Sunday 15 September 2013

Owners - #1 Stakeholders, #1 Economic Contributors …. But Well Last in the Economics of the Sport

I love this time of the year. Two year olds are coming out on to the track and showing us what they can do for next year; all the NH owners’ days are under way with the dreams of future Cheltenham and Aintree glories well and truly alive; and the champions’ days in Ireland, at Ascot, Longchamps and the Breeder’s Cup are still ahead of us. Lots to look forward to, and it is magnificent being an owner. Alas, the moose on the table (as one of my clients always used to say) is the lamentable return to most owners for their investment. In the last blog I was thinking of calling this one “Milking the 8,215 cash cows (owners) dry”. However, I’ve decided to stay with the facts as summarised in the Deloittes study, Economic Impact of British Racing 2013. But here is the key paragraph in the report for us:

“Owners are the single biggest contributors to the funding of British racing, both through their purchase of horses from breeders (£189m being breeders’ expenditure and commission paid on horse purchases) and ongoing training and racing expenditure paid to trainers, jockeys and supporting industries (£369m). After receipts of prize money and sponsorship of £85m, owners are estimated to have made a net injection of over £470m in 2012 (compared to £465m in 2008).”

So let’s dig into these figures as well as others in the report and highlight the key statistics and implications (bearing in mind that the key figures relate to 2012).

  • As owners, we’re putting the thick end of half a billion pounds a year into the sport. No-one else puts anywhere near that amount of money into the game. We are the #1 economic contributor, by a considerable margin. 
  • Prize money over the past decade has remained within a relatively narrow band between £94m and £110m. In 2012, it was down at £78m (although encouragingly it is rising through 2013). For every £100 an owner spent on training and racing their horse, they recovered on average £21. 
  • Cumulative inflation over the same decade has been 34%, so as an absolute minimum prize money should have gone up over that period by at least a third. 
  • Average costs per day for each horse in training rose from £54 to £62 over the four-year period to 2012.
  • Gross cost per run was £4,000 (reduced by 20% when prize money is taken into account). This is far more than virtually every other racing nation because of the low prize money in the UK. 
  • The expanding fixture list (particularly with the dross of A/W racing) has resulted in average prize money per race declining by 14% since 2003 (but of course has led to a rise in betting turnover). 
  • There were 24,000 horses in training during 2012. 17,500 appeared on the track. So over a quarter of all horses didn’t appear, and obviously made no contribution whatsoever for their owners. Of those that did appear, 6,500 won at least one race, so – big intake of breath – only a quarter of horses end up winning anything. 
  • Between 2008 and 2012, there was an 11% fall in the number of horses in training, and a 14% fall in the number of owners. 
  • 60% of all owners are involved in joint ownership in order to share the costs. 
  • The final statistic (from the ROA) is that the upper end of the ownership scale has been the most resilient. Owners with three or more horses are down 7%, whereas those with an interest in only one horse are down 16%.

Phew! At this point it’s probably best either to lie down with a large block of ice on your head, or alternatively bang said head against a brick wall. These figures just do not make any sense whatsoever. Having said that, I have no intention of decreasing my involvement, despite the economic lunacy of being an owner.

Graham Lee came out with a very interesting comment about his switch from NH to the Flat: “The jumps is about fun, but the Flat is about business.” I was talking to one of our owners and he both agreed with the statement while also thinking that it was ludicrous. Owners are being exploited because there is a view that they will carry on supporting the industry regardless because of their love for the game.

Well, my challenge to everyone in racing is let’s start looking at the whole game as a business first, and dramatically improve the total economics of the sport. That means that as owners, if we are the #1 contributor, there must be a fundamental shift in the returns. We are the #1 stakeholder, and if the economics don’t change, the whole sport is on extremely rocky foundations.


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