10 Jun 2014 Racing/Fixtures

As part of the process of compiling the 2015 Fixture List, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) is undertaking an industry-wide formal consultation to establish feedback from the sport’s stakeholders and consumers on a range of proposals being developed.

While the consultation relates specifically to the 2015 Fixture List, the questions it raises are deemed critical to ensuring that British Racing is able to thrive in the long-term. The consultation focuses on the impact of the fairly recent and significant decline in field sizes and increased number of small fields – across all codes – and the ensuing repercussions on the competitive nature of racing and therefore its attractiveness to the end consumer, including racegoers, viewers at home and in the betting shop, or overseas.

The consultation seeks feedback on a range of proposals designed to assist in reversing the decline in field sizes. BHA is keen to address the issue in a collaborative manner, with all stakeholders presented with an opportunity to input and taking responsibility for the sport’s long-term success.

The consultation outlines several race planning proposals being developed by BHA with a view to addressing the trend of declining field sizes. However, BHA believes that race planning measures alone will not be sufficient to meet competitive targets, and so the prospect of a reduction in the number of races (from seven to six) at certain fixtures during specific times of the year is also being explored as part of a multi-layered approach. Where appropriate and supported by data, these reductions could be offset – in part – if an undersupply of races exists at specific times of the year.

This wider approach also encompasses the industry’s Strategy for Growth project, on which work is underway. It involves pillars focusing on increasing the horse population, ownership and breeding in future years, and on investment from targeted UK and foreign high net worth individuals.

The average field size in British Racing has fallen from 11.0 in 2005 to 9.0 in 2013 and while in more recent years the number of fixtures has not increased, the number of races run has. Although in 2008 there was virtually the same number of fixtures run as in 2013, there were 652 more races run with 10,146 races in 2013 compared to 9,494 in 2008. This increase in races has coincided with a significant decline in the horse population of well over 1,500 horses.

Paul Bittar, Chief Executive of BHA, said:

“BHA’s objective of producing compelling and attractive racing that is consistently amongst the best in the world is being threatened on account of a horse population relative to the size of the Fixture List that struggles to provide consistently competitive fields. While based on the IFHA World Thoroughbred Rankings a majority of the world’s best 15 Flat races are held in Britain, the situation with field sizes more generally is one that BHA firmly believes needs to be addressed to ensure a secure platform for developing the sport in the medium and long term.

“Quite simply, British Racing has to address the issue of small fields. Unless this trend is reversed, we are in danger of continuing to underperform against a number of key targets and losing our competiveness as a betting product, both in Britain and in international markets. An improvement of performance in field sizes to create value as a betting product will position the sport to optimise future returns from the principal revenue streams that drive prize money. Importantly, it should be recognised that improved performance in this area will help to sustain and enhance the performance of the Betting industry; a key partner and contributor to the sport.

“The 2015 Fixture List is arguably the most complex that BHA has been tasked with compiling. This consultation sets out our research findings to date and resulting proposals, and asks a number of questions aimed at refining and finalising the size and structure of the 2015 Fixture List. It also covers proposals for the allocation of up to 200 BHA-controlled fixtures, including whether All Weather racing should expand as a result of the developments at Chelmsford City Racecourse and Newcastle Racecourse.

“The data collated clearly shows that the issue of declining field sizes and increased frequency of small fields affects all codes of racing, albeit at specific times in the year. Our research has identified these pinch-points during the year which require attention. We are advocating a targeted approach to address specific issues, in order to build a platform from which the sport can prosper and which would underpin the wider ranging strategies for growth that are currently under development.

“The BHA Board is yet to make any final decisions, and in doing so we will take into consideration the responses to this consultation document. We look forward to receiving responses, ideally supported by data, from a range of stakeholders from right across the industry.”

The consultation document has been circulated to the industry’s stakeholders on Tuesday 10 June and will be available to view and download from the BHA website from Wednesday evening. The deadline for the return of responses to BHA is Tuesday 1 July. The findings will then be presented to the BHA Board and a summary of responses published.