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Fewer fixtures means less income for racing warns Ladbrokes Coral director.

Byline: Lewis Porteous

A LEADING bookmaker has warned a reduction in the number of fixtures will hit revenues to the sport and was not the best way to try to increase field sizes.

Horsemen may largely be in favour of the BHA's cuts to the fixture list but bookmakers have responded less positively, with a leading industry spokesman insisting the sport could increase field sizes without the predicted reduced income that could result from fewer fixtures.

While a reduction of fixtures had been called for by many amid growing concerns for the wellbeing of participants and lower than desired field sizes, Simon Clare - public relations director of Ladbrokes Coral - warned it will come with the inevitable consequence that racing's income will also fall.

The BHA is tasked with balancing the demands of not just the betting industry, but the racecourses and the horsemen and women who keep the show on the road, and the 1.32 per cent reduction of 20 fixtures to 1,491 in 2020 has largely been driven by welfare concerns for the individuals involved.

Clare acknowledged this, but still voiced concerns. He said: "Clearly the BHA has a difficult job to do to try to balance all the various needs of its stakeholders and the horse population, as well as supporting revenue generation for racing.

"However, while there are other considerations, purely from a commercial perspective it needs to be recognised that a cut in fixtures will cause a reduction in income to the sport."

Racecourses too were reluctant to lose fixtures and pushed for the 2020 fixture list to remain the same size as this year, arguing that at a point when media rights revenue is under pressure and the levy has fallen sharply, this is not the time to reduce income still further.

"A proportion of the money bet on these lost fixtures will transfer to non-racing products rather than other horseraces so some levy is likely to be lost, but more significantly all the media rights and streaming payments to racing for these fixtures will also disappear, resulting in a net loss in revenue to racing," said Clare.

Next year's fixture list will be the first since 2012 to stage fewer meetings than the previous year but, while the data modelling that accompanied Tuesday's official unveiling of the fixture list by the BHA suggested a reduction of fixtures could help increase field sizes, it is something Clare takes issue with.

"Anyone arguing that this cut in fixtures will help improve field sizes is arguing for incredibly blunt surgery, akin to cutting off someone's foot because they'd stubbed their toe," he said.

"There is much more constructive work that can be done to align race opportunities to the profile of the available horse population throughout the year, which is by far the best way to address field-size issues with much greater precision.

"Looking forward, however, it is really encouraging that racing and betting operators are now working closer together than ever within the Betting Liaison Group, and this should deliver improvements to the race programme, and to the betting performance on racing, which will grow betting revenues to the sport and give confidence that the current fixture list is sustainable."

The BHA was aware of that potential drop in income for the sport but felt it worth the cost to improve conditions for those working within the sport, and members of the National Trainers Federation (NTF) responded more positively.

Trainer Ralph Beckett, who is on the NTF council, said: "In the horsemen's view the fixture list needs to get back to a point that drives interest, because that is what will drive turnover. That's got lost in its exponential expansion.

"Whether this is the start of a move in that direction remains to be seen, but I certainly hope it is. Whatever the racecourses say, we had the same size fixture lists as we did in 2008 when there were 1,000 more horses in training and 1,000 more registered owners than there are now.

"That alone says the horse population does not fit the fixture list - that's it in a nutshell."

The horse population this year is 20,703, up from 19,804 in 2015, while in the same period average field sizes have increased from 8.62 to 9.01.
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Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Article Type:Financial report
Date:Aug 8, 2019
Words:719
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