Turf united as slump hits sponsors

By staging its annual conference in the heart of Westminster, surrounded by edifices massively expressive of durability and influence in church and state, perhaps the British Horseracing Authority hoped to instil proceedings with a corresponding sense of security. But a more pertinent tone was set as Paul Roy approached the chairman’s lectern, only for a disembodied voice to begin lengthy instructions concerning evacuation procedure. It concluded with one, final admonition: “You must take care when crossing the road.” The hall did not know whether to laugh or cry, but at least the twin themes had been set. For even in a domesday scenario, you will never stop some people stating the bleedin’ obvious.

In fairness, at least there was a convincing show of unity from factions whose dreams of avarice caused such fratricide in the good old days. Times like these doubtless concentrate the mind, but credit must also go to Roy’s self-consciously modern regime. Nor were its leaders bereft of intelligent insights as they groped for a way out of the economic midnight. Indeed the chief executive, Nic Coward, concluded the conference like the prophet in the wilderness, suggesting that the present environment had auspicious parallels with the birth of the Premier League.

Inevitably, it was necessary to endure a presentation from racing’s “rebranding” consultants. Once you got past the pillage of the English language (which achieved a brutal nadir in the word “premierisation”) it contained truths so unexceptional that they approached truism. Essentially these concerned the sport’s broader “invisibility” – above all its monochrome, commercially distasteful demographics – but doubtless remained worthy of reiteration to an introspective community.

Naturally it remained unclear how racing was supposed to meet enthusiastic but vague exhortations to get itself “from the back to the front pages and into Hello! magazine”. After all, for a minority sport it already enjoys grossly disproportionate exposure – including, for the time being, on terrestrial television. The only specific aspiration seems to be a £5m marketing fund.

Just where anyone will get his hands on that kind of dough is, of course, an increasing preoccupation. The Racecourse Association chairman estimated that sponsorship has slumped by 40 per cent, while corporate income is haemorrhaging. Anxiety pervades the breeding, racing and betting industries. Thoroughbreds are luxury goods. But at least the situation is being addressed with due sobriety, notably the welfare implications when a horse becomes viewed as too expensive a plaything.

Tim Morris, the BHA equine science director, said that only three unwanted thoroughbreds had entered abattoirs in January. “It’s important to deal in facts,” he said. “Not rumour or tabloid innuendo. Let’s not make a problem where there isn’t one, but equally let us plan ahead. We shouldn’t be alarmed, but we should be alert.”

The same spirit – prudence tempered by ambition – pervaded many of the broader aspirations, not least Coward’s hopes to modernise the anachronistic levy apparatus by which racing gains its ounce of flesh from bookmakers. As one of the lawyers involved at the time, and having subsequently joined the Football Association, his reminder that the Premier League emerged from the last recession merits respect. “It was a sport that had massive, unexploited, latent potential,” he said. “When Sky came into the market, the true value was released. When people look at what broadcasting rights might be worth, it’s not down to what subscriptions are, or advertising, but what it’s worth for that broadcaster – in the totality, compared with not having those rights. And that’s the kind of question we have to ask about fixtures. We want to get our true value.”

As Roy had observed, the crisis would bring its opportunities. Correction in the bloodstock market would make horses more affordable, and deeper travails in, say, Formula One could yet give racing a new appeal. “When the going gets tough, you don’t draw in your horns,” he said. “We’re not out there on a whim.”

Suggested Topics
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'