Racing: business or sport?

Chelsea football club yesterday hosted the inaugural Leaders in Racing conference alongside a similar event for Leaders in Football. Had you attended you might well have come away wondering whether racing was a sport at all.

Over 200 senior leaders of the racing industry from some 20 countries attended to debate the business of racing. Their discussion was littered with business terms and allusions. John Penrose, Minister for horseracing betting, had his crystal ball out, when he referred to the place racing has in the economy. “Racing and gambling should be symbiotic in its discussions to redesign the levy system, or an alternative, for the 21st-century, or even the 22nd and 23rd centuries. Racing and gambling need to negotiate like two suppliers, such as Procter & Gamble negotiate with Tesco.”

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Penrose referred to the commercial reasons that had led many bookmakers to move offshore and suggested that this was proving disastrous for racing. Of course that situation is not simply something affecting racing in Britain and delegates from Hong Kong, Singapore, South Africa and the USA all reflected the decreasing share of the global gambling market which racing has.

Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, chief executive of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, raised four issues of concern – competition, brand perception, product supply and customer experience – and how racing jurisdictions need to be “vertically integrated” like Hong Kong.

Kim Heng Teo, of the Singapore Turf Club, echoed many speakers’ views, by stressing the need to “bring out the emotive connection between the customer and the sport itself”, rather than just betting.

Simon Balzagette was optimistic about the future for racing in the UK when he said, “We’ve been doing some great things such as Racing for Change and the British Champion Series. Looking ahead to British Champions Day it looks like we are going to have the best race day in the world. TV audiences are up between 30 and 40%, course attendances between five and 6%. We’re making progress and people want to get involved with racing more. You will see Channel 4 wanting to do more, and ITV, Channel 5 and other broadcasters wanting to get involved as we have a great story to tell.”

I’m glad I wasn’t there myself, as I don’t think I’d have understood much of what was going on. I’ll just concentrate on finalising my couple of bets for tomorrow’s Cesarewitch.

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