Rhododendron was a hugely impressive winner of the Fillies’ Mile on the opening day of Future Champions Weekend here on Friday, but as the applause died away, the background noise was the sound of racing’s administrators preparing to fight tooth and nail to stop any plan by the government to limit TV gambling advertisements. The possibility of a pre-watershed ban on the adverts was floated in Friday’s edition of The Times and, while the report was speculative and anonymously sourced, it was enough to send a shiver through senior figures, both on the turf and beyond.
Among those feeling anxious were the executives who negotiated a £30m, four-year deal to televise racing on ITV from 2017. The value of racing’s terrestrial rights depends almost entirely on the huge sums that bookmakers will pay to advertise in the breaks. A ban on daytime advertising would blow a hole in ITV’s business plan as wide as Newmarket Heath, and reduce the value of the rights in future deals almost to zero.
The digital channel At The Races also depends heavily on bookmaker advertising. Other sports, football in particular, could also see a drop in the value of their TV rights, but only racing has a fundamental link to betting as a primary revenue stream and a daytime ban would be catastrophic for the sport’s finances.
According to Friday’s report, possible changes to the rules on gambling adverts will be added to a review of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs), the controversial gaming machines that have turned what were once betting shops into outlets for roulette and other fixed-margin games which were once restricted to casinos. The British Horseracing Authority kept public comment to a minimum, on the basis that the story is only a rumour at present.
“The government hasn’t yet launched its review,” Will Lambe, the BHA’s director of corporate affairs, said, “so we first need to await details of the consultation and any proposals arising. However, it is likely that as part of any consultation that racing would be united in making strong representations for an exemption for horse racing content. These representations would be based around racing’s obvious interdependence with betting compared to other sports, and the nature of its TV coverage.”
Privately, however, there is an awareness that this is an argument that the sport simply could not afford to lose. It could yet prove significant that consideration of an advertising ban will apparently be added to the long-expected review of FOBTs. The two should really be separate, since gaming machines are an issue only for those firms with significant off-course betting shop estates, but the move raises the possibility, at least, that one will be played off against the other, with bookies in effect told that they can carry on as they are with FOBTs or adverts, but not both.
Racing will also be concerned that any compromise proposal that imposed an early-evening cut-off point for gambling adverts would bar bookies from advertising during terrestrial racing coverage, but leave much of the televised Premier League and Champions League football schedule on Sky Sports and BT Sport relatively unaffected.
Source: The Guardian