Racing industry leaders from the BHA, horsemen and racecourses have agreed on the next phase of the response to the COVID crisis. A wide range of work has been continuing since racing was the first major sport to resume on 1st June. But the plan published today puts an added focus on retaining owners and key investors and attracting customers when the public starts to return to racecourses.
The main aim is to restore revenues wherever possible and work for the full resumption of racing, with the best possible ownership and spectator experience, and the maximum attendance possible. The professionalism shown by participants – trainers, jockeys, racing and racecourse staff – in adapting quickly to the new social distancing restrictions has put racing at the forefront of plans to readmit the public to sporting events.
Leaders have committed to put in place a fixture programme for 2021 that seeks to maximise prize money within the severe financial constraints faced by participants, supported by new commercial agreements between Racecourses and Horsemen to be agreed. Funding from the Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) is currently supporting prize money after racecourse finances were severely impacted by the halt to racing and the continued absence of crowds.
The plans makes clear that weathering the recession will require the industry’s cost-base to be kept as low as possible, whilst targeted action and support should be directed at retaining owners and key investors, many of whom both breed and own horses in the UK. Leaders recognise the loyalty shown by owners since the crisis began. An industry ownership strategy will be published in weeks, including urgent retention measures. The plan also references ongoing work to manage the impact of Brexit.
Industry leaders also recognize the significant economic challenges faced by racecourses who rely on racegoers for 50% or more of their income. The return of spectators to the racecourse in significant numbers is a key priority within the recovery plan and is vital to restore the the economic prosperity of the sport for 2021 and beyond.
There is agreement that racing should be making a case for immediate Levy reform, seeking a level playing-field with other European racing nations after Brexit, through a fair return from bets placed on international racing. Sustainable prosperity is a longer-term goal but most resources will be focused on the shorter-term financial health of the industry.
Work is coordinated through the industry COVID group which has been continuing to meet weekly since June. All the workstreams in the recovery plan are already underway. The Members Committee of the BHA, which includes representatives of the RCA and The Horsemen’s Group, met last week and agree the plan published today.
As with the initial plan for responding to COVID which was published in March, there is a continuing emphasis on the wellbeing and welfare of people who work in racing. In addition, a Racing Relief Fund has been set up to provide financial support to prevent equine welfare issues emerging and details will be published in the next few weeks.
Speaking on publication of the plan, the Chief Executive of the BHA, Nick Rust said
‘It’s very important that this plan has been agreed by leaders from all parts of the racing industry. We know from the way we prepared to resume racing in June that working together works. The commitment shown by leaders in signing up to this recovery plan demonstrates a continued willingness to maintain a unified approach through the tough battles ahead’.
The Chief Executive of the Racecourse Association David Armstrong said
“The whole industry worked very well to enable Racing to return as the first major sport behind closed doors. Now we have to renew that collaboration as we enter this Recovery Phase and move beyond that into 2021. This plan brings together all the necessary components in one clear action plan with some ambitious goals. From a racecourse perspective the return of racegoers and the experience for owners are clear priorities that are already underway and we look forward to the wider recovery of the sport”
The Chief Executive of the Racehorse Owners Association, Charlie Liverton, representing the Horsemen’s Group, said
“This new recovery plan goes further towards protecting the long term future of our sport and formalizing collaboration between the stakeholders during this difficult period. It is imperative that we focus on the vital drivers that keep our sport going and growing: retaining owners and maximizing the sport’s revenues. There is a lot to be done but I am confident that, working together, we can deliver this vital work for participants across the industry.”