British horseracing drops Sunday evening racing pilot

Six Sunday evening fixtures ran between January 7 and March 10.
Six Sunday evening fixtures ran between January 7 and March 10.

The BHA says the concept should be revisited “when circumstances allow”.

UK.- The British Horseracing Association’s (BHA) has announced that the pilot of Sunday evening races will not be resumed for now but may be revisited “when circumstances allow’” It said it had undertaken a comprehensive review of commercial performance data along with feedback from jockeys, stable employees, trainers and officials.

One of a number of innovations announced for the 2024 Fixture List, the pilot was launched to test the potential of a new window for betting. It had been reported that betting activity was strong on Sunday evenings and that there was potential to engage digital customers. Six fixtures ran from January 7 to March 10 with Class3 races and below, prize money of at least £145,000 and extra payments for jockeys and staff.

The BHA evaluated the competitiveness of the racing product and whether the fixtures resulted in increased betting turnover compared to a similar midweek fixture. The races were found to be competitive and well supported, however, betting turnover did not meet the target of outperforming midweek (Tuesday to Thursday) floodlit fixtures by 15 to 20 per cent. Some fixtures did well, but average betting turnover was 3 per cent lower due to large variations.

BHA chair Joe Saumarez Smith commented: “Although we have learnt some valuable lessons from the short trial, having considered the evidence, feedback and the recommendation from the Commercial Committee, the Board has agreed that no further Sunday evening fixtures should be programmed at this stage.

“However, while the pilot did not deliver what we had hoped, there was a recognition of the challenges presented by making a decision based on such a small sample, especially when the data varied so significantly across the fixtures. It’s also the case that new concepts, which include behaviour change from the betting public, are likely to take time to settle in.

“The Board concluded that the concept of Sunday evening racing is not something that should be dismissed and that it would like a further and longer trial to take place, where circumstances permit, to gather additional data.”

BHA director of racing and betting Richard Wayman said: “The trial of the six Sunday evening meetings was an informative and worthwhile exercise as we seek to grow engagement with our sport at a time when we face some difficult financial headwinds. 

“We wanted to test the viability of racing in a window that was thought to have the potential to boost racing’s income, especially among digital customers. But it was clear from the outset that this would be challenging, especially for those who would be servicing the fixtures. We are very grateful to everyone who worked to deliver the pilot and who took the time to provide us with constructive feedback.

“Innovation in the racing product is, and will continue to be, a key part of the industry’s wider strategy work. It’s important that we aren’t afraid to try different things and that the sport is open to new ideas – recognising that some proposals will inevitably enjoy greater success than others.”

Horseracing betting levy

The Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) estimates that funding for horseracing received via the direct levy on betting operators reached £105m for 2023/24. The figure would be an increase of £5m from 2022/2023 and would represent the third consecutive annual increase in funds.

Due to this additional funding, the HBLB will increase its prize money contribution from £67.3m in 2023 to £70.5m in 2024.

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