Writing in the Racing Post, our Group Chief Executive, Delia Bushell, outlines the financial impact of Covid-19 on British Racing as we resume racing behind closed doors and suggests the sport must emerge from this crisis doing some things differently.
Two months ago, we would not have guessed that Newmarket, our wonderful headquarters of Flat Racing, would be staging this week its first four-day fixture since 2003, with both of the Newmarket Classics saved. I can’t tell you how delighted I am that we have been able to resume racing again, albeit sadly without crowds at our courses.
Being the first sport to resume under careful guidelines is no less than our racehorse owners deserve for their patience and investment in this difficult period, and great news for trainers, stable staff, jockeys, racecourse teams, breeders and all others whose livelihoods depend on the sport.
I’d like to express our thanks in particular to the BHA’s Dr Jerry Hill and our fellow stakeholders on the Resumption of Racing group, and pay tribute to our racecourse teams up and down the country who have worked tirelessly to maintain racing surfaces and ensure we were in a position to restart.
At its core, British Racing is resilient and I believe we will recover. As a £4.1 billion industry in normal times, we are important to many local communities and also at the heart of the rural economy. However, this is going to be a long road back, and we will need to be prepared to do some things quite differently as we emerge from the crisis.
We will need to adapt to the different consumer and economic environment we are facing, and how we go about securing the future relevance of the sport.
Our industry has lost more than £100 million in revenues during racing’s suspension. When so many lives have been lost in the country, we have to view that financial impact in a different way to normal. Nevertheless, it is a significant financial hardship for our industry that will not be resolved overnight, and is being seen already in the need for reduced minimum values for prize money during this transition period.
Today we are Britain’s second-biggest spectator sport, without any spectators.
As I walked the course at Kempton on Tuesday, our stands, bars, boxes and restaurants sat empty. We have no income from general admissions, hospitality, conferences, events and in-venue spend at our tracks. That’s a significant proportion of our business.
Being the largest commercial group in the sport also means The Jockey Club is one of the hardest hit when those revenues grind to a halt, given the scale of our costs and the assets we need to maintain. We have introduced significant savings and cost freezes across our group, but we will be operating at a loss throughout the coming months, despite the resumption of racing behind closed doors.
Nevertheless, we have taken a really important first step this week, and our priority is to carefully deliver a safe and successful programme of racing behind closed doors so that, at the earliest appropriate opportunity, we are able to race in front of some level of public again.
Over the coming weeks, we have an opportunity for our events to attract increased viewers and interest – particularly in this short period where we have stolen a march on other sports. Maximising this moment is something our terrestrial broadcast partner, ITV, is focused on as they look to ensure our sport is accessible and exciting to as many as viewers as possible during this period.
While we are the second biggest spectator sport in attendance levels, only a proportion of those attendees follow the sport regularly. Racing’s fan base is smaller than the likes of football, cricket and rugby and, while the gender balance amongst our audience is stronger, the average age of those following the sport suggests nowhere near enough is being done to attract the next generation of racing fans.
We need people of all ages, backgrounds and means to enjoy racing to ensure our future is one of health and growth – to the benefit of all parties in the industry. Other major sports are driving hard to become more diverse, more understanding of their audience and more relevant, leading to growth. Racing will need to do the same, thinking innovatively about how to engage and retain the interest of as wide an audience as possible, and how to convert racegoers into true racing fans.
Football, for example, has used data science very effectively to engage the viewers of its TV coverage and users of its apps and social media platforms, in order to appeal to more 18-35 year-olds. This, in turn, has flowed through to enabling betting firms to offer innovative new formats on the sport.
Racing organisations, participants, media partners and sponsors all have a vital role to play to change the outlook of our industry – together. The decisions that we each make in the coming weeks, months and years are going to be crucial, and it is through this growth and recovery lens that The Jockey Club will focus its ongoing mission.
This weekend we will be staging the UK’s most important sporting contests, in the shape of the QIPCO 2000 Guineas and the QIPCO 1000 Guineas. How other sports would love to be able to say the same.