Wednesday 15 July 2015

Feast and Famine in the Fixture List: Programme Planning will be a Major Test for the BHA’s Collaborative Tripartite Board

If you’re keen on racing as well as other sports, then last weekend was positively exhausting. You can have multiple TVs on around the house and still have no chance of keeping up with Wimbledon, the Tour de France, first Ashes Test and Scottish Open as well as the onslaught of a totally Flat-dominated Saturday of Ascot, Chester, Hamilton, Newmarket, Salisbury, York and over in Ireland, Tipperary. Hardly surprising that the pundits had an alliterative field day, calling it all “Midsummer Madness”, “Feast and Famine”, “Surfeit of Stuff” and “Clearly Crackers”. Ladbrokes termed it “Groundhog Day”.

And then, incredibly, on Sunday there wasn’t a single Flat turf meeting in either Ireland or the UK. You scratch your head as to why, in mid-July, the choice is really moderate NH racing at Perth, Sligo, Southwell, Stratford or, if you’re really desperate, the all-weather at Dundalk.

As always at the moment in racing, it seems as though some stakeholders gain but others definitely lose. Such is the support at some of the tracks that York on their Magnet Cup day (which, full credit to them, they’ve been running now for over half a century on this day) had 40,000 attendees, Chester (with a pretty ordinary card) 28,000, Ascot 20,000 and yet the top meeting, with the July Cup, at Newmarket had a paltry 14,000 and only 37,000 over all three days of their top midsummer fixture.

We all know that Saturday betting turnover matters enormously, as it drives the levy and is ultimately such a big contributor to prize-money. All the betting operators were extremely critical of the weekend clashes, which led to many punters giving up due to racing overload. Some of the sponsors such as Bet 365, who had supported the Bunbury Cup at Newmarket, were naturally disappointed with the turnover. Trainers and jockeys faced a logistical nightmare. All in all, an indictment of the way the current fixture list and programme plan operate.

Tactically, although not necessarily as simple as it sounds, the obvious short-term requirement is to separate some of these meetings. In particular, the Newmarket July meeting over recent years has moved to the weekend and it should go back to a mid-week slot. John Smiths day, with its huge support and tradition, should be the anchor Saturday meeting. And then it is important to look at the weekends either side and see whether they can be strengthened. In fact when you look at this weekend’s fare, it is certainly not particularly impressive and again illustrates the need to balance the fixture list.

Strategically though, it is not sufficient just to tinker around with a few race days and a few meetings. The whole of the programme, end to end across the year, needs significant review. Indeed if I put my former management consultancy hat on, it is a classic for data analysis of meetings, racecourse attendances, betting turnover and the needs of the racehorse population in the context of the total amount of racing in both in the UK and near neighbours. Mathematically it is possible to work out the absolutely optimal pattern that maximises the total revenue and margin of British racing. That can be compared against the current arrangement and a migration plan determined to move the current, inherently ineffective system towards the optimal one ….. and yes, I can already hear the sound of pigs taking off from the runway.

As always this is not just a logical exercise. If you’re generous it involves give and take on the part of racecourses, and if you’re not, it is at the heart of the need for the BHA to take more control over British racing from certain stakeholders and, in this example, specifically the racecourses. The tracks need to give up power, in other words. I’m sure that is an implicit assumption behind the behavioural dynamics of the new tripartite board representing the BHA, the Horsemen’s Group and the Racecourse Association. Success or otherwise will certainly be one of the prime tests of how well the collaborative model can work in practice.

It could be harder to solve than the Greek debt crisis!?! We wish everyone well around the negotiating table.

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