Job cuts hit Racing Post
Mike Deasy on Racing Post cost-cutting, wise words from Lydia Hislop and problems with a Mirror image
Last month these scribblings predicted the Racing Post’s senior management would be faced with a bit of a headache concerning the Post’s finances when racing resumed and the staff returned from furlough.
Despite the sport being back, revenues are a long way short of their optimum level, due in no small part to betting shops remaining closed, scarcity of retail outlets, many of which have suspended trading or closed altogether, no racecourse sales and a fall-off in bloodstock advertising.
Online revenue will have fared better but there is no doubt a big hole in the balance sheet has caused problems.
So it was that the Post’s staff were informed over the weekend of a round of job cuts. A communication from Spotlight Sports Group, owners of the Post, said:
“Like many other companies, the Group is responding to the changed circumstances and loss of revenue resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. Changes such as a diminished racing and sporting programme and the economic downturn mean Spotlight Sports Group needs to reorganise to safeguard the future of the business and as many of its employees as possible.
“The Group is determined that the quality of its content and products will not be compromised and is looking at every significant non-staff item of expenditure to try to minimise the number of job losses, but the reality is that it can no longer sustain the workforce it employed before the advent of coronavirus.”
In its latest set of accounts for 2018, filed last September, operating profits were £9.9m, on turnover of £61.7m, a drop from the prior year’s £13.1m profit when turnover was £60.4m.
Whilst the 2018 Director’s report said that liquidity risks were covered by sufficient cash balances and unutilised credit facilities, there will have been enormous stress placed on the business since, first by last year’s betting shop closures and now the even more damaging impact of the coronavirus.
These are the realities of business in a pandemic, and few enterprises in racing are going to come out the other end unscathed, and some we wont back at all.
In the circumstances there was, I think, a degree of naivety in a recent Tweet by former jockey and now trainer Richard Hughes, when he complained about the cost of the Post and the volume of advertising in a recent issue. Maybe he’s miffed his column is no longer published.
That a commercial concern could or should limit a vital revenue stream makes no business sense whatsoever. Indeed, the volume of advertising is down on the same time last year.
The Tweet garnered the usual ill thought-through responses, including those who refuse to buy the paper anymore. Fine, it’s not compulsory and maybe without the premium price for the print edition, it’s a choice that wouldn’t be available.
And focussing on the print product overlooks the Post’s considerable online presence, including an e-edition of the paper which costs £2.80. In 2018, according to Google Analytics, the Post had over 700,000 website users and over 1.26 million mobile uses which, as a combined total, was around 200,000 up on the previous year.
The trite comment award goes to the suggestion that the Racing Post needs competition. In terms of print, the simple fact is the market has never been able to support another racing paper, whether it’s daily or weekly.
It was unsustainable to have both The Sporting Life and Sporting Chronicle, then the Life and Racing Post, and then The Sportsman, which lasted just over six months. Weeklies too have come and gone over the years – Raceform on Saturday, Raceform Update, Racing Plus and, most recently, The Racing Paper.
Indeed, it was a year ago that the latter said that, due to distribution problems, it would not be publishing for the foreseeable future. I said at the time that the “foreseeable future” could seem like an eternity.
And, as an aside, the monthly Racing Ahead magazine, from the same stable as The Racing Paper, hasn’t been seen since March.
There is, however, online competition, most noticeably from Timeform, but also the Sporting Life website, and numerous other sites, either free or paid for.
Everyone is now having to trim their sails in order to survive and the Post is no exception.
Whilst we may not actually be able to go to the races at the moment, I do think the BHA and Great British Racing websites could be updated to reflect the new racing-behind-closed-doors fixture list.
Hislop answers the questions
In the latest issue of The Irish Field, editor Leo Powell got his money’s worth with a three-page interview with Racing TV’s Lydia Hislop.
It plots the story of her determination to work in racing journalism, which led to a five-year tenure as the Evening Standard racing correspondent, to breaking into television where she is now a main presenter on Racing TV.
And it’s in front of the camera where her thorough preparation pays dividends. Even with Ryan Moore she extracts, in a few deliberate and somewhat reluctant words, little nuggets of gold.
Her interviews add much to racing’s coverage. “My favourite thing about broadcasting,” she says, “is being able to ask a question, live, that immediately gets to the root of an issue or moment.”
“I see my role on Racing TV as working on behalf of the curious fan. It’s my job to tell them as much as I can about what’s going on at a racecourse, what’s just happened and what might happen in the future, to ask the questions they want aired and to discuss relevant issues in an accessible and informative way.”
Last year she was awarded the Horserace Writers and Photographers Association Broadcaster of the Year.
The Irish Field’s interview has Hislop’s views on everything from prize money and the use of the whip to the BHA and the fixture list. And, as well as sound observations on racing’s issues and incongruities, she puts forward numerous commonsense suggestions. My favourite is a solution to racing’s prize funding:
“I’d introduce a system of fines for anyone who complains about prize money without a feasible solution to the problem.”
Trying to see bigger picture
With the return of racing it’s been a busy time at Racing Hub Towers, with much of the weekend spent simultaneously watching numerous screens. When things quietened down, I got a chance to catch up with the papers.
The Daily Mirror reproduced its front page from 5 June 1913 when suffragette Emily Davison was knocked over by the King’s horse in the Derby. The picture was the size of a large postage stamp, and I put my fingers on the paper to move them apart to try and enlarge the image.
More Of Course
We’re back on course http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-41d