The phoney war is over. This weekend, SIS are due to announce their planned schedule for 2018 and all hell will break loose.
Before reading any further, I would ask all readers to consider the following:
1) At the time of writing, so much remains undecided. Meetings are still literally taking place that may affect short and long term decisions as I write this piece. The situation is changing virtually by the hour.
2) I view myself as a non-combatant; my priority is greyhound racing and its grass roots. But tracks, owners and trainers will not necessarily end up on the same side. Loyalties will be tested and divided.
3) To date, it has been a phoney war between two massive media providers. This weekend signals the opening of real hostilities and things should escalate very quickly. There will be winners and losers, but it may be a couple of years before we find out who came out on top and assess what damage was done in the interim.
4) One way or another, greyhound racing will never be the same again.
As we await the SIS planned schedule, nothing is certain, not even the fixture list produced by ARC/TRP two weeks ago.
It featured all the GMG tracks (excluding Peterborough!?), plus Towcester, but as soon as it was released. . . the compost went airborne.
A number of the tracks were clearly surprised by the list. Most had no idea of their fixtures, either the number or the scheduling. Several were very unhappy and a second or third version of the list has apparently been produced.
The Arc schedule was for 1,619 fixtures which amounted to 31 meetings per week throughout the summer and 33 for the winter.
Their customers – the bookmaking industry – supposedly want an ideal weekly schedule of 41 meetings – ie six a day, minus one on Saturday afternoons.
SIS can’t deliver that number either, based on their agreement with the four Ladbrokes Coral tracks who currently pump out 21 meetings per week.
Some of us – incorrectly – assumed that pragmatism would break out and one side would buy fixtures from the other to make up the difference.
The fact that they are not prepared to do so, says much about the animosity between the two sides and the apparent determination to fight this through until one or the other is wiped out.
So – both sides require additional meetings, though how many is not clear. As far as selling the service is concerned, SIS claim to have five year deals with all the main bookmaking chains.
So most bookmakers planning to take the ARC service are probably doing so in addition to their SIS contract, and they do not like paying for both services.
Having said that – Ladbrokes and Coral – roughly 40% of the market – held off taking the ARC horseracing service, but eventually caved in.
(They were faced with the prospect of no UK horse race product for the first three months of 2018)
Interestingly though, LadbrokesCoral decided they wanted the ARC greyhound product ‘unbundled’. (Hence why we are here).
However, the 1,400 independent bookies have signed up for the ARC coverage with all eyes now firmly on the other leviathan – William Hill.
The GMG tracks would not have wanted this fight but feared for their futures once SIS’s ‘world domination’ plans were first hatched a couple of years ago.
As soon as it became obvious that SIS were trying to break-up BAGS, the GMG tracks realised that the entire betting shop market would be carved up without them.
At that stage it seemed likely to be a three-way split with Corals, Ladbrokes and Hills producing six of the estimated ten (??) tracks that would be required to provide a full betting shop service.
As it turned out, Hills sold their tracks to SIS’ most bitter rivals ARC and it was game on.
So just how many more meetings do SIS need to produce to full their contract?
I understand that it would be a minimum of an extra ten per week – ideally closer to 20. (There may be a difference between what LadbrokesCoral were prepared to take, and what the rest of the booking industry demand as customers).
Anyway, SIS duly signed up Henlow, Harlow, Central Park and Doncaster.
Meanwhile, ARC had already signed into an agreement with the GMG tracks and Towcester, who were already partners via their Saturday morning service.
The GMG tracks realised that the SIS new signees would be short of greyhounds and persuaded many of their trainers to sign exclusive contracts.
The GMG tracks claim was that they wanted to prevent their graded runners being siphoned off for spurious (graded) open races and inter-tracks. Conversely some trainers feared that they would be prevented from going open racing.
The value of those exclusivity contracts varied from low four figures, to at least one handler who was paid £18K.
What has happened since:
It is rumoured that the independent bookies have some reservations about potential SIS content and that SIS has been making active advances to some of the established BAGS tracks in the ARC camp.
I am aware that at least four of the tracks in the ARC camp have held discussions with SIS and it is clear that at least a couple now have regrets over their ARC deals. Similarly, a number of trainers wish they had not signed the GMG agreements. Added to which, a number have trainers have been tapped up by different tracks.
The issue has been brought about by the comparative sums of money involved. I am reliably informed that the SIS contracts are significantly more lucrative than those offered by ARC, who will take up the slack when BAGS revenue drops in January following the termination of LadbrokesCoral income.
Apparently, the disharmony among some ARC tracks escalated when ARC insisted that Towcester was added to the service but the funding pot was not increased.
Where is this going?
That is the multi million pound question . . . .
We will know more when SIS issue their schedule. Will it include any disaffected GMG tracks? If so – ARC are famously litigious.
Will SIS be able to provide a complete service or try to fill with other product, such as Irish racing?
On the other hand, you could never underestimate ARC. I understand that the sum involved to give ARC tracks parity with SIS contracts is comparatively small in the grand scheme.
Do they take on SIS now or play the longer game? After all – and never underestimate this – greyhound racing is only a battle, not the war.
Even if ARC contracts don’t match SIS ‘£ for £’, their model for the future is less heavily based on betting shops and more on internet streaming and overseas sales. The ARC strategy is that they don’t think SIS can fight a long campaign.
So, who succeeds in the long term will depend as much on determination and deep resources, as to what happens on January 1.
Before then, at least 20 tracks will be looking to shore up their kennel strengths and the prize money levels at the likes of Henlow and Central Park should be at least as significant as the traditional BAGS tracks.
That push could start as early as next week as tracks look to qualify larger number of runners.
In the short term at least, it should be a very lucrative time for owners and trainers, though any degree of industry nous suggests it won’t be just about money.
Which small trainers will be able to race – for example, on a Wednesday morning BAGS card?
How many will want to drive past their favourite local track to somewhere offering an extra £10 per runner? Some owners and trainers will refuse to switch to alternate venues irrespective of the riches on offer.
What will happen to RPGTV now it has become clear that every race meeting will be at a premium?
What are the welfare implications?
So many twists and turns and without doubt the biggest shake-up for the greyhound industry since the legalisation of betting shops.