The cost of holding UK horseracing meetings behind closed doors has been estimated at as much as €4 million per month, according to the Racecourse Association.
The Association has published an in-depth report on the income of UK racecourses to further transparency and to address misconceptions regarding racecourse finances. The release of the report comes shortly before the sport is set to launch a series of pilot race meetings with spectators present for the first time since racing was closed to spectators back in March.
The full report provides details of 59 racecourses’ income, along with their profitability and prize money contributions. According to the figures, the implementation of Covid-19 measures cost racecourses around £8 million per month while racing was suspended, but were still losing them £4 million every month while racing was held behind closed doors.
The report also reveals that prior to the pandemic, UK racecourses had already been anticipating a decline in profitability in 2020 caused by a drop in media rights income after the closure of a significant number betting shops during 2019. Racecourses had estimated that as a result, around 47% of their income in 2020 would come from racegoers, while only 39% came from bookmakers through levies and media rights.
Turnover from racing activity as laid out in the racecourses’ last set of accounts amounted to £575 million, leading to operating profits of £28 million after capital expenditure. Around 29% of total income was spent on prize money, while a third went on event costs and 27% on overheads. The report also showed that prize money had increased 72% over the last 8 years.
In its comments on the report, the Association said that it was a common misconception that media rights account for most of racecourses’ income. They point to the fact that almost half of racecourse income is derived from spectators, and that there was a critical need to find a way to bring the crowds back to racecourses. The report also emphasised that all racecourses expect to be loss making and in total were carrying £455 million in debt.
Speaking about the findings, the Chairman of the Association, Maggie Carver, said that she hoped that the report would help collaboration as the industry attempts to rebuild:
“The financial effects of Covid-19 have been devastating to racecourses of all sizes with revenues impacted up to 75 per cent in some cases. The recovery will not be swift, though by working together I am confident the sport will be in a much better position to face the challenges of the future.”
Chief Executive, David Armstrong, also commented, saying that the return of racegoers was a vital part in the recovery plan.
A number of pilot horseracing events with spectators present is due to start next week, while the trial return of on-course betting has now been extended indefinitely. The first meeting with crowds since lockdown measures were introduced back in March will take place at Doncaster Racecourse on Wednesday September 9 for the St Leger Festival. That trial will be followed by Warwick on September 21 and the Cambridgeshire Meeting at Newmarket which begins on September 24.
Each of the racecourses involved has submitted a detailed risk assessment and operating plan for the meetings. These fixtures will be used as case studies to inform the next stage of reopening.