Horse-racing industry targets centralised sponsorship

LONDON - Key players in the horse-racing industry have called for a radical shake-up of its sponsorship structure to allow it to compete with other mainstream UK sports.

Football, rugby and cricket have all benefited from centralised marketing functions, in which the sport's governing body sells league or competition sponsorship packages, and clubs seek individual deals.

Speaking at an industry event, organised by sports marketing research agency S:COMM, experts argued that the ability to offer sponsorship packages across multiple events would help prevent the loss of blue-chip backers. Last year, Vodafone ended its long-standing title sponsorship of the Derby, leaving the event struggling to secure a partner for this year's festival.

Peter McNeile, director of racing at Cheltenham Racecourse, said he believed that individual courses should always be able to negotiate their own sponsorship deals, but added that the industry needed to be 'bold enough to offer bundled rights'. He also warned that courses may have to suffer

initial setbacks to implement a different sponsorship structure. 'They may have to say no to existing sponsors in the short term,' he said.

Jon Stainer, business development manager at Sports Marketing Surveys, explained how cricket had capitalised on a centralised set-up. 'In cricket, the ECB's Commercial Partners programme promoted loyalty, while title sponsors received reciprocal rights across competitions. It also helped raise consumer awareness of these competitions, according to our research,' he said.

Jeremy Spencer, head of sales at Racing UK, also expressed support for selling across multiple events. 'It would be much easier to sell sponsorship as a sport. Someone needs to take the bull by the horns.'

McNeile claimed that Cheltenham Racecourse, along with horse-racing regulator The Jockey Club, would be ideally placed to lead the process of developing a centralised body to sell bundled sponsorship rights. He added that he hoped other racecourse operators would embrace the concept.

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