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Newspaper coverage of racing: a different future

25-February-2021 18:41
in General
by Peter McNeile

The editorial coverage given to racing by newspapers has hit an all-time low point this winter, as illustrated by the ranking of racing among sports in all mainstream media outlets. Whilst the big events like the Festival and Grand National offer a chance to correct this, the levels of coverage that were taken as read less than 5 years ago are now seen as manna from Heaven. 

Why is this the case? Commentators have long forecast the demise of print, but newspapers like the Sun, Mail, Times and Telegraph still have substantial followings, and have extended these through their online offerings, some free to the end user, some behind paywalls. Yet in the blue blood of the serious press, the Daily Telegraph, racing coverage is now listed online beneath obscure minority sports. Does this show a malaise with the management of racing, a loss of interest in the readership beyond assessing the daily card, or is it a symptom of competition?

Lester's first Derby made the Mirror front page

I suspect it is all of the above. However, leading the vanguard of competition are bookmakers, previously major advertisers and business partners of newspapers, but which now are managing the news from racing through their own exclusive content and fresh-off-the-page stories of their own. Take Paddy Power for example. The Irish bookie, one part of the highly successful Paddy Power Betfair corporate, posted 6 stories alone yesterday, and through Betfair, has access to some of the sport's top writers through the Timeform stable. This means they are closer to the intimate knowledge of the sport that followers crave than any mainstream journalist. 

And by lending their name to several races at this year's Festival, they provide themselves the additional credibility to add enticing Paddy Power horse racing offers to the exclusive stories they write. With big names like Ruby Walsh writing for them, they have more credibility than any national newspaper.

And Paddy Power are hardly alone in this space. Nico de Boinville and Nicky Henerseon write exclusively for Champion Hurdle sponsor Unibet, whilst in the West Country, Paul Nichols is signed up to Betfair, and Coral sponsors Colin Tizzard. 

Add to this the evolving business model of the sport's own newspaper, the Racing Post. Once upon a time, when betting was only on racing, the sport somehow supported two national newspapers in the Sporting Life and Sporting Chronicle. The latter disappeared in 1983, and three years after, Sheihk Mohammed underwrote the publication of the Racing Post. Sporting Life is now an online brand owned by Skybet, whilst remaining a first class fount of sports editorial, but now against much stiffer competition from other content-rich bookmaker sites, which also include Racing TV and At The Races, channels in which Horseracing has a stake. 

This evolution of specialist racing news is part of a broader media revolution that has chased content online, and identified fanbases much closer with those that stand to gain from them. As a result, major sponsorships by newspapers are, I suspect, fancies of the past. I've been lucky enough over time to be able to negotiate major racing sponsorships with a host of national titles in this country and Ireland, from the Telegraph - first sponsor of what is now the Ryanair - to the Irish Independent, Irish Times, and Irish Star.  

But the future of newspaper involvement with racing lies in the ability of racing to protect its knowledge base and harness it in exclusive arrangements with media outlets on an ongoing basis. In helping publishers to retain and engage their readers, racing can support those publications by growing together the market for spectator tickets, and for ancillary services like betting. 

For the world of Point-to-Point, betting does not come into play as live online betting would bring a whole raft of integrity issues to the fore which would also put us into direct competition with professional racing. However, if this season has shown us anything, it is that there is ready demand for a nearly live streaming service around which ongoing sponsors, from media and other sources, can capitalize. 

The future is yet bright, and ours to embrace. 


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