to pay millions for the right to screen them.

    The other problem racing has is this; It takes places when most people are at work and because, as you rightly say, the main attraction to racing is the gambling aspect, showing it not live is not an option.
    Most sports are bubblegum for the mind; one needs not put in much effort to enjoy them and they are easy to become an expert in; Racing is different, you need to study hard and put a lot of effort in to become an expert. (assuming any of us are really experts)

    Racing and betting still has a seedy reputation amongst the public, we need to shake that image before we can open the sport to more people, if indeed we ever can. Racing for change in my opinion is little more than a political style tick box exercise that costs a lot of money to facilitate.

    I think some courses have got their marketing about right and offer more than just racing but, this approach can only work in the summer. When I have taken non racing people to horse or greyhound racing, they have enjoyed it and were surprised by how much fun they had however, most never went again and none took it up as a serious hobby; That is the problem racing has to overcome.

  3. Santiburi says:

    Sean, the fun of sites like yours is that you often get to see the other side of debates that you’ve maybe never previously understood. I’m looking forward to seeing if anyone can give the other side to your view. You’re spot on and, once again, the folly of the people in charge of Racing is there to see in all its glory. It’s about betting, stupid! should be the motto of the replacement administration whenever it comes along.

  4. Patrick says:

    What a fantastic piece Sean, and yet there are some out there who will circle the wagons and try and refute your argument with baseless drivel the ones who think everything should be about the owners, even if racing is about betting stupid, was carved into their forehead.
    Yes its a sporting event for the people who bet on it, its a social event for the people who go racing to have bet on it, who would go racing if they couldn’t have a bet???, racing is just that! a betting medium.
    Trainers, owners, jockeys and breeders only exist because people like a bet on their profession, yet they afford the paying and betting public no respect whatsoever, they know we are large in number but all faceless individuals with no powerful lobby behind us to protect our interests as we continue indirectly to pay all and sundry within racings inner circle.
    They can afford to be smug and show false concern for punters grievances, because they look at these grievances as not much more than a storm in a tea cup and know it will be forgotten about in few days.

    Yes its all about betting stupid!
    But its a pity we the punter/racegoer can’t trust the people who prepare the product for us to bet on!.

  5. robert99 says:

    There is very little anyone could find to disagree on with this article. At one stage the Jockey Club belatedly realised that a representative of betting/ punters was an essential requirement for the “sport” and the subsequent BHA body co-opted Jim McGrath for that purpose. Now they have two Independent Directors, Jim and Morag Gray. One represents the media and owners, the other racecourses and owners. The punter representation has quietly disappeared and I am not aware of a single punter issue ever coming out of BHA.

    Scratching my head to come up with some positives about the Premiership racing idea. I would say that there can be a Desert Orchid effect which ignites wider interest so can a horse with a record number of wins which might be encouraged to race for longer at Premiership courses. How much the interest is because they regularly win takes us back to betting. Folks back a winning horse they know about.

    There could be a redevelopment of sprint races so that people get to know the fastest horse in UK and it might then race against the fastest horses from overseas. Not even Timeform know the fastest horse in UK let alone the general public. The Premiership could add sectional timing and body weight as a punter aid that distinguishes them with timing data and distance left to the line displayed in-running. So the tv presentation could be superior.

    The pool of horses rated high enough to run at Premiership meetings would reduce the mind numbing boredom of trying to keep up with wall to wall racing form. So many of the once attracted customers are giving up.

    It could have special Tote take outs lowered to 5.9% as TabCorps in Australia are trialling. The huge size of pools attracts media and public interest.

    Woodbine have a proper betting tv show “Bet Night Live” with booming audiences as they explain the subject and explain betting. So there can be a tv interest, if done properly.

    In the end it all comes back to betting.

  6. Santiburi says:

    Sean, I trust you’re well. I’ve been away on business so am just catching up on my reading and saw these two links from British Racing: and I don’t know whether you’d seen them anyway and have a view but I remain aghast at the naivety of the Racing for Change project.
    I’ve looked on their website and there’s a paucity of comments but astoundingly no feedback on the comments that are there. Yet, I then find attempts to get people talking about racing to their ‘friends’ on social networks as if going to the races is like going to the theatre, the movies or some other social event.
    As you said, racing is about betting, first and foremost and until Racing gets its relationships with the betting industry right, IMHO, it’s a downward spiral. From your position of visibility, is there a champion on the horizon anywhere who might try to change things soon?
    I note that there’s increasing levels of noise again from the bookies versus exchanges and Nic Coward to the world at large for the Levy pot not being full. I understand lobbying but am abhored with the repetitive rhetoric rather than any meaningful action.

  7. seanboyce says:

    Sorry for delay in your post appearing Santi, been on my hols. Had expected to be linked up with mobile data link but in the particular corner of darkest Norfolk we found ourselves in telegram was still the most modern and rapid means of communication!

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