Times not changing for the better
How ironic that The Times should devote close to a half a page in its news pages to report that its racing editor, Rob Wright, was the country’s leading tipster, just as reports were emerging that the paper was cutting back on its racing coverage.
Wright won the National Press Challenge run by the Racing Post where a £1 stake is placed on every competing tipsters’ British selections during the calendar year.
Mark Souster, who took over the from the late, great Alan Lee as The Times racing writer, no longer figures in the racing team which sees the paper without a dedicated racing correspondent. Mind you, in recent months, Souster’s appearance in print were few and far between despite breaking a number of good stories.
The Times will continue carry race cards and Wright’s tips, and cover the major meetings, but not everyday stories. But, with a further ironic twist, the past few days have seen some prominent racing items.
An interview with Alex Hammond as she prepared to be a lead presenter for Sky Sports Racing, a feature on horses to follow in the new year, and an item which made the back page on the decision by Paul and Clare Rooney not to allow their horses to run at Cheltenham.
The Rooney’s decision is a bit of a non-story, but it raises question marks in the minds of those not closely involved with the sport to about equine welfare issues.
But where once Alan Lee was a must-read with many excusive stories and sound opinions, the sport has lost a valuable source of coverage leaving considered racing journalism to The Guardian. If cutbacks are enforced there too, racing will be very much the poorer.
TV numbers need to add up for racing
As the world welcomes Racing TV and Sky Sports Racing, there has been speculation as to what extent Sky want to get further involved in coverage of the sport.
We’re halfway through the four-year ITV Racing contract and their coverage has been well-received and viewing figures have been growing. ITV would like to continue to show racing but they may well face competition from Sky, as they did in the last round of negotiations when the sport said goodbye to Channel 4.
If those who are negotiating on behalf of the sport are tempted to take Sky dollar, the result would be disastrous.
According to the British Audience Research Bureau (BARB) there are nearly 11.5m households with televisions which do not have cable or satellite access to Sky Sports Racing, a figure which has risen by nearly 25,000 since the start of 2017. They can however watch ITV and ITV4 through Freeview, where racing is enjoying increased audience numbers year-on-year, with over 1m watching the Boxing Day coverage from Kempton.
Those households which have Sky Sports Racing via cable and satellite number 12.75m, a figure down from 12.9m in 2017.
Should negotiations lead to the sport siding with Sky for the next contractual period, nearly half the country’s households would not be able to watch racing on TV unless Sky change their Freeview output which currently comprises Sky News and Pick.
Let’s not forget that whilst Sky Sports Racing is not part of the bundle which requires additional payment, a cost is still incurred to receive it as part of the basic cable/satellite package. It’s likely that the profile of many racing viewers is one of not wanting or being able to afford to pay for TV and if the elderly have to start to pay for a TV licence again, that puts further people out of reach.
Nor is the sport one where people will descend on pubs in the afternoon to watch the day’s racing.
Clearly, anyone bidding to show free-to-view racing must make a realistic offer, but at the same time those awarding the contract must realise that numbers are the key to the sport’s well-being achieved through the widest possible audience which TV can deliver.