Formnet – A statement from the Racecourse Promoters Association

The Racecourse Promoters Association (RCPA) wishes to take this opportunity to respond to notes that appeared within Barry Stanton’s blog ‘Formnet’ on the Greyhound Star website recently and generally repeated in a Racing Post article, a few days later, and again yesterday.

In his comments, Mr Stanton is critical that “an industry can develop a product, namely Formnet, invest time and money in doing so and agree to cede the software and operating system to a third party who can then threaten us with withdrawing the facility if we don’t pay for its usage?

Mr Stanton has subsequently accused the executive of the RCPA and the GBGB of ‘willingly and inexplicably’ giving away an invaluable asset – i.e. control of its form,data and registry.

The reality, as Mr Stanton will surely recall, is that Formnet was set up, and operated by BAGS in direct competition with the BGRB (the GBGB’s predecessor) funded and universally used Raceman system, following and during, a battle between the BGRB representing Greyhound Racing and BAGS representing Bookmakers – under a campaign which became known as ‘New Deal’. GBGB always have and continue to control the registry.

BAGS, funded by its bookmaker members, invested significant funds to setup Formnet and introduced the system to the then six racecourses owned and controlled by three of its members as they suspected that they could be held to ransom over access to greyhound form and wanted to have control over this key element of the service they were supplying to their members. The majority of racecourses not owned by Bookmaker companies, continued to operate Raceman both efficiently and securely.

Once Formnet was fully established BAGS made it freely available to all racecourses and subsequently made the exclusive use Formnet a condition of having a contract with BAGS. Mr Stanton will no doubt recall this as during this time he was General Manager at Crayford.

This insistence by BAGS; the increase in the number of racecourses contracted to the BAGS service; the reduction in the GBGB licensed racecourse numbers made the move from Raceman to Formnet inevitable. As a result, Formnet became the industry standard and BAGS, a non-profit organisation, remained the administrator of that service.

Racecourses have continued to use the Formnet system, supplied by BAGS who were willing to provide free of cost as they were funded by their members through the collection of fees for the distribution of live greyhound racing to bookmakers (the BAGS service). Racecourses have continued that use in the full knowledge that they have no documented agreement with BAGS for their use of Formnet.

As Mr Stanton will also be aware, the current on-going media battle has resulted in BAGS losing its ability to fund Formnet as it is no longer the collector of fees and paymaster to racecourses. Consequently, the future operation of Formnet requires funding and BAGS needs to charge users for this service.

The BAGS costs will be recovered through a fair levy with every track holding an ARC/BAGS contract being charged at the same rate as the SIS contracted tracks (on a per meeting basis). The levy is a two-tier system with racecourses being charged a fee of £1 per meeting where a meeting is not transmitted. This second-tier fee assists racecourses that are not contracted to either service and therefore have no media rights income. For transmitted meetings the fee will be set to raise a maximum of £600,000 in the first year, which given the scheduled number of meetings should equate to circa £160 per transmitted fixture.

Mr Stanton’s questioning of the level of fees levied, which he states as equating to the cost of ‘five highly paid developers’, ignores the costs of management through all racing times for 23 tracks, 364 days per year; any replacement hardware costs; maintenance of the system and a national communication network; and during this first year of operation the cost of a major upgrade and development works. The planned major upgrade will be the first in five years and will be welcomed by racing offices.

BAGS has said that it anticipates a reduction in fees after the upgrade has been completed. BAGS is a not for profit organisation, so its fee charging will always be set to cover costs only.

BAGS CEO, Phill Adams, has confirmed to the RCPA Executive that the upgrade specification will result from extensive consultation with the GBGB and racing offices through a formal steering committee to replace the current ad-hoc user group.

Mr Stanton makes the point regarding concern as to who gets control of Formnet should BAGS cease to exist and if it should be a commercial company capable of holding greyhound racing over a barrel. This is a pertinent point given that when SIS launched their hostile bid to take over BAGS in the last eighteen months, it is understood that SIS wanted to take control of Formnet as part of that takeover. Had that takeover bid been successful then Formnet would have indeed been controlled by a commercial company, operating to make profit. It is also believed that SIS spent in excess of £1million several years ago trying to design software for a Formnet replacement, but were unsuccessful.

The RCPA Executive are in discussion with BAGS to secure the Formnet system for the benefit of the greyhound industry, through the GBGB, a not for profit organisation, in the event that BAGS were to cease trading in the future.