Welcome to the News desk.
|Punters are the casualties in TurfTV wars
| Greg Wood
Saturday April 21, 2007
were 17 people in the William Hill betting shop next to Victoria station at
1.40pm yesterday. Three were playing on the roulette machines and six more were
watching them, mesmerised by the flashing lights and oblivious to anything
else. Most of the remaining eight, however, had had a bet of some sort on the
first race at Newbury and many faces wore an expression of bafflement as the
runners set off with the main screen showing an empty dog track.
years, punters have known that, whatever the result, if they had a bet at a
major meeting they would be able to see where their money went. But not any
more, for the moment at least. Yesterday's meeting at Newbury was blanked out
in 95% of Britain's betting shops and many punters were taken by surprise.
"It pisses you off, doesn't it?", Tony, who goes into the shop "most
lunchtimes", said. "I'd heard it was happening, but I didn't realise it was
"You bet so that you can
watch, don't you? Everyone's used to it, you just take it for granted. Next
time I might find somewhere that's got it all on, because there's not much
point if you can't watch."
And as luck would have it, Tony and the
other punters of London SW1 do have a choice. An inquiry in another Hill's shop
two streets away as to whether they would be showing the Newbury card brought
an embarrassed shrug of the shoulders from the manager, but some helpful advice
from one of his punters. "Go to the Better shop up the road," he said. "They've
got all the racing on there." The manager gave him a thanks-a-bunch stare.
The big bookmakers are hoping that their regulars will not notice that
races from major tracks and meetings have dropped off their schedule. Or, if
they do notice, that they will not care enough to hunt down one of the 600 or
so shops in Britain and Ireland that currently subscribe to TurfTV, the
racecourse-led channel that had the exclusive betting-shop rights to
yesterday's Newbury card.
Better, which operates 14 shops in London, is
one of the few firms in the capital with TurfTV, and yesterday they were making
the most of it.
"From our point of view it would be a nonsense not to
be showing Newbury today, it's just a no-brainer," Conleth Byrne, Better's
marketing director, said. "We see it as a great marketing opportunity and we've
had people outside our competitor shops at all our locations today, handing out
leaflets letting people know that if they want to see the best racing, they
need to go to one of our shops.
"The argument is basically about the
supply of a product but that's no reason to pass the problem on to our
customers. If a supermarket falls out with one of its wheat suppliers, it
doesn't stop selling bread until it's sorted out."
As the Better
punters settled down to watch uninterrupted live coverage of the racing, a
nearby Ladbrokes had a tractor ploughing the track at Monmore as the field set
off for Newbury's 2.10. Nor were their announcers doing much to ease the pain.
"It's always a great card, this one," one of them said. "One of my favourites
of the whole year."
The bookies can still show races that are broadcast
on terrestrial television, so four of the main events at Newbury today will be
watchable wherever you go. Some of the bigger "independent" chains - such as
Paddy Power, who signed up at 11pm on Thursday night - are also preparing to
subscribe to TurfTV, but there is no sign as yet of any nervous twitches at
Hill's, Ladbrokes, Coral, Totesport or Betfred.
The clincher may be
Royal Ascot in June, the biggest racing event of the year in turnover terms.
"Racing needs betting and betting needs racing," Byrne said yesterday. "But
they both need customers."