THE AXE FALLS ON RACING VICTORIA’S CHAIRMAN.
It seemed very strange, almost eerily so, a fortnight ago when at Rosehill, a well placed NSW racing mover and shaker spoke about Racing Victoria Chairman Rob Roulston being on “shaky ground”. When pressed, it was clear that the knives had well and truly been sharpened and Rob Roulston was close to a dead man walking.
Roulston’s conflicts of interest were no different to many of his fellow board members and pale into insignificance when compared with some of the conflicts in NSW among the decision makers. But Roulston, perhaps, signed his own death warrant when he signed off on the ill-timed, all guns blazing attack on Racing NSW regarding their conduct over the war of attrition with Victoria concerning the TVN/Sky media rights war, which like most wars, was not only avoidable, but was carefully stage-managed to deliver the outcome which is the legacy that Australian racing could have done without.
Rob Roulston, the bloodstock agent, has a network of contacts in all the right circles in NSW racing. His network has brought him into direct and close contact with the Hunter Valley power brokers- the usual suspects, when it comes to the “go to” men and women in Australian racing.
And the Hunter power brokers take no prisoners. In NSW racing there is no room for dissent – expressing it privately will get you life, expressing it publicly is a hanging offence. Just ask Kenny Callander.
To make Rob Roulston’s position even more untenable was that he was increasingly morphing into a role of Executive Chairman – a role which in many ways he was forced into to cover for his Chief Executive “Inspector Clousseau” Saundry, who according to our well-placed NSW racing mover and shaker, is another dead man walking.
So it is quite on the cards despite the ill-informed twitter banter by those idle souls with little else to do but speculate on matters they don’t have the basic intellect to understand that the ”inspector” will be offered the opportunity for a fully paid up exit from his position. And no, a contract won’t stand in the way of that happening.
The new Chairman of Racing Victoria- David Moodie- good old “mumbles”- has a big challenge on his hands.
His popularity amongst the racing electorate is on par with Tony Abbott’s ratings as preferred Prime Minister pre- budget. There wont be too much goodwill extended the way of David Moodie for too long. He too, like most of his Board, has conflicts of interest, but his may stretch beyond the length of Harbour Bridge. One wrong move and he is likely to be pushed off it.
From what we have heard previously, he doesn’t have the street smarts that these days is a pre-requisite for any Chairman of a racing governing body in Australia. The Racing NSW hierarchy, read duopoly, will have him for breakfast, lunch and tea.
Victorian racing is in for some interesting times. Moodie may yet surprise with his navigational skills. The corporate bookmakers, tellingly, don’t think so.
COULD THE SEVEN NETWORK BE RACING’S CIRCUIT BREAKER?
The news that the Seven network could be on the cusp of signing off on a media rights deal with Victorian racing could have seriously positive long term implications for racing beyond Victoria’s state boundaries.
The deal which will involve a substantial investment by the Victorian Race Clubs and Racing Victoria into setting up the infrastructure for a new channel is predicated on Victorian racing being broadcast on a new Seven Network digital channel based on two of its existing digital channels – 7TWO and 7MATE.
The content of the proposed channel will be exclusively Victorian racing, which will be broadcast 363 days of the year (no, there is no racing in Australia on Christmas Day or Good Friday!), according to The Australian newspaper’s Brendan Cormick. Advertising revenue from the proposed channel, reports Cormick would flow back into the coffers of Victorian racing to fund its operations.
The Seven Network’s involvement comes as no surprise, except to some of the delusional administrators in NSW. Seven already has free to air rights for some of Australia’s major racing carnivals including the iconic Melbourne Cup carnival, and well placed speculation in recent times has alluded to a possible interest by the Network in securing a wagering licence in partnership with one or more State governing bodies in the longer term, replicating the Tabcorp/Sky arrangement with State racing bodies.
With the Victorian wagering licence formally expiring in 2024, on the surface, that may seem like an eternity away. But is it? Contracts these days are barely worth the paper they are written on. Contracts can- and are broken- according to the circumstances and often by mutual agreement or when an offer too good to refuse is placed on the table.
More realistically, a ten year window would give the Network and its partners the necessary time frame to build a viable business model incorporating a wagering and media model rolled into one.
Interestingly, the Seven Network supremo and media mogul Kerry Stokes is a West Australian and has expanded his media portfolio into print.
More interestingly, the West Australian Tab is the only non-privatised, State and industry owned pari-mutuel wagering operator. It is fast approaching its mortality in this regard and privatisation is only a matter of time.
Whether privatization is fast tracked and the WA Tab is sold to one of the big two – Tabcorp or Ubet- is the subject of conjecture. But then, would either Tab really be a potential buyer given the extremely competitive and challenging wagering landscape?
The upside for racing is that the opportunity to partner with a successful free-to-air television network could enable it to exploit some unique and previously untapped synergies and compliment expertise which could just be the rainbow that racing has been searching for fruitlessly in recent times.
The successes of both the NRL and AFL have been almost exclusively based on the ability of their respective boards and leadership to recognize and exploit the insatiable appetite of the media conglomerates to engage in a Dutch auction for media rights. Racing can never be so lucky. It is nowhere near as mainstream as league and AFL. But racing can and must exploit its own strengths to its advantage. The Seven network might just be the “white knight” that racing in Oz has been searching for.
IS SKY NOW PART OF RACING’S EVER GROWING PROBLEM?
If the increasingly loud noises of complaint right across every segment of the racing community is any indication, then Sky Channel’s Thoroughbred Central – which supposedly was established as the “fix” to racing’s vision problems- is failing. And dismally. So much so that even the strident critics of TVN have turned full-circle and are now behind enemy lines.
In Victoria, the “Mexicans” are revolting. Kinda. Sky Thoroughbred Central’s Victorian coverage smacks of payback. Even the legion of NSW punters who have chosen Victorian racing as their venue of choice for punting are in furious agreement with their Victorian counterparts. Victorian racing is the wagering venue of choice, for some very obvious reasons – bigger field sizes producing better returns, and reliable and regular exotic wagering options.
The Victorian product arguably is a more attractive wagering option. Yet the coverage of the Victorian race meetings on Sky Thoroughbred Central comprise, for the most part, little more than a two minute window of horses going into the barrier stalls and the actual ‘live’ vision of the race with a direct cross to a NSW venue immediately after the Victorian race is run for mounting yard pre-race coverage.
For Sky and its master Tabcorp, the NSW wagering product is centimetres away from freefall, and to make matters even more of a potential financial black hole for Tabcorp, the jolly green giant signs off the product fee cheque on behalf of its life partner Racing NSW to all other State governing bodies. And under the product fee regime successfully brokered by Racing NSW’s dear leader, below, the turnover-based product fee cheque just has to be growing in size to interstate governing bodies.
So, what better way for Tabcorp and Sky than to ramp up the coverage of even some of the more nondescript meetings in a desperate attempt to boost wagering and turnover on NSW race meetings?
Sounds like and looks like- and smells like- a natural commercial response, doesn’t it?