Sovereign Series - Will It Work?
On Wednesday, with a great fanfare, the Sovereign Series was announced.
This is a series of ten of the top flat races which will have funding of £10 with a substantial prize going to connections of the horse which scores most points in the series.
At first glance it sounds a brilliant initiative, a huge injection of funds into racing, a chance to raise a profile of the sport in the eyes of the general public. A large number of whom think there are only two horse races a year, The Grand National and The Derby.
Of course it is very easy for the marketing men to grab a quick headline but, as often happens, the devil is in the detail.
It has to be said the more you look at the detail of the proposed series, the more difficult it becomes to justify the series.
The most serious show stopper surrounds the terrestrial broadcasting rights. The powers that be want the series covered by a single terrestrial broadcaster. The proposed races are currently shown by both the BBC and Channel 4.
These is also an expectation that the terrestrial broadcasters will have to bid for the rights. Quite how this fits in with the Channel Four financial model where they are currently being paid to broadcast racing every Saturday. Should they obtain the rights to the Sovereign Series would they still wish to show the “bread and butter” racing the other weeks.
Another major issue is the BBC currently hold the rights to Royal Ascot. Ascot racecourse have said they are not prepared to have terrestrial coverage of the Royal Meeting split across two channels. I can’t see the BBC being wiling to give up their Ascot coverage, one of the “Jewels In The Crown”.
Will the BBC therefore bid for the entire package?
Looking at how they have drastically reduced their coverage in recent years I cannot see that happening.
Again the question will need to be asked if the BBC get the rights will the C4 walk away.
My suspicion is whichever terrestrial broadcaster doesn’t win the rights will almost certainly walk away from coverage of racing – that will not help the sport at all.
There are also questions surrounding the races that have been selected for the series. With such large sums of money at stake, what will be the impact on the non-Sovereign races?
The one that immediately springs to mind is the Champion Stakes at Newmarket, which is the same weekend as the Arc. If a leading horse is in contention for the Sovereign Series big prize will they potentially by-pass the Arc to run at Newmarket. Arguably the Arc is the far superior race.
Why aren’t all the classics being included in the series?
Will the series be supported by all of those in the sport? This will be a showcase series and it will, hopefully, put the sport in the public eye.
With that comes responsibility. Those involved, owners, trainers and jockeys need to be accessible. What the series cannot do with, is surly jockeys whose stock answer to general questions from the media is to respond with a two word reply the second of which is off.
Finally I do have one other concern, which may not go down well with the public. We are currently experiencing a credit crunch, people are being asked to tighten their belts. Yet they then see racing launching a £10 million, ten race series and when encouraged to actually come racing and watch the racing live they are charged extortionate amounts to enter the racecourse.
Also the question has to be asked – can the money not be better spent? Certainly there are more pressing needs outside racing but that is another issue.
There is talk of a £2m prize to the horse that wins the series – the chances it will go to one of the big stables and the question is do they need the money? Are there not other areas in racing where the money could be better spent?