Fans don't just have to be at the racecourse anymore
For racing fans, the variety of different racecourses around the world presents a fascination, both in terms of the type of horse that performs best on each, but also in their scenic variety. Picturesque venues like Killarney in Ireland or Hexham in Northumberland contrast with city backdrops to metropolitan courses like Auteuil, London's Kempton Park, or Tor Sluzewiec in Warsaw.
The endless variety of racing is only matched by the myriad of differing business models driving racecourse profitability. Continental European turf authorities are heavily reliant upon betting revenues from totalisator monopolies to the extent that racecourse admission can often be free.
By contrast, the racing models of Britain and Ireland are more heavily reliant upon spectator admission revenue and ancillary spend, by dint of legislation permitting off course betting by independent operators. The right business model is a source of constant discussion. In the UK and Ireland, the lack of vision that led to the legislation of betting shops in the 1960s is a source of angst even now nearly 70 years on, yet racecourse audiences in the UK and Ireland are the envy of virtually every European turf authority. Partnering bookmakers to drive interest, racecourse footfall and importantly, terrestrial television coverage has been a key driver to growth in horse ownership and participation at every level in the sport.
However, the role of the spectator in the business mix is diminishing year on year, and the reason is simple. Increasingly, the tussle for supremacy is between racing authorities or partnerships seeking dominance of the screen - TV, PC, tablet or mobile to drive betting interest.
A fine example of this is today's announcement that the UK's Racecourse Media Group (RMG), responsible for a range of racecourses’ media rights businesses, is collaborating with HBA Media, the pre-eminent horseracing media rights agency, to market and distribute British and Irish horseracing to an international audience, as part of a three-year representation agreement.
The new arrangement means HBA Media, working closely with RMG, will globally showcase RMG’s British and Irish portfolio, including feature events such as the Randox Grand National Festival, the Cazoo Derby Festival, the Qatar ‘Glorious Goodwood’ Festival, the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival, Longines Irish Champions Weekend and QIPCO British Champions Day. The international showpiece events – the Dubai World Cup Carnival and the Bahrain International Trophy – are also among the portfolio.
The deal complements HBA Media’s existing commercial agreements with Ascot Racecourse that incorporates the Royal Meeting as well as all their Flat and National Hunt racing, plus the very best overseas contests, such as the Lexus Melbourne Cup, the Breeders’ Cup, the Pegasus World Cup and the richest race in the world – the Saudi Cup, which has been granted valuable Group 1 status.
This new portfolio of top-class events forms an unrivalled year-long international racing calendar and a one-stop shop for broadcasters looking for premium horseracing.
Where international terrestrial or digital channels pick up on quality racing from the UK and Ireland, interest from betting firms wishing to capitalize on the exposure in their own territories, or indeed to expand their own international footprint, grows organically, accelerated by proactive sales effort.
French and UK racing organisations representing rights holders are head to head in pursuing foreign markets for their racing products, competing against each other to provide compelling content, just as in South East Asia, they compete against Australian and Hong Kong racing. The quality of each is superb; the British would predictably argue that the atmosphere created by large crowds gives them an edge but in reality each is perfectly pitched.
Henry Birtles, Chief Executive of HBA Media, said: “Our new alliance with RMG as distribution partner for their premier British, Irish, Dubai and Bahrain racing further bolsters HBA Media’s ability to package the very best events from around the world under one umbrella, to the benefit of all federations we are fortunate to work with and represent. Through this aggregation of global rights, we can look forward to leveraging the unique nature of each individual event, driving a higher commercial outcome for the collective. Our broadcast clients have been eager for one consistent package of racing that covers 12 months of the year."
This then is the future of racing; the ability to watch high quality horseracing anytime, anywhere all over the world. At a purely racecourse level, there remains an imperative to create a memorable event each time, but the bigger picture portrays a fight for media rights supremacy that has some way to run yet.