An early site of the Coronavirus' effect on racing-related organisations was highlighted this week when Spotlight Sports Group, owners of the Racing Post, announced that redundancies are an unavoidable consequence of the cessation of racing for over two months.
As highlighted in the Guardian on June 8, the paper's owner is blaming loss of revenue during its 76 day hiatus from publishing a physical paper, although the digital version continued throughout.
The Group commented in a note to staff, “Like many other companies, the Group is responding to the changed circumstances and loss of revenue resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. Changes such as a diminished racing and sporting programme and the economic downturn mean Spotlight Sports Group needs to reorganise to safeguard the future of the business and as many of its employees as possible.
“The Group is determined that the quality of its content and products will not be compromised and is looking at every significant non-staff item of expenditure to try to minimise the number of job losses, but the reality is that it can no longer sustain the workforce it employed before the advent of coronavirus.”
The writing was on the wall from early on following the Racing Post's cessation of print on March 23rd. Many at the time asked how likely it would be for the paper to return in paper format, and the unpalatable question remains that much of the audience would still buy a solely digital product, whilst Spotlight Group could service its betting shop clientele with a specific product as it dies now.
It must surely therefore be only a matter of time before it follows the trend of other niche publications serving the racing and sports audiences across the globe, which are almost all solely digital products.
And given that Racing Post's revenues are inextricably linked to betting, where the inexorable trend is toward online channels rather than retail shops, it's a miracle we've been able to enjoy a printed newspaper this long.
Is this perhaps an opportunity for the paper's owners to reassess their distribution channel and focus even more on quality coverage of the full range of racing in the UK, Ireland and further afield, including Point-to-Point racing?
Our sport derives an income from its runner and result data, channelled through the Point-to-Point Racing Company (PPRC), which is one reason why Pointing is not covered by the paper. Where once Racing Post published entries, previews and results readily, this ceased to be sufficiently remunerative several years ago, but in order to widen the aperture for prospective spectators to see the sport, greater efforts should be made with an organisation that has pioneered competition in publishing, for example in providing a competitor for racecard design & publishing to Weatherbys.
That commercial dynamic, which lacks impetus in the more conservative organisation that is Weatherbys, whose revenues are not solely reliant upon publishing, would be welcome to enable our amateur sport to grow its audience and visibility, even among regular racegoers who have never connected with the sport.
Sadly, one suspects this will not be the only racing organisation shedding staff over the next few months, as we continue to race but without engaging spectator audiences.