by Richard Wayman, ROA Chief Executive
A number of you may recall the considerable inconvenience that occurred in 2010 and 2011 as a result of the publication of the following year’s fixture list being delayed until November. This delay made planning extremely difficult for owners and trainers, not least because the Programme Book for the 1st quarter wasn’t published until after it was already under way!
Previously the fixture list had always been released much earlier to coincide with the production of calendars and diaries, and thankfully just about everybody now recognises the importance of avoiding a repeat of the past couple of years.
As a result, the BHA set up a Fixture Review Group to ensure a better co-ordinated and more structured approach was applied to producing the 2013 fixture list. In addition to considering the timetable for its publication, those of us on the Group had a number of other objectives including seeking feedback from the sport’s numerous stakeholders regarding the optimal size and shape of the fixture list.
It soon became clear that the racecourses, Levy Board and betting industry wanted to avoid any reduction in the number of fixtures. This position wasn’t shared by everybody and an alternative view was that there are too many fixtures resulting in prize-money being spread too thinly across too many races.
In assessing these alternative viewpoints, the Group reviewed the latest data ranging from owner and horse numbers to the fixture-related revenues streams flowing into the industry. The former showed that, inevitably, average field sizes have fallen as the number of horses has declined whilst fixtures and races have remained relatively static. As the proportion of races with small fields has increased, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, at least some of the time, racing has become a less attractive spectacle.
The financial data, meanwhile, shows that cutting fixtures and races would mean less money coming into the industry, with both levy and racecourse income, including media rights payments and admission revenues, likely to suffer.
The dilemma is clear. Whilst cutting the number of fixtures would improve the sport’s competitiveness, it would come at the price of reducing its income, leading to even less prize-money and a further loss of horses.
So when the 2013 fixture list is published later this month, nobody should be surprised if it looks pretty similar to the current version.
No doubt the decline in race competitiveness will be addressed with references to improving the race programme and trying to find ways to encourage horses to run more often. Whilst there is nothing wrong with either of those ideas, the reality is that the number of owners and horses will continue to decline until racing faces up to its current lack of prize-money.
When prize-money fell to £93.9m last year, it was returning to 2003 levels when there were over 200 fewer fixtures. Whilst turning the clock back to that sort of fixture list would appeal to some, the evidence shows that this would not provide the answer. Rather, our focus must be on ensuring that a fair share of the sport’s income is allocated to prize-money so that there are enough owners and horses to facilitate the fixture list that the sport’s other customers seek.
14 September 2012