Monthly Archives: July 2011

2/1 a skinny price for a marriage to last 10 years? Newlyweds have £500 on

A recently-married Yorkshire couple have bet £500 that they will reach their tenth wedding anniversary.

Chris Elrick and Helen Moore of Oakworth were given the free bet by William Hill having initially contacted the bookmakers with a request for some company merchandise to use at their reception. They were decorating guests’ tables with various themes and wanted one to be horse-racing related.

The bet was placed at odds of 2/1, meaning the newlyweds will collect £1,500 if they last a decade.

Bride Helen explained that, although the couple go to the races together, it was her husband Chris who was the more serious punter: “We call him the John McCririck of the family,” she said. “He’s got an account with William Hill and reads up on all the horses. I just like getting dressed up for the day. He is the lucky one out of the two of us and he’s had some good wins.”

BHA finally admits it is powerless over fixtures

From this article by Chris Cook in The Guardian today, a quote from Paul Struthers, head of communications at the BHA

“We have responsibility for the fixture list but without any really significant power,” Struthers said, pointing out that Newmarket had been able to move its fixture from a weekday to the Saturday without having to obtain the BHA’s consent. “It has been well documented that that was almost too strong a day’s racing, particularly when looking at the Saturdays on either side of it.

“But Saturday is the most accessible day for people to go racing, to watch racing and to bet on racing. In the current climate, with the levy system broken and offshore bookmakers not paying towards it, racecourses have to try to maximise revenue.”

Paul you cannot expect to have any power when you effectively give away your only bargaining tool – fixtures. The BHA should now withdraw its claim that it ‘governs’ Racing. It might remain as regulator but will, I suspect, only be permitted to regulate according to the wishes of whatever ‘structure’ emerges from the unholy alliance of racecourses and The Horsemen.

Paul Struthers has said that the BHA’s loss of control over fixtures has been historic – racecourses’ ‘rights’ to fixtures have also been cited as ‘historic’.  The BHA claims to be the governing body; governments are allowed to change things. The BHA could have taken back full control of  fixtures – the battle would have been worth it.  Can you ever see the day the Premier League cedes fixture control to clubs?

The BHA had the chance to take back the power, instead it has chosen to surrender both power and responsibility to some as yet unknown new organisation comprising two bodies who’ve been at each other’s throats since tariffs were imposed by one of them – The Horsemen’s Group. What chance have these two of coming up with something that will sustain racing as we know it?  None, is my guess.

I understand the surrender of fixtures control by the BHA is also requested in the submission from the Association of British Bookmakers regarding the Levy replacement.  Well as the quote at the top shows, that has already happened – the first and key strike in the bookmakers’ divide and conquer strategy delivered without a drop of blood spilled.

Those who love the sport should get themselves a nice map of Britain’s racecourses for posterity.  Bookmakers will have a new market over the next decade – betting on the next racecourse to close.

Shame on you BHA.

 

Rebekah’s poor judgement seems to have seeped into husband Charlie who calls for loss of broadcast protection for Grand National

I think Charlie Brooks, husband of the famous Rebekah, has got it badly wrong in his Telegraph article calling for loss of protected status for both the Derby and the Grand National.

His timing is either audacious or bloody awful as he slates the BBC and says these races should go to the highest bidder (read BSkyB).

Apart from the potential political implications, loss of terrestrial TV rights for the Grand National would be a disaster for racing. Losing The Derby probably wouldn’t make much difference, but the National, warts and all, is UK racing’s glorious global shop window – the last thing it needs is commercial shutters pulled across it.

Even Rebekah might have the brains to give Charlie a slap if she gets home tonight. (She took Ross Kemp out in a catch-weight contest, Charlie should be a cinch)

Fancy5 humanely destroyed by 66/1 Weetentherty

RIP the Racing Post’s Fancy5 competition. It seemed a good idea on the face of it and the Post should be congratulated for continued innovation.

A month ago I wrote that I thought the competition would not survive long due to the absolute necessity of needing high priced winners to be in the hunt.

I checked today at the end of afternoon racing and I think the leader at that point had chosen two winners  at 33/1 and 16/1 – he or she must have already ordered the champagne. It now looks as though that entry might not have finished in the top 50 due to the number of people who picked Weetentherty the winner of the 7.00 at Hamilton at 66/1 (14s in RP betting forecast).

That ‘teatime’ leader will not be playing next week – I doubt the bitter pill of today will be even halfway down by then.

Racing Post editor Bruce Millington hinted yesterday on Twitter that Fancy5 has yet to make the paper any money – partnership arrangements won’t have helped in the ‘profits’ split.  I suspect Bruce is reacting now in the same way as the fella whose image you see at the top of this post.

Dear BHA, here is why you are losing my trust

I wrote an article earlier today about “Racing’s” submission to the DCMS. One or two tweeters thought it raised some good points. Paul Struthers. head of communications at the BHA asked those tweeters to highlight the good points so he could respond to them. This resulted in a flurry of tweets – never satisfactory when trying to debate.

Paul Struthers is pretty much the voice of the BHA.  He’s unfailingly helpful and a credit to his employers but, in my opinion, the belief of his chairman, Paul Roy ( ‘everyone else is to blame except us’) is beginning to seep into Mr Struthers – not unusual by any means; the culture at the top of any organisation inevitably permeates throughout.

Paul Roy’s interview in last week’s Racing Post, revealed a man with little self-awareness. The Levy Board was to blame for Racing’s plight, and bookmakers and the Racing Post and racing people who “only read headlines and look at the pictures”.  The last slight was veiled in a ‘because they are too busy to read the details’ caveat, but the implication, for me, was that no one else except Mr Roy had the intellect to analyse and provide answers to racing’s problems.

This is the chairman of the BHA. His ability to make sound judgement on matters can be divined from both what he said in the interview and indeed, in his agreeing in the first place to do it.  He sees himself as some misunderstood potential saviour of racing if only everyone else would stop making mistakes.  Most others see him, I suspect, as a loose cannon.  I repeat – this is the chairman of the BHA.  Is it any wonder then that the organisation regularly comes under fire from so many sides?

Racing’s DCMS submission

The key planks of  Racing’s submission to the DCMS are:

We want enforceable commercial arrangements between willing buyer and willing seller, made possible
by legislation.

We want Media Rights payments to be ignored in any commercial negotiations.

On the first, they do not have a willing buyer under the conditions they want, and they will not find one because of their second demand. Running a betting shop now requires payments of over £20,ooo for the services of SiS and Turf Tv. Racing’s submission poses the happy scenario that “Many punters will enjoy racing coverage while only infrequently placing bets on races”  Find me a handful of punters in any shop who will watch a race without having had a bet on it.

The submission also casts dark doubts on the veracity of the Levy figures:

The current framework, despite its historic advantages, is proving too inflexible to allow for
innovation. Annual negotiations are a disincentive to long-term, constructive partnership and
render planning impossible.  This latter point is exacerbated by the alarming decline in yield
in recent years. Racing is provided with little, if any, information to help arrest the decline,
and there is no evidence to show that the decline is due to the levels of betting activity on
our sport.

And how about this for a piece of disingenuous spin:

On this point, we have not viewed the pre-consultation as the stage or forum to conduct
extensive economic analysis – amongst other things,  we have not sought to pre-judge
commercial negotiations around our value  – but have just concluded in tandem a
considerable piece of consumer research through Racing For Change that  included the
changing betting patterns of British punters, over 2,700 of whom contributed fully.
Our third-party research showed that the large majority of existing punters had increased
their betting levels on British Racing; 29% betting more than five years ago (rising to over
50% for the highest spending punters).

This information was taken from the publication of results of the recent online survey conducted by RfC. I queried the methodology here and got no response.  My key question was ‘What was the breakdown of survey respondents by job?’ I have a strong suspicion that the majority of respondents, perhaps 75% or more, make their living within the industry.  If I’m right, then they are hardly a representative sample of the betting public and presenting these figures in the pre-consultation document borders on deception.

Some direct questions for Paul Struthers

Of the six signatories to the response, whose idea was it to include these ‘betting pattern’ figures?

When this online survey was being planned, was it always the intention to use these betting pattern figures in the DCMS response?

In what way was this research ‘third party’? It was commissioned by RfC; I assume the questions were set by RfC/BHA/Racing – what aspect makes it ‘third party’?

If the RCA has signed the submission to represent racecourses, what are Arena, Northern Racing and Jockey Club racecourses doing as petitioners in the document?

Media Rights

Paul Struthers believes I am prejudiced in my views on Racing’s submission; here’s a definition of prejudice: An adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts.

I have examined the ‘facts’ as Paul has chosen to present them as I read every word of the submission.  I certainly nurse a long held frustration at the catastrophic lack of foresight of what, for me, is the key aspect of racing’s ills, the meek surrender by the BHA of the rights to fixture allocation. Paul claims that ‘this ship sailed in the Savill era’, but that is a failure to understand the issue.

Peter Savill discovered in his loss to William Hill in court, that data rights could not be sold in the way he wished – an early attempt at establishing a ‘betting right’.  But what has happened in allowing racecourses to negotiate media rights for fixtures was bookmakers feeling forced to take a product at a price which seriously affects their margins on the sport. OK, they need to have it – for now – but the steady decline in Levy mirrors the resentment of bookmakers towards Racing’s ‘product’.  They are not keen to push it – they make very little from it – they are doing their best to push other higher margin products to their customers.

Racing does not seem to understand that betting shops are the channels through which its product is sold.  Betting shops provide 8,500 outlets for Racing to take advantage of. If Racing were a new business which set up tomorrow it would probably and happily pay to have 8,500 outlets selling its product.

Instead it builds bitterness and resentment among its main retailers – the only ones guaranteed to pay Levy – which fuels both a desire and a business imperative to relegate the product until it becomes of so little consequence to punters that they can take it off the shelves permanently.

Had the BHA the gumption to take back full control of fixtures, they would be able to ensure they could ‘work with the betting industry’ to reach a deal which made sense for everyone.  Instead, they have surrendered to all the other clawing fingers in the pie who each want a big slice and who don’t care for anything except the short term.

That, Paul, is why you should have kept the fixture rights; not so you could sell them at a big price but so you could sell them at a price your retailers could afford. A price which made them happy to promote the hell out of it to the benefit of both of you. But the BHA got tired of the infighting and decided they just want to be regulators.

If they’d handed fixture control to a sensible bunch, it wouldn’t be so bad. But The Horsemen and the racecourses now have the fixtures between them.  The Horsemen’s vision so far has been to put out of business those racecourses who would not (mostly could not) pay the Danegeld. Their Chief Exec, Alan Morcombe seems exceptionally proud of this ‘strategy’ which would result in reduced betting opportunities, less Levy and smaller media rights payments.  Mr Morcombe showed more of his commercial nous today when naming his price for a ‘betting right’, breaking the first rule of negotiation – take a view on his judgement from these ‘strategies’.

In the fixtures, The Horsemen and racecourses probably believe they have landed a mighty beast for which they can demand a high price; in reality they will be battling over a carcass and the longer the fight for the lion’s share goes on between them, the more fly-blown and worthless that carcass will become.

If Paul or anyone else cares to debate this article, can we do so through leaving comments on the blog?  There is then no restriction in text length and the ‘trail’ of responses is easily followed.

“Racing’s” naive Levy replacement response likely to get short shrift from Mr Penrose

“The bookmakers have said that they would like a proper commercial relationship and we would like to see the whites of their eyes across a negotiating table, because we believe that the market will bear us out.”

Fighting talk from Chris Brand, acting Chief Executive of the BHA which today published its response  to the pre-consultation exercise on a replacement for the Levy.

The response consists of a letter, a document and an annex; the combined content is lengthy but my summary of it is this:

Racing wants a commercial agreement within which bookmakers would pay a fee for the right to take bets on UK horse racing.  That agreement would be in the accepted form of any commercial contract but Racing wants additional protection by way of specific legislation governing that agreement.

Standard legal recourse for breach of contract is not deemed sufficient for Racing – if a nasty bookmaker duffs it up, Racing still wants to send its Dad round.

Racing’s response is addressed to John Penrose MP at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).  Putting myself in the shoes of Mr Penrose, here is the letter I would send back to Racing.

Dear Racing,

Firstly, who are you?  Your letter of July 4th was signed by six individuals but who or what exactly is ‘Racing’?  I see on your web page you have a Racing United logo, yet two of your signatories, Mr Morcombe and Mr Atkins have only recently announced that they will stop bickering in public.

Mr Atkins speaks for the Racecourse Association, a body which does not represent all UK racecourses. Mr Morcombe speaks for The Horsemen’s Group who, I understand, are very proud of their key business strategy of boycotting Racecourse Association members who do not conform to The Horsemen’s Group’s diktat on how much prize money each race should carry.

Mr Bazalgette appears to represent The Jockey Club which runs 14 racecourses. The other signatories represent Arena Leisure and Northern Racecourses who, between them, own seventeen of the UK’s ‘smaller’ racecourses. What entitles these three groups to speak for Racing in this proposal when there are 29 remaining racecourses without individual representation?  Am I to assume the RCA speaks for these other racecourses?  If so, why then could they not also speak on behalf of the 31 represented in this letter? Could it be anything to do with the media rights interests of those 31 courses, the same media rights you would like us to disregard in deciding a Levy replacement?

Hopefully, you now understand why I ask who or what is Racing?  It is a key point; if you cannot, at this early stage agree who or what you are, how are any profits from the Levy replacement solution to be distributed to ‘Racing’?

I understand that some new structure within racing will hand the rights to racing fixtures to racecourses and The Horsemen’s Group. Given that these fixtures are your sole negotiating tool for both media rights and any Levy replacement, should this new structure not become ‘Racing’? That would seem to me a practical solution although, given the animosity between racecourses and The Horsemen’s Group, perhaps they might take an awfully long time to reach agreement between themselves on any future commercial structure.

Finally, a comment on the key thrust of your document; the main reason the DCMS wishes to find a Levy replacement is so that, in future, matters between parties can be settled within the structure of standard commercial agreements. Your strong desire for us to introduce specific legislation governing such a commercial agreement would be, in your parlance, a ‘non-runner’.

Please contact me again once you have decided who you actually are.

Yours in frustration (but not surprise)

John Penrose