“Racing’s” naive Levy replacement response likely to get short shrift from Mr Penrose

“The bookmakers have said that they would like a proper commercial relationship and we would like to see the whites of their eyes across a negotiating table, because we believe that the market will bear us out.”

Fighting talk from Chris Brand, acting Chief Executive of the BHA which today published its response  to the pre-consultation exercise on a replacement for the Levy.

The response consists of a letter, a document and an annex; the combined content is lengthy but my summary of it is this:

Racing wants a commercial agreement within which bookmakers would pay a fee for the right to take bets on UK horse racing.  That agreement would be in the accepted form of any commercial contract but Racing wants additional protection by way of specific legislation governing that agreement.

Standard legal recourse for breach of contract is not deemed sufficient for Racing – if a nasty bookmaker duffs it up, Racing still wants to send its Dad round.

Racing’s response is addressed to John Penrose MP at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).  Putting myself in the shoes of Mr Penrose, here is the letter I would send back to Racing.

Dear Racing,

Firstly, who are you?  Your letter of July 4th was signed by six individuals but who or what exactly is ‘Racing’?  I see on your web page you have a Racing United logo, yet two of your signatories, Mr Morcombe and Mr Atkins have only recently announced that they will stop bickering in public.

Mr Atkins speaks for the Racecourse Association, a body which does not represent all UK racecourses. Mr Morcombe speaks for The Horsemen’s Group who, I understand, are very proud of their key business strategy of boycotting Racecourse Association members who do not conform to The Horsemen’s Group’s diktat on how much prize money each race should carry.

Mr Bazalgette appears to represent The Jockey Club which runs 14 racecourses. The other signatories represent Arena Leisure and Northern Racecourses who, between them, own seventeen of the UK’s ‘smaller’ racecourses. What entitles these three groups to speak for Racing in this proposal when there are 29 remaining racecourses without individual representation?  Am I to assume the RCA speaks for these other racecourses?  If so, why then could they not also speak on behalf of the 31 represented in this letter? Could it be anything to do with the media rights interests of those 31 courses, the same media rights you would like us to disregard in deciding a Levy replacement?

Hopefully, you now understand why I ask who or what is Racing?  It is a key point; if you cannot, at this early stage agree who or what you are, how are any profits from the Levy replacement solution to be distributed to ‘Racing’?

I understand that some new structure within racing will hand the rights to racing fixtures to racecourses and The Horsemen’s Group. Given that these fixtures are your sole negotiating tool for both media rights and any Levy replacement, should this new structure not become ‘Racing’? That would seem to me a practical solution although, given the animosity between racecourses and The Horsemen’s Group, perhaps they might take an awfully long time to reach agreement between themselves on any future commercial structure.

Finally, a comment on the key thrust of your document; the main reason the DCMS wishes to find a Levy replacement is so that, in future, matters between parties can be settled within the structure of standard commercial agreements. Your strong desire for us to introduce specific legislation governing such a commercial agreement would be, in your parlance, a ‘non-runner’.

Please contact me again once you have decided who you actually are.

Yours in frustration (but not surprise)

John Penrose

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