There are lamentations amongst racing journalists at the ‘disappointing’ viewing figures achieved by I.T.V. since they acquired the contract to televise and promote horse racing. The ‘Morning Show’ is especially disappointing, with over 8-million a poor return for the Grand National, apparently.
When I.T.V. won the rights to televise racing I was dismayed that no loyalty was given to Channel 4 for the excellence of service they had provided for racing. Their presenters were not to everyone’s cup of tea, of course, but the same can be said for the line-up at I.T.V. That is not to say that the sport is not in safe hands with I.T.V. It is, with the presenters genuinely chuffed to be associated with covering racing. But the slide in viewing figures was never the fault of Channel 4. People keep quoting the figures achieved by the B.B.C. without ever comparing the lack of choice in their day with the myriad of ways people can now watch television.
People like myself, as with anyone who considers horse racing to be the very staff of life, will watch horse racing on any channel that televises racing. It is an essential of life. But there are only so many of us. It would be the same if tennis had the same television air-time as horse racing enjoys. There are only so many tennis mad people and attracting newcomers would take time and perhaps innovation within the sport, though innovation can alienate traditionalists and achieve the reverse of what is intended. I would think I.T.V.’s coverage of cycling has attracted people to take up cycling and perhaps more people go to events to cheer on the competitors.
And here is the rub. If you decide to cheer on the professional cyclists when they speed through your area you cannot be seated in front of your television boosting viewing figures. On Saturday April 8th it was a lovely Spring Day virtually throughout the country and there were three or four other race-meetings for people to attend. How many people attended these meetings? Owners, trainers, jockeys, stable staff, bookmakers, ordinary race-goers who always support their local racecourse. If you add the number of people attending the other fixtures on April 8th and add it to the casual race-fan hauled off to the sea-side or other attractions by the responsibility of being a husband, wife or parent, and you might get a figure close to or above a million, extending over 8-million to over 9-million.
One fact is assured: the experiment of running the race at 5-15 is not working and they should go back to a start time of 4-15. I know of a ‘Cream Tea and Grand National’ afternoon organised for Winkleigh Village Hall to raise money for charity that was timed for 3 o’clock to 5. I also know that a good number of my associates replied to my mentioning the Grand National with ‘oh, it’s this weekend, is it?’ Or ‘when is the Grand National?’ So a good number of people neither know the day of the race nor the time of day.
It is not as if what is on offer is poor quality. The Greatest horse race in the world, accepted by the sporting fraternity as one the most iconic sporting events in the world and delivered to the sitting rooms of the world by presenters who are as good as there is in the whole of televised sport.
As for the ‘Morning Show’. During Cheltenham week I was only able to watch one of the four programmes due to a little thing called ‘work’. Racing Post journalists, seemingly, have little idea of the concept of ‘work’ getting in the way of pleasure. It was the same for the Grand National ‘Morning Shows’; I watched the Saturday show but ‘work’ prevented me from watching on the Thursday and Friday. I am sure it was the same for millions of other people. Programmes like the ‘Morning Show’ are for the connoisseur and the industry. I dare say everyone working in a racing stable would have liked to have tuned in but ‘work’ would have prevented them.
Here’s a thought: stop the brow-beating and enjoy the over 8-million. Next year, if we are lucky, Grand National Day may dawn wet and cold and the magic figure of 10-million may yet be achieved. And make Grand National Day unique by having no other racing on the day, and have a universal promotion by bookmakers and the industry so that everyone in the country is aware of the day and time of the race. And to help the organisers of events like the Cream Tea and Grand National event at Winkleight go back to the 4-15 start and stop pandering to media outlets who obviously do not appreciate the race for what it is – the Greatest Show On Earth.
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.