The sun sets on SunBets
It doesn’t come as much surprise that SunBets, the joint-venture between Sun newspaper owner News Corporation and the Australian betting operator, Tabcorp, has ceased trading.
These scribblings have been chronicling its troubled existence almost from birth.
Little over a month ago it was reported that Tabcorp were in discussion with their media-owning partner to end the relationship, and prior to that trading statements from Tabcorp had reported the poor performance of the tabloid branded online bookmaker and its drain on the organisation’s profits.
SunBets was launched some two years ago in a blaze of, er, not very much really.
Those behind promoting the venture seemed to think that you could enter the competitive online market by limiting your promotion to advertising through the Sun.
But that had inherent problems, as other bookmakers are heavy advertisers with the red-top and upsetting them through over-exposure of the in-house betting operation was too risky.
Advertising in other titles, even the Racing Post, was shunned, and the use of race sponsorship appeared haphazard.
Then there was the infamous stunt of laying bets that, during a televised FA Cup match, the Sutton United reserve goalkeeper would be seen eating a pie. He was, the football club was fined and the goalie left the club. It was Paddy Poweresque in conception but inept in execution.
Meanwhile, those who were betting with SunBets began to complain that they were being pushed back on stakes and prices. Not unusual for a bookmaker but when you a trying to get a foothold and need to gain customer loyalty, you can ill-afford to adopt a cavalier attitude.
Indeed, a cavalier attitude seems to at the heart of SunBets’ problems and the price has now been paid. For anyone else planning to enter the UK online betting market it was a lesson of how not to do it.
And for Tabcorp, who would like to be a player on these shores, it’s back to the drawing board.
All a matter of timing
Last Saturday, Super Saturday, saw two of the three main courses racing that day bringing their start time forward in order to get their feature races on ITV before coverage of racing switched to ITV3 whilst the main channel covered England’s third-place World Cup play-off.
The courses, Ascot (12.45 start) and Newmarket (1.05), were hit at the turnstiles as a result, with year-on-year attendance, down around 20%.
York, on the other hand, held firm and began proceedings at 1.50, saw a drop in racegoer numbers of 4% with their big race, the John Smiths Cup, broadcast on ITV3.
However, the TV audience for the football on ITV was only 5.3m, way down on the astronomic numbers for England’s journey to the semi-final. It’s in the area of viewers for a Six Nations rugby game.
Meanwhile, bookmakers were saying that the early starts helped maintain betting turnover on a par with last year with calls for them to remain in place next year even without competing with international football.
But more telling was the comment from Coral-Ladbroke’s Simon Clare who said that the three televised meetings, along with a strong card at Chester “doesn’t cumulatively deliver the turnover that such quality deserves”.
York, a recourse that knows its customers, held its nerve, Ascot and Newmarket blinked and a 20% drop in racegoers, and probably a similar drop in revenue, will have hurt.
So, despite the bookies looking upon things favourably, those who like to be at the track are unlikely to have to endure early starts next year to get to Berkshire or Suffolk.
But the underlying problem next year will again be Super Saturday itself which does the courses proud but not the betting revenue. In contrast, the best quality race on paper this coming Saturday is a Group 3 at Newbury.
Its is no easy conundrum to solve but then Super Saturday is a relatively recent invention, caused by Newmarket moving the finale of its July Cup meeting to Saturday. And they ain’t going to budge.
Maybe one way out is Chester racing on a Sunday giving the seventh-day a much-needed boost. Chester are not televised and gain a healthy attendance whenever they race albeit that corporate hospitality would probably take hit. But it does look like the only way out.
Ascot playing with fire
First impression of ITV Racing going back on their decision to show Ascot’s Shergar Cup meeting on the main channel and move it back to ITV 4 because the track has awarded a rights package to what will be Sky Racing, is that of throwing toys out of a pram.
But it is a move that has seriously angered the holder of racing’s “free-to-view” rights.
The rights are still separate insomuch that to see Sky Racing (or At The Races as it is now) requires payment to a provider, eg Sky or Virgin, although not a subsequent subscription which is the case for Racing UK.
That means the viewing numbers for Sky Racing are potentially much bigger and would eat into the ITV audience.
Second, Sky Racing will invest heavily in their coverage. Unless there is something in ITV’s contract that gives them free reign in terms of access to racecourse positions and participants, Sky Racking could well be there in numbers in terms of presenters, interviewers and reporters.
It won’t be a couple of people by the parade ring and a betting-ring reporter.
But that’s not all that has upset ITV. The contract between Ascot and Sky Racing is for only two years and comes up for renewal at the same time as ITV’s four-year contract.
Sky competed with ITV for the current deal and will again be bidding for the next four-year term. But will Ascot go it alone and if they do would ITV be interested in a deal that excludes the Royal meeting and other prestigious races from their portfolio?
It is right that Ascot optimises its income because it is required to reinvest it in the sport, but now they are playing with fire and what’s good for them may not be good for the sport as a whole.