Three years ago, British horseracing decided to pool its collective terrestrial TV rights and sell them to a single broadcaster, Channel 4 (C4), the UK’s number three broadcaster in terms of overall audience share.
It meant that horseracing would no longer been seen on the BBC, the nation’s number one broadcaster, and who had pioneered coverage of the sport from the 1950s onwards.
Frankly, the results have been a commercial disaster.
An insightful item by Tom Kerr in yesterday’s trade newspaper, the Racing Post, provided some telling numbers. Last weekend’s Qipco Champions Day – billed as the finale to the European Flat racing season – generated an average C4 audience of just 367,000, just a third of that obtained when last shown on the BBC in 2012. Royal Ascot, one of the season’s highlights, generated 2.86 million viewers over its five day duration this year, down from almost 7 million when the BBC last broadcast the meeting three years ago. The 2015 Derby broadcast by C4 was watched by just 1.47 million, around half of that when last shown on the BBC, and a record-low for the premier English Classic.
This all demonstrates an enormous loss of viewers, who also represent potential betting customers and valuable racegoers.
Over the same period, horseracing’s share of the UK retail betting market has been overtaken by football, with the same trend happening online. Gaming Economics believes the two trends are inextricably linked, and thus remains one of the key issues facing the industry.
Although TV audiences for other individual sports are under similar pressures – as more and more individuals choose to watch their live sport on other devices – the ultra-important relationship between betting and live TV pictures remains as strong as ever.
A potential fresh deal with a new broadcaster is apparently being considered by British horseracing, and Gaming Economics believes the maintenance of weekly year-round coverage of the sport must be an essential requirement of any new agreement. The choice would seem to lie with either the BBC or iTV, the UK’s second-largest broadcaster; the former has major financial problems of its own, the latter has money but little recent experience of the sport.
What is clear, though, is that British horseracing simply can’t afford to repeat its costly error from three years ago. Generating fresh interest in the sport from a growing terrestrial TV audience is surely vital if the sport has any long-term future as a mainstream betting medium.
Lee Richardson – CEO – Gaming Economics