Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Media rights help UK horse racing ride out recession

LONDON (Reuters) - The increased value of media rights has helped British horse racing to weather the impact of recession and a reduction in payments from the betting industry, a report said on Tuesday.

The sport had a total value to the UK economy of 3.45 billion pounds ($5.36 billion) in 2012, according to the report compiled by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and business services group Deloitte. That was slightly higher than the figure from 2008, the last time it was calculated.

Horse racing is the country's second biggest spectator sport after soccer and long the focal point of the gambling industry. But income from a levy on bookmakers' profits has fallen as many gambling companies shift their online operations offshore, beyond the reach of the British tax authorities.

However the sport's high profile - Britain's Queen Elizabeth and a number of prominent Arab figures own horses that compete in top races - mean media rights for races are yielding rising revenues. This is in part owing to demand from bookmakers, who pay for live feeds to support their products.

"British Racing has faced, and largely come through, a significant test," said Paul Bittar, chief executive of the BHA, the sport's governing body.

"We were never going to be immune to the wider financial difficulties that still prevail, but can all be extremely proud of the scale of our sport's continued contribution to the British economy," he added.

The report paints a picture of resilience rather than rapid growth and mirrors the experience of many other sports in recent years, beyond the biggest global brands and athletes.

It estimates that average annual earnings for a jockey are around 35,000 pounds before expenses. To put that in context, many Premier League soccer players could expect to earn a similar sum for a week's work.

Horse racing now faces fresh challenges, having been hit by a series of scandals in recent months.

British-based Italian jockey Frankie Dettori, one of the most charismatic figures in the sport, was banned for six months after failing a dope test. Dettori said he taken cocaine but has now returned to racing.

Trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni has been banned from the sport for eight years for doping racehorses. Al Zarooni worked in Newmarket, eastern England, for Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, one of the sport's biggest financial backers.

(Editing by Sophie Walker)


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