It’s a power battle, initially between two broadcasters, but in the end between NSW and Victorian galloping interests over how they see their wagering income affected. Underneath it all, the mighty Tabcorp is looking on bemusedly as its product suppliers squabble over the crumbs. Tabcorp will lose a few dollars while it goes on but will come out on top stronger than ever.
The genesis of the saga lay in the hunger of the big gallops clubs for better – ie longer – film coverage of the before and after goings-on of each race. More discussion of form and fitness, more tips, more post mortems and other publicity.
SKY was skimping on that detail so the raceclubs created TVN with their own money (which they are now bound to lose) to offer exclusive thoroughbred viewing. No dogs, no trots. The big city types convinced the provincials to join in but threw in a deal which guaranteed simultaneous SKY coverage to satisfy the many people who were unwilling or unable to pay for TVN subscriptions via Foxtel or whoever.
Now that has broken down, TVN will probably collapse and SKY will get the lot, perhaps hiving off some rights to Pay-TV or even to Free-to-Air, as is now occurring with Channel Seven, Either way, SKY’s owner, Tabcorp, will have a win. More so because Racing NSW already has a long term agreement with Tabcorp to be its preferred betting operator. This extended Tabcorp’s existing monopoly over all NSW TAB activities. That stranglehold effectively extends into Victoria where the racing codes refer to Tabcorp as its business “partner”.
However, the reason for the original dissatisfaction with SKY coverage will continue. While the gallops have always obtained preferred treatment, the continuing rise in meetings covered by Tabcorp, and therefore SKY, leaves no space available to indulge in lengthy chats (as Channel Seven does for major meetings now and TVN once did). The addition of extra international meetings crams even more races into a finite space.
Many greyhound meetings have long since been pushed onto SKY2, costing them turnover, and that is a trend that can only persist or even grow.
The paradox is that while all these measures are reducing the average greyhound turnover per race, the greyhound code is a golden goose for Tabcorp because it serves to fill all the available gaps in the broadcast program. That keeps all the gamblers, the machines and the staff working hard, thereby generating enormous economic efficiencies for Tabcorp.
Even more curious is that while SKY is paying a fortune to the gallops clubs for rights to film their races, greyhound clubs get nothing and are forced to cover their own hook-up costs.
It is also worth remembering that, to keep punters busy, GRNSW scheduled extra dog races during the equine influenza epidemic, but then promptly gave away 87% of its income to the other two codes (per force of the intercode agreement). Operating costs would certainly not have been covered.
How did all that happen? In part, it evolved way back in the early 1990s when SKY boss Warren Wilson (later CEO of TAB Ltd and now head of the Penrith Panthers gambling and sporting complex) scooted around NSW signing up clubs directly, using a use-it or lose-it approach with clubs which had little idea of the tiger’s tail they were grabbing hold of.
SKY was aided considerably by the eagerness of GBOTA clubs to hop on the bandwagon before it was too late. Possession (of a broadcast slot) was nine points of the law, mainly because once SKY coverage started betting turnover more or less doubled. Unfortunately, no-one thought to negotiate a mutually satisfactory deal with SKY – hence the current lopsided financial arrangements.
All through that era, the NSW GRA (as it was then) was no more than a spectator – an attitude that carried through to the signing of the intercode agreement that is now a ball and chain for the local industry.
Call it naïve or just commercial ignorance, it became the benchmark for all future processes involving betting and especially TABs. The outcome is that today, despite greyhounds’ highly valuable contribution to Tabcorp’s bottom line, it has no bargaining power. The two giant thoroughbred authorities in Sydney and Melbourne have it on their own, notwithstanding the fact that they continue to lose market share.
Isn’t it about time we made a noise on our own, starting with the creation of a powerful national authority to do battle with the other giants of the industry? The current structure allows states to be picked off one by one, just as small clubs in NSW were 20 years ago.
In parallel, the need for state governments to join together to better look after consumers has never been greater. A carefully regulated national betting market is essential to bring that about.
Not This Time, But Maybe Next Time?
How is it possible to understand what stewards do?
Stewards Report, Race 10, Sandown 28 December.
“Stewards issued a warning to Ms. A. Langton, the trainer of In Black Gear regarding the greyhounds racing manners on the home turn”.
In fact, the dog turned its head and had a nip at the dog outside it. Both it and the victim lost ground as a result. A casual observer might find the “offence” more serious than, for instance, that of Deadly Boy in a heat of the Sale Cup recently. Deadly Boy got 28 days. In Black Gear lives to fight again.