Maggie Carver – 2017 RCA Chairman’s Statement

This is a time of both great opportunity and significant threat for our racecourse industry.

As I write, the legislation for the new Levy has just been signed, having obtained European clearance. The new 10% rate to be levied across both onshore and offshore betting operations is expected to give a major boost to racing’s income over its seven-year tenure and ushers in some welcome fairness to the Levy system.

Plans are being drawn up as to how to spend this extra resource. The RCA, the BHA and the Horsemen have been working hard to devise a 3-year plan to use some of it to boost prize money at the lower tiers of the sport from 2018. In addition, there are requests for extra support for training and welfare but it is also, in my view, of paramount importance that we use this opportunity to invest in the growth of our sport, both in terms of its popularity with the public and as a betting medium.

Taking the latter first, I am hopeful that, since the new scheme obviates the need for annual Levy negotiations with the bookmakers, we will be able to forge a more positive relationship with them and to work co-operatively, using their data and ours, to increase betting turnover and develop new products.

On the popularity of our sport, the RCA has formed a group to work on several strands to improve the image of racing. This feeds into a new sponsorship group that has been set up with GBR, with the participation of ITV Racing, to explore fresh sponsorship opportunities across racecourses.

New technology allows us to gain much greater insight into the decisions made by our racing industry customers – both consumers and participants – and we are acutely aware that we need to use such data to help us invest in the right areas and monitor those investments.

The RCA has been working on a new PASS system which is being installed in the vast majority of racecourses to enable racecourses to manage and improve the experience of racehorse owners. A pan-racecourse data warehouse has been set up to collate information about racegoers and with the help of the NTF we will also be conducting a trainers’ survey to help us assess how decisions are made on whether and where to run horses and to try to get the balance right between investment in prize money and owners’ raceday experience.

Another opportunity for racecourses is the new Tote arrangements due to come in from July 2018. I am excited by these initiatives which will surely have a positive effect, both on the racecourse and off, and wish all racecourses every success with their plans.

The importance of investing now in the growth of our sport is underlined by two particular threats. Media rights payments now dwarf Levy receipts. It is these payments that have been responsible for the growth in prize money, up 47% in five years with racecourse executive contribution now £68.5m, 50% of the total. Failure to sell these rights, or a significant reduction in value, would change our racing landscape.

On top of that, not only are online betting margins estimated to be half that of betting shops, but competition with other higher margin sports is fiercer. As betting shifts online, this will affect our income from the Levy. In this context, we are particularly fortunate to have the Levy uplift which can, and should, be used to help us adjust to the new betting landscape.

I continue this year with further racecourse visits and would like to say what a pleasure it is to meet racecourse management and talk about their future plans. I especially look forward to visiting our newest member Hereford who re-opened last year. It has also been a great pleasure to work with members of my board and special thanks go to my Chief Executive, Stephen Atkin, and Vice Chairman, Charles Barnett for their support.

We could not function without the time, freely given, by the many racecourse representatives listed at the back of this Annual Report. I would particularly like to thank those on the Fixtures Group this year who have been tireless in attending many meetings, giving their input, and obtaining feedback from their designated racecourses.

RaceTech reached the venerable age of 70 in 2016 and continues its astonishing reliability record of never having missed a day’s racing. Tom Philips, RaceTech’s Chairman, ably stepped into the role of Executive Chairman in 2016 whilst a new Chief Executive was sought. I would like to thank Tom for his sterling efforts and to welcome RaceTech’s new Chief Executive, John Bozza.

In our own stable, Claire Sheppard, our Racing Director, leaves us to become Chief Executive of the Thoroughbred Breeders Association. Claire has achieved a great deal in her role. She and her team have brought some much needed empirical data and analysis to decision-making on fixtures and funding as well as thoughtful and patient consensus building. We wish her every success in the future.

I would also like to congratulate our Racecourse Services Director, Caroline Davies and her team for gaining the Highly Commended Award at the European Association Awards 2017 for the RCA’s Showcase and Awards Event. The Showcase and Awards day is the most visible part of the work of Racecourse Services Team but their day-to-day support for racecourses in every aspect of running a racecourse, from Drinkaware to turf management, is an unsung, but vital part of what we do.

2017 promises another year of change as we establish the Racing Authority for the new Levy scheme, continue to improve our connectivity and understanding with our partners in the industry, and work to provide new insights and support for our racecourses. The RCA will be representing and promoting racecourse interests every step of the way.

Download the full RCA Annual Report here.