Betting coverage is aimed at those who are free to watch on a Saturday
15 July 2016
Mark Johnston has missed the point in racing’s relationship with betting.
The trainer revealed in the sport's trade paper this week that were he to have any input into ITV’s future coverage of racing he would strip terrestrial coverage of most, if not all, of its betting content to draw in new fans.
Maybe Channel 4 Racing does concentrate too much on betting for some. I wouldn't know because generally I am either travelling to the races when the Morning Line is on, or working at them during their broadcast times. And there's the rub.
There is a small, but sizeable group of people who are interested in racing who do not bet. They are mostly a fraction of trainers, jockeys, bloodstock agents and racing managers.
All of them will be racing on Saturdays, while the rest of the population, when they are not taking their children to the football, washing the car, being dragged around the shops, being one of the six million plus actually going racing or watching another sport, are sat on the sofa punting on racing. It is how most of them got into racing in the first place.
The Middleham maestro brought up the argument that in broadcast coverage of football, betting barely gets a mention and betting trade on football still does very nicely.
There are two issues with this and I'm not even going to go into the obvious that, rightly or wrongly, a proportion of racing's funding model is based on bookmaker money.
The reason football broadcasts are aired without constant bookmaker promotion similar to that which is the current landscape in racing is simply because football is better understood than racing.
Almost everybody in the land has some sort of opinion on the Premier League. Not only because it is embroidered into the very fabric of British society, but a footballer needs only fart and everybody knows about it.
Heat maps, distances run during the match, headers from the left-side of the pitch, exact distances of successful free kicks - you can find out anything about every team or player. And easily. These are complex statistical aspects to the sport that are presented clearly and are understood by many.
It makes betting on myriad of football markets very simple, even for the casual bettor.
Conversely, in racing it is hard enough to find exactly how many winners Frankie Dettori has ridden during his career as he approaches his 3000th British success - imagine not being able to find out how many caps and appearances Wayne Rooney has?
Want to underline Limato’s superiority in Saturday’s July Cup by illustrating how much further he ran than his rivals by veering across half of the July Course? No chance.
How exactly did James McDonald ride his weighing-room colleagues to sleep on Big Orange at Newmarket last week? Few people even know the actual distance of each race they are betting on.
In terms of how many people watch football in direct comparison to racing, and how much is staked on each sport it has to be assumed that the percentage of football fans betting is small in relation to the smaller number of racing TV viewers who are betting. Clearly, this has to reflected by broadcasters.
Betting has always played an integral part in racing, and always will do. Betting is simply investment, and is no dirtier a past-time than placing money on the stock market.
Johnston and his group of racing aficionados need to see that betting is often the only reason the majority of people are interested in racing. Their support, and those of the owners, are the lifeblood that keeps the show on the road.
In an increasingly urban age betting will become a greater and greater feeder for new fans of the sport - we don't all have Room For Pony to get acquainted with horses any more.
If racing was in a position to provide meaty enough analysis that was digestible to the everyday viewer and which was presented in a manner that enticed them in, rather than forced them to watch through glazed eyes, then racing's producers could have more confidence in the power of stories alone.
We are a long way from that, however, Mr Johnston.