Some years ago Jeffrey Bernard remarked that, on entering a betting shop, you’re confronted with three windows marked “Bet Here” but only one saying “Pay Out”. Nothing much changes. Today, newspapers are the mug punters being taken to the cleaners by the Sport of Kings.
Between them, national newspapers currently pay around £40,000 a year for the ‘right’ to publish daily racecards, but now the British Horseracing Board is proposing raising that to £1.2m. That’s a 3,000 per cent rise – or, if you prefer, practically a 33-1 shot romping home. Double carpet, as the tick-tack boys would have it.
Each regional daily faces an annual bill of £5,000. For the Racing Post, the bill will run into millions.
The move comes at a time when racing needs the press more than the press needs racing. Attendances at race meetings are down and traditional sponsors have abandoned the sport because of its failure to attract a younger audience. Two TV exposes have painted a picture of bent jockeys and trainers getting away with murder. This month a top jockey was banned for taking cocaine – for the second time.
With other sports fighting for valuable column inches, is now really the best time to ask newspapers to cough up even more? Sports editors are already rubbing their hands together at the prospect of retrieving all the ‘dead’ space those racecards take up.
So far, they have shown their opposition by dropping all mention of race sponsors and some titles are likely to drop the racecards. If that fails to get a result, one wonders if the nationals will threaten to boycott the sport altogether. If they do, what are the odds this crazy price hike will soon be declared a non-runner?
There isn’t enough detergent in the world to wash the blood of Associated’s London evening newspaper challengers out of the carpet. But that hasn’t apparently deterred Richard Desmond from eyeing the Evening Standard monopoly and fancying a piece of the action. He may be a shrewd operator, but he wouldn’t be the first to underestimate the journalistic effort needed to put a credible ‘local’ paper on to the capital’s streets – or the ferocity with which the Kensington hordes will be prepared to do battle. Pity Robert Maxwell’s not around to explain to him what became of the London Daily News.