Posted on Tue 20th Oct, 2015 in: Uncategorized by Phil Reed
Rod Street, boss of the British Champions Series, was the master of understatement when he said he was "surprised"? by the figures. Surely "embarrassed"? would have been a more accurate description?
Attendances at race meetings are actually quite healthy (in fact, they've reached record levels this year), and horse racing is still one of our top five spectator sports, but it needs to engage with the armchair viewer as well as it engages with those who turn up at the course.
In our previous post, we identified a number of issues with C4's racing programming that we felt needed addressing. Some of those changes have been made, but too many elements - such as the journalist-dominated presenting team - remain the same.
Bookmakers - who also happen to be big sponsors - won't be happy about the dwindling viewing figures, either. Their sponsorship cash dominates racing, and their advertising budgets dominate C4 on a Saturday afternoon.
Sponsorship and advertising are primarily about attracting new customers. There are other (and cheaper) ways of getting your existing customers to spend more or to have greater brand loyalty. Sponsors need audiences, and if Channel 4 Racing isn't delivering those audiences in the same numbers it's bound to have a knock-on effect on sponsorship rights packages and TV advertising rates.
There are rumours ITV may bid for the prestige meetings as part of the BHA's new TV rights contract, leaving the two dedicated satellite racing channels to handle the day-to-day stuff.
C4 only pays circa £15m a year for around 90 days of racing (about the same as Sky pays to cover two Premier League games), but the bulk of the contract's value is in the big meetings like the Cheltenham Festival, Grand National, Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood.
ITV could easily pick those off, which would cut racing's terrestrial TV coverage by more than 75 per cent and have a significant knock-on effect across the sport, not least in sponsorship income.
Let's hope that's not Channel 4's legacy to horse racing in Britain.