From the desk of the ROA President Rachel Hood
Paul Bittar’s speech at the ROA’s Annual General Meeting not only set out an enterprising blueprint for the racing industry but also made it very clear that he sees the future role of the BHA as a governing authority whose function extends beyond that of purely regulation.
This was an interesting take on the political state of British horseracing in which, during the past two years, there has been an increasing move towards horsemen and racecourses leading the commercial side of racing with seemingly little involvement from the BHA.
In many ways, such a system is attractive because it would give horsemen the opportunity to negotiate a much improved financial return for their members. It is not difficult to see, however, that so long as we are seeking the same outcome, the BHA brings a lot to the party. As a governing authority, they can act as a facilitator between two sides whose relationship will often be adversarial; they are a body who is seen by the government, whether we like it or not, as the natural leader of racing; and they are racing’s rule-maker which, at a time when the industry will be undergoing significant structural changes, is a very strong card to hold, not least because they have the final say on both the fixture list and race programme.
In any case, if the objectives of the ROA and horsemen are clearly aligned with those of the BHA, then why should we push against the BHA remaining in the position of a central governing authority whose broad functions are, as Paul Bittar reminds us, to provide leadership and service?
Such alignment was certainly evident when Bittar said that the BHA would be “seeking to get owners and horsemen access to a fair share of all the revenue streams within racing”. At a time when racecourse media rights are increasing and levy income decreasing, it is a subject that is fundamental to ROA members.
Just as racing’s post-levy relationship with the betting industry is now moving towards a system based on a bookmaker licence condition, it may be that something similar could be the answer for underpinning the commercial relationship between horsemen and racecourses.
In today’s world, racecourses can spend their increasing media rights cash entirely as they wish, while a high proportion of money coming from the Levy Board must be spent on prize-money. How, then, can we achieve a “fair share” of racing’s overall income going into prize-money?
As Paul Bittar suggested, it can only be achieved if there is transparency regarding all racecourse income, of which a fair percentage should be returned to horsemen. How this would then translate for each racecourse would, of course, be a crucial second tier to this discussion.
Whilst many tracks would welcome the move to a more harmonious environment in which both horsemen and racecourses share the benefit of increasing the size of racing’s cake, it’s possible that others would not sign up to this, arguing that their media rights income was a matter for them alone. Of course, it would be their choice and, while sanctions such as removing fixtures from those courses could be difficult to enforce due to competition law concerns, the BHA and horsemen would be free to find legitimate ways of making life difficult for courses that remained outside of the tent.
It is a fact that, all the while significant money flows into racing that is outside the direct control of racecourses, the allocation of this money can be used to encourage courses to maximise their prize-money contributions. And if, as we believe, there are relatively few courses that do not recognise the importance of prize-money, it should not be too difficult to bring about a system where the sharing of racing’s total income is put on a formal basis. With BHA support, it may be a case of pushing at an open door.
17 August 2012