Joe Scanlon, Chairman BGRF
In last year’s Report we spoke with some optimism of the benefits we expected to flow from the new Memorandum of Understanding signed by most of the major online operators including two exchange players, Betfair and Betdaq, secured from 1st January 2019. Following this, our income increased last financial year from £6.95m to a healthy £8.87m, our best result since 2013. We are grateful for the strong support we have received from contributing companies over the last year and we record these in full on page 24.
No one could possibly have foreseen the existential crisis that overtook the sports of greyhound racing, horse racing and a host of other sporting events when Coronavirus struck globally. For over two months the betting companies were left with no live content and greyhound racing in line with other sports in the UK was completely suspended from 23rd March to the end of May. With racing behind closed doors resuming, under the strictest conditions, from 1st June 2020 some semblance of normality returned albeit at a much-reduced income level. As a result, stadia were instructed to close their doors to the public and many now face an uncertain future, with Peterborough Stadium, Belle Vue, and most recently Poole announcing that they were unable to continue trading after lockdown.
The FOBT issue and the impact on LBOs has not gone away. Since my last report it is estimated that up to 1,350 LBOs have permanently shut their doors. Whilst for the last 12 months we have received online income from a number of new contributors, for which we are very grateful, greyhound racing only contributes a very small percentage of the online business mix. This is in sharp contrast to the LBO market where according to the latest Gambling Commission figures (as at September 2019) it accounts for 12.6% of sportsbook. Whilst the sport gradually comes out of lockdown, at the time of writing the retail betting shops are assessing on a case-by-case basis whether individual shops can be adapted to provide necessary social distancing whilst remaining profitable. It is highly likely that many will not be able to achieve this and so we anticipate a further decline in retail outlets. The impact on BGRF income, which was previously around 60% from retail, to a large extent remains unknown.
As usual we are pleased to record our roll of honour on page 24 showing those companies large and small that have decided to support the work of the BGRF. We have been joined most recently by MansionBet and we remain optimistic about more companies deciding to sign up in future.
Greyhound racing has faced many challenges over the years but the scale of Coronavirus and its implications for every individual in all aspects of their lives makes the course of this current year, 2020, impossible to predict with certainty. Nevertheless the sport remains resilient with the Greyhound Board of Great Britain instituting a range of emergency measures, in part funded by the BGRF with a grant of £600,000, in order to preserve and protect the racing strength during lockdown and to assist the transition to racing with special measures for trialling in. As always our focus has been on the welfare of the racing greyhound and greyhounds in retirement, of which more below.
We continue to engage with non-paying companies in a constructive way and our budget is tailored so that we have the flexibility to respond to circumstances. Whilst we have made good headway in persuading many of the web-based businesses of the mutual merits of supporting the industry, particularly from a welfare standpoint, there is still some way to go before we are at the same contribution level as that of the retail sector. A cursory examination of our list of contributors by the reader will highlight several major online companies who are conspicuous by their absence. Leaving aside for the moment the morality of their refusal to offer welfare support, those who still to refuse to pay whilst at the same time actively promote greyhound betting on their site are in fact receiving a free ride from those right-minded companies that do pay. I remain hopeful that these serous matters will continue to be addressed and in that regard, I am grateful for the continued support of Lord Lipsey and DCMS for their help in raising the very important issue of welfare and the need for all bookmakers to play their part. It would be my wish that some thought will be given to the question of non-payers during the passage of new Gambling Bill expected during the lifetime of the current parliament.
As always this report includes retrospective reporting on our expenditure. In 2019-20, we continued to fund all of the usual areas of support for greyhound racing:
Last calendar year (2019) direct welfare provision totalled 51% of overall budget, with a total expenditure of £4.08m. In addition, prize money of £1.88m was expended, at 23.5% of budget. In addition, grants to stadia were restricted to welfare-related projects. The 2020 budget will be tailored in response to Covid-19 requirements and so a like-for-like comparison will not be possible.
In the calendar year 2019 we spent £1.38m or 17.2% of budget on vital integrity regulation.
Grants to Stadia
Grants to stadia have for the past few years been restricted to expenditure on projects and equipment in support of greyhound welfare. With a shrinking budget, grants intended to support the overall commercial success of stadia can no longer be on the radar. Welfare remains at the core of everything we do. For the first time in 2019, we decided to offer grants to stadia of up to 75% of net project cost and this higher percentage of support was intended to incentivise welfare investment during challenging trading conditions. In many cases this was needed to ensure racing continued uninterrupted. Grants to stadia expenditure in the financial year totalled £94,965, offered on the basis of up to 75% of net cost or a maximum of £10,000. This will continue for 2020. Full details of grants awarded are shown on page 25.
Overall in 2019, commercial expenditure budget including welfare grants to stadia, marketing, IT, and breeders prizes totalled £666,000 or 8.5% of our budget.
Our FAQ section has further information if you’d like to know more about any of the areas we fund.
During the emergency period we found it necessary to reduce the hitherto significant funding in the region of £1.3m we had granted each year to the Greyhound Trust. This level of support had been consistent for the past 20 years or more, so it was not an easy decision to make. The GBGB and BGRF jointly concluded that it was not possible during the emergency to offer retired greyhounds significantly greater funding than we could afford to offer racing greyhounds laid off in kennel. At just 50p per dog per day, with a racing strength of 16,300 unable to race this meant spending some £250,000 per month. Clearly given the other demands on our income we couldn’t afford an additional £105,000 per month to fund some 650 retired greyhounds believed to be awaiting homing at any one time.
Sadly our relationship with the Greyhound Trust has broken down during this period and the GBGB will be looking for new arrangements, and hopefully better ones, to ensure that retired greyhounds in future can enjoy the very best of welfare provision including the establishment of the greyhound ‘pension’, the Greyhound Support Bond, which launched in September 2020.
During the year we were pleased to be joined by John Coleman, Jeff McKenna and Chris Benn. I’d like to record our thanks to those directors who continue to service on our board as well as those who left us during the year: Mike Jones and Tom Tuxworth.
A full list of directors as at 31 March 2020 appears on page 23.
At the time of writing many of us have spent six months in lockdown or under severe and necessary restrictions. Measures to protect the population are gradually being eased but the pace of this will be dictated by the course of Coronavirus balanced against the needs of the working world.
I remain convinced that in greyhound racing we have a strong and resilient sport and that during the course of the current year, 2020, we’ll see racing resume in a new form which allows both safe social enjoyment and a resumption of enjoyable social betting as well. Although it may be hard for many to see a positive future, nevertheless with one small step at a time we shall survive and in due course prosper once more.