You ain’t nothing but a Groundhog

I will be intrigued to see what comes out of tonight’s parliamentary reception for the horseracing industry, which I am surprised not to have seen talked about anywhere.

I gather that the evening was initially organised in order to publicise racing’s contribution to the economy, and to launch a community engagement programme called Racing Together. But it is also mooted that the industry may use the appearance of Helen Grant, Clive Efford and Sajid Javid at the event to launch its views on “the best way forward in securing a fair and sustainable funding system” – namely (in their view) the abolition of the levy in favour of a ‘Horserace Betting Authorisation’.

People will doubtless have their own views, and I am not sure I have the capacity to enter into lengthy analysis of my own here. But two quick thoughts come to mind: the first is that it is a terribly grand title for something that has been discussed by racing and sports for years – a betting right – and in my experience, re-brands tend to be all about attempts to make something initially considered unpalatable seem less so than previously.

And second, following on from that, the reality of re-brands almost invariably is that unless something fundamental has been altered, then changing the packaging doesn’t actually achieve a lot.

The concept of “betting rights” has previous set industry against industry: one has argued that it has one, and the other has argued that it doesn’t. It seems to me that changing a name won’t change the fact that this basic disagreement has resulted in the adversarial approach that has set people at loggerheads for a decade or more. As such, it seems (regrettably) unlikely to me that a re-packaging will prove to be the game-changer that it would be nice to see.

I always say to clients that the crucial thing when you want to change the dynamic is to address the fundamentals rather than attempting to repackage the same narrative. You may take the view that Racing’s approach, as set out in the letter below (which found its way to me from the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association), does that. But in my opinion, you could plausibly date it ‘2004’ and no-one would suggest there had been a typo. Unfortunately, that probably means that in the coming months, observers of this particular slug-fest are in for another round of the same old stuff.

Dear TBA Members,

Re: Showing your support for a better funding mechanism for British Racing

As you will be aware the Government is currently consulting on options to reform or replace the Horserace Betting Levy, an issue of critical importance to the future funding of our industry. The consultation period closes on 5 November and British Racing is making a collective response, jointly submitted by the British Horseracing Authority, Racecourse Association and Horsemen’s Group.

Racing and Breeding’s submission will comprehensively answer both parts of the consultation, looking into reform and replacement respectively, with a preference for the latter. We are suggesting a replacement funding mechanism, called a Horserace Betting Authorisation, whereby Racing authorises all betting services on its product and through which betting firms provide a fair return towards the administration, integrity and future development of the Racing and Breeding industry.

We would like to demonstrate the depth of support across the British Racing and Breeding industry for a more sustainable central funding mechanism and to provide as many grassroots examples as to how this would help your business in practice. I am writing to ask for your help in writing to both the Sports Minister, Helen Grant at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and your local MP, in support of the position that British Racing has collectively agreed. This will help to provide important colour and context to the arguments which we are making in our joint submission.

I understand that you are incredibly busy and have therefore taken the liberty of including two template letters, one to the Minister, and one to your local MP, which you may wish to use as the basis for your correspondence. Please do feel free to tailor these letters as you see fit, provided of course that they do not deviate from the industry’s core position – a preference for a new, enforceable funding mechanism.

Click here to download the letter templates

The consultation period closes on 5 November therefore it is important letters are submitted to the Department for Culture Media and Sport ahead of, or around, this date.

If there is any way in which we can be of further assistance to you drafting these letters, or by providing you with more information on Racing’s position on Levy reform and replacement, please do not hesitate to get in touch. The BHA has a team dedicated to helping deliver this project. If you have any questions about Racing’s position, and our proposed new funding mechanism, in the first instance please email levyconsultation@bellpottinger.com or telephoning 020 3772 2632.

Yours sincerely,
[Signatory]
British Horseracing Authority

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