Charlie Parker: radical new proposal deserves fair hearing

11 June 2024

It is a pleasure to welcome Louise Norman as the ROA’s new Interim Chief Executive. Many of you will have come across Louise in her role as Head of Membership and her work with the VAT Solution, where she has already made a significant contribution to the association. There is undoubtedly a lot to do at the ROA and obviously within the wider industry and Louise has the Board’s full support in her new position.

There has been plenty of noise recently around the two-year trial of Premier racing, which began on January 1 at Cheltenham and has rolled through the first five months of the year. Whilst fresh initiatives have been introduced, such as creating a window on a Saturday to showcase the best racing and hopefully increase betting volume and engagement, several ideas have yet to come to fruition.

Whilst the trial continues, a follow-up piece of work has been commissioned by the industry to explore the possibility of refining the Premier proposal to truly grab the global audience, drive further betting revenues and attract new investment. As some commentators have already stated, getting the industry behind the two-year trial was not an easy task, so the prospects or a truly revolutionary proposal may be just wishful thinking.

However, there is currently a huge global demand for investment in sport. British Flat racing has the most attractive and exciting fixtures plus a huge variety of tracks offering unique tests of the thoroughbred. We have the best jockeys, trainers and horses that compete at glamorous racecourses – often watched by stylish crowds – continually attracting the attention of bettors around the globe. We have a product that on the face of it would be hugely attractive to investors, with the potential to really power the sport to the next level.

When football transformed itself into the Premier League, one of the main areas of investment was in the infrastructure and the matchday experience; this is an area that British racing needs to pursue in a rapidly changing world. Hong Kong recently announced plans for a new racecourse that will offer an experience more in tune with the 21st century – new and significant investment can begin to improve our own ‘stadiums’ as well as dramatically boost prize-money for the whole of British racing.

The concept is surely worth exploring, so let’s identify the size of the potential prize before we get caught up in the details.

You will have likely read the proposals around the affordability trials. Whilst it was welcome news that the original ridiculous limits were increased, it remains a real intrusion into one’s life that there should be restrictions on what we do with our hard-earned money. Accepting that we are now where we are, the proposals are an improvement and assuming the anti-money laundering rules are not used as a back doorway of imposing tighter limits or more stringent document checks, then the dire forecast in terms of the financial impact to racing – one estimate had it at over £100 million per year – should be mitigated, which is welcome news.

On the proposed levy reform, the Secretary of State has said that she will update the house towards the end of May. Negotiations are ongoing with various proposals being discussed, including the mechanism to be used to enforce the reformed levy. Whilst the existing levy is performing well, it is vital that we secure the reform and have a clearer understanding of what racing’s finances look like, especially considering the increasing demands being made from all corners of the industry.

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