Published last month, the BHA 2024 fixture list includes 170 “Premier Racedays” with higher prize money and more star horses. The BHA has also committed to investment to improve Sunday racing and increase competitiveness across the fixture list.
The plans are the first phase of a new long-term industry strategy, with changes to run for a two-year trial. The Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) will support the plans by providing an additional £3.8m (€4.4m/$4.7m) in funding.
Part of the reason for these changes, the BHA says, is to support the betting side of racing.
Switching Saturday fixtures and new Sunday betting session
The organisation has set out three primary, betting-related targets for the upcoming 2024 season. The first of these is to improve the performance of Saturday events by spreading fixtures across the day.
This will involve having 32 Saturdays with only three fixtures during the protected window between 2pm and 4pm. It is hoped that these days will outperform the other 19 Saturdays by between 6% and 7% in terms of total betting turnover. The other days will have four events in the same window.
“Analysis of historic betting data illustrates that improving the spread of fixtures across Saturdays will boost total betting activity throughout the day compared with the current more concentrated spread of meetings,” BHA chief operating officer Richard Wayman said.
The second target relates to the introduction of a new betting session on Sunday evening. This, the BHA says, will aim to outperform midweek floodlit fixtures. These are staged between Tuesday and Thursday and aim is to increase turnover by 15% to 20%.
“Changing behaviours among primarily digital betting customers indicates that Sunday evenings will outperform similar fixtures on midweek evenings,” Wayman said.
BHA: Adding Premier events to address racing betting decline
These targets tie in with the third aim, which will seek to slow a decline in betting on British racing. Wayman says the introduction of more Premier Fixtures will help, given these meets perform 1% to 2% better than other fixtures.
Linking to other targets, Wayman says measures such as the improved spread of fixtures on Saturdays, stronger Sunday fixtures, the introduction of Sunday evenings and more competitive racing across the fixture list will help slow the decline in betting activity.
“The focus and investment in Premier Fixtures is expected to result in these fixtures outperforming the rest of the fixture list,” Wayman said.
“An improved relative performance of 1% to 2% would reflect a significant uplift, given the volume of turnover on Premier racedays compared with the remainder of the fixture list.”
Changes could bring additional £90m to British racing
Should the BHA progress with these and other proposed changes for 2024, these could help improve racing’s finances by approximately £90m over a five-year period. This is compared to if no changes were made to fixtures ahead of the upcoming campaign.
“Not all of the changes we have introduced will be immediately successful,” Wayman said. “Some may take time to bed in – behaviour change frequently does – and some may not work at all. By setting two-year targets we are, in effect, trying to evaluate a long-term strategy through a very short timeframe.
“In addition, the short timeframe means that the targets we have set are not the ultimate, long-term ambitions for where these changes will leave us. In this narrow timescale we are instead looking for early indicators of direction of travel.
“For this reason, alongside measurement against the targets we set out below, we will also be conducting detailed, retrospective analysis of racing on an ongoing basis. However, it is crucial that any initiative and any strategy is based on measurable data and targets.
“This is everyone’s sport and we intend to be as open and transparent as possible around these targets, their measurement and our progress against them.”
BHA blasts affordability checks
One proposal the BHA does not support, separate to its own plans, is affordability checks. A proposal put forward in the government’s white paper, the topic has created much debate inside and outside the gambling industry.
Speaking at a BHA-hosted reception at the houses of parliament back in September, BHA managing director Julie Harrington hit out at proposals to introduce blanket affordability checks.
Harrington blasted the plans as “not appropriate” and said that the BHA opposed such an approach.