British racing’s industry strategy is entering a critical stage, as proposals are being developed to revamp the 2024 fixture list to showcase the sport’s premier events. The strategy was agreed upon by British racing’s leadership last autumn and covers issues such as internationally uncompetitive prize-money, concerns about the drain of equine talent abroad, and downward pressure on field sizes and attendances. The industry programme board has been formed to oversee delivery, but decisions on the most urgent aspect of the strategy, the 2024 fixture list, are aimed for before the end of May.
BHA chief executive Julie Harrington said that efforts to progress the industry strategy were entering “an important and exciting phase.” Harrington stated that decisions were being made about the structure, presentation, and promotion of British racing’s product, including the fixture list, funding, and the race programme. She added that there was “scope for so much innovation and improvement in these areas.” The focus is on how to use the shop window of premier events to grow the appeal of the sport to existing and new fans, presenting a more readily identifiable top end to the sport that engages customers in a way that delivers long-term benefits across the entire industry. The industry is also looking at how to use its core fixtures to increase the engagement of racing’s existing customers.
According to Harrington, access to data from betting operators has proven to be a game changer, giving insight into how bettors behave. This data allows the industry to factor fan and bettor behaviour into their approach to programming fixtures and races, resulting in a more competitive sport that is more appealing to fans, owners, trainers, the betting public, and investors, ultimately generating greater revenues that can filter down to participants through prize-money.
Harrington said progress on the strategy had only been made possible by changes to the governance structure of British racing. These changes gave the BHA power to make “difficult but strong decisions.” A new commercial committee, made up of representatives of the racecourses and Thoroughbred Group, was formed last year to advise the BHA, but when that body cannot agree, the BHA board will be the final arbiter. There have been fears that this could be where the new structure might fail. Harrington admitted that some decisions would benefit some groups more than others and some decisions might impact on some parties in the short term, but the objective is that everyone will benefit from an increasingly popular sport with a growing number of customers and investors. The BHA board will have to make difficult decisions to progress the sport, but Harrington said the commercial committee was operating well and she was confident the structure would allow progress to be made.