It is now two years since SIS and ARC first went head-to-head in their bids to control the greyhound content into betting shops.
For me, the most fascinating aspect of it all, is that we still don’t appear to be any closer to predicting the outcome. It is such a complex issue with so many options and complications that it could be debated for hours of ‘what ifs’. I will try to distill my thoughts to the following:
- End game will almost certainly see the closure of many tracks, I guess seven or eight, within weeks or a handful of months – whichever side prevails – since most tracks are now entirely dependent on bookmaker contracts and they don’t need 21 tracks.
- The quality of racing is already creaking under the strain, both open and graded racing. We are seeing a stream of races with odds-on favourites and double digit outsiders. There is a proliferation of four and five-dog races. The bookies can not be happy with uncompetitive racing and reduced margins.
- A shortage of available trained hounds is now acute at many tracks. The loss of just one/two of the biggest trainers at a majority of tracks would result in them losing a fixture. Since that third/fourth meeting is the one that breaks even/makes the profit, the loss of just one fixture per week would be terminal for many tracks.
- It isn’t just about supply and demand, the geography is skewed. For example, if Belle Vue were to close, there is a reservoir of dog folk, many with roots in the former Lancashire flapping hotbed of Bolton, Westhoughton, Preston, St.Helens etc – that would have nowhere to race. Yet if Oxford re-opens, how does that not impact on Swindon and Poole in particular?
- The planned closure of four Irish tracks will inevitably see more breeders opt out in the coming year. Meanwhile the average age of racing dogs at certain tracks is reaching critical point.
- The ARC tracks are particularly feeling the financial strain with their funding lower than it was two years ago. For some of the SIS tracks, though not all, thoughts will be on year end when their contracts expire.
- The majority of betting chains are reliant on ARC’s horseracing fixtures. If the word among the promoters is correct, ARC plan to bundle their greyhound product with the horses going forward! They have only recently signed up to ‘view and pay’ as opposed to ‘pay and view’ streaming.
- The SIS business model is very different from five years ago. Instead of a business almost exclusively selling races to the UK betting shops, they continue to evolve as middle men taking a commission for streaming product globally and their portfolio continues to grow.
But there are more questions than answers:
Are the sides secretly talking
Is a 12-track industry even sustainable?
When will the SIS appeal relating to the High Court judgement (over misuse of horserace data) be heard?
Will it lead to ‘end game’?
If a deal is done, would it lead to a hybrid service with tracks from both camps?
If ARC tracks go bust, will ARC buy them to retain product?
Do SIS really need to make a profit if they shield their shareholders from a potential content stranglehold?
Will 2020 see the first track close due to being unable to fulfill its contracted commitment?
Will trainer power play a part?
Which managements are seeking planning permission for their sites?
Will bookmakers eventually refuse to take product from the weakest tracks?
Finally – and I truly think this is the most significant question of all – if either ARC or SIS do come out as victors in the media rights war, will the Government view the resulting monopoly as being in the best public interest?
Anyone who has been following the Christine Keeler story on TV may be interested to learn of a previously unpublished link with the greyhound industry.
The woman who effectively brought down Harold McMillan’s early 1960s Conservative Government after having simultaneous affairs with a cabinet minister and a Russian spy, was the number one target for the press as the news story broke.
It turns out that Ms Keeler was hold up at Denver Lodge in Nazeing, the house guest of private trainer Pam Heasman, and was never tracked down by the media.
According to the Pam’s former head man Pat Quinn, the connection was the osteopath Stephen Ward, who also featured heavily in the story. Ward was very good friends with Dr Dick Handley, the Dunstable doctor who famously founded the British Greyhound Breeders Forum, on which Ms Heasman served as secretary.
Sadly there was a further tragic connection between Ward and Handley, they both took their own lives.
Of course if the tracks are short of racing content, there are options. .