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
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
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?
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.