THW: Simulcasting – Not for the Philippines

THE HOARSE WHISPERER By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 9 January 2013, Wednesday

Simulcasting – Not for the Philippines

The simulcasting experiment in the Philippines has failed.

This was the consensus of several Thoroughbred racing industry sectors after three days of simulcasting last week from January 3.

In a special report I wrote upon invitation of another publication last Saturday, I mentioned that according to feedback from racing fans on my Facebook Page (Gogirl Racing), most racing fans found the setup confusing, although a few said it was exciting and part of “growing pains” for the country’s first implementation of the method.

As I also said in that report, “Simulcasting is the simultaneous broadcasting of races from two or more different racetracks on the same day, at intervals between each race.

“It is a system popular abroad, but prior to the other night had never been tried here, even with proposals over the years from foreigners, such as the South Africans, to run simulcasting showing races from the Philippines and other countries.

“With the entry of new racetrack Metropolitan Manila Turf Club into the already stagnant racing industry, the Philippine Racing Commission was hard-pressed to come up with a schedule acceptable to all three racing clubs (the others are Manila Jockey Club, Inc., founded 1867, and the Philippine Racing Club, Inc., established 1937).

“Before this year, the two long-established tracks ran six days a week on alternate weeks. This schedule was also considered initially, but, fearing loss of income, among other business challenges, PRCI opted to bring into play a proviso in its franchise law that authorizes it to run four days a week. Philracom then came up with the simulcasting solution.

“A schedule drawn up by Philracom in December last year gave MMTC a schedule starting January, but the club, owned by longtime horseowner and breeder Norberto Quisumbing Jr., is unable to run this month.”

Sales for the first day of simulcasting were below the average, with MJCI posting  P9.5 million and PRCI P10.2 million for seven races each. MJCI and PRCI used to host seven to eight races per weeknight, each averaging P20 to 21 million on Thursdays.

Off-track betting stations, through which over 90% of wagering sales are channeled, could barely cope with the transition. Most of them were subscribed to only one cable television network and thus could only show the races at one track, frustrating fans who could not view the races at the other.

Many OTBs also had only one telephone/data line over which to transmit bets, and could not accept bets for the other track.

It was this lack of infrastructure that largely contributed to the decline in sales. A dip in revenue means correspondingly lower purse money for first through fourth places, which alarmed horseowners, prompting the “tri-org” – the alliance of the three horseowners’ organizations – MARHO (Metropolitan Association of Race Horse Owners), Philtobo (Philippine Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Organization), and Klub Don Juan de Manila – to meet last Monday night. As of presstime, they have not given an official statement, saying that they are still studying the matter.

In line with its policy on responsiveness to current issues, the Philippine Racing Commission led by Chairman Angel L. Castaño Jr. hosted two meetings last Monday – one with representatives from the three racing clubs and a multi-sectoral meeting with other industry stakeholders.

According to Philracom commissioner and executive director Jesus B. Cantos, “We needed to test the simulcasting in order to establish data and hard facts for decision-making. We saw [it was] an infirmity, chaotic, with impact on sales.” After the discussion at the meeting, he said, “we decided we will now return to single-club six-day racing operation on alternate weeks.”

PRCI holds races this week, and MJCI next week, until MMTC goes on stream on February 19. Director Cantos says that a 2-2-2 schedule might then be followed, with each club given two racing days per week.

MJCI Chairman & CEO lawyer Alfonso R. Reyno Jr. has requested Philracom to approve racing on Monday; in that case, the schedule would be 2-2-3.

“Definitely, simulcasting is out of the picture,” said Director Cantos.

PRCI executive vice-president and COO Allan V. Abesamis, on the other hand, “We did not want simulcasting in the first place but it was the only way for us to forestall a drastic shift in revenue.”

PRCI and MJCI used to have 156 racing days per year; under a 2-2-3 schedule, they will have only 115 or 116 racing days per year.

“We would lose 40 days of racing and corresponding revenue,” said Abesamis. He called the three days of simulcasting “a learning experience, nakakatuwa na nakakapagod.”

PRCI at the moment is fine with the suggestion that three racing clubs run every week; however they will insist that if a track cannot operate on its scheduled days, that it not be allowed to “give” or “sell” their racing days but instead forfeit them, and that there be no limit to the number of races per day, so that horses stabled at PRCI need not be transported to either MJCI or MMTC in order to compete in races. Abesamis says they would accept a limit in the number of participants per race.

The “situation is still fluid,” he added.

With racing largely in decline abroad with no resurgence of its popularity in sight, the Philippine racing world is not alone in facing challenging times. The entry of a third racing club in a scenario dominated by only two for decades poses problems of a kind never encountered before.

It behooves everyone to remember, in all this, the racing fans. The revenue comes from them, and their feedback is important.

If they find an already difficult activity to be less convenient or more frustrating, it is easy for them to find another game to play.  They shouldn’t be taken for granted.

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