27 March 2009 – Press Association
The UK’s largest racecourse owner said it improved earnings last year, despite losing £1.3 million in cancelled meetings due to bad weather.
Northern Racing, which owns nine racecourses and accounts for 13% of all fixtures in England, Scotland and Wales, saw a 2% drop in admission income, but this was offset by slightly improved hospitality revenues of £2.9 million.
Overall, underlying earnings stood at £6.8 million in the year to December 31, compared with the previous year’s £6.2 million.
Group managing director Tony Kelly said 2008 was “the worst year in our history in terms of lost fixtures,” and said economic conditions would make 2009 more difficult.
He said: “I think 2009 is going to be more challenging than last year – but I am hoping that 2009 will be the bottom.
“My take on 2008 was that quite a lot of people had already committed to hospitality and sponsorship before things worsened, but by the end of last year it was clear that things were going to be worse. Even those companies with money are less keen to be seen to be seen spending it on things like hospitality these days.”
Northern Racing, a company privately owned by David and Simon Reuben, has racecourses in Bath, Brighton, Chepstow, Fontwell Park, Great Yarmouth, Hereford, Newcastle, Sedgefield and Uttoxeter. It also manages the new Ffos Las Racecourse in West Wales, which will stage its first race in June.
During last year 18 fixtures – including eight in the flood-hit North-East in August and September – were cancelled compared to 13 the previous year. In a bid to make the company less vulnerable to the British weather, the group is hoping to develop its off-track event and venue hire business.
Coupled with this are plans for a £7.5 million development of Fontwell Park Racecourse with a new grandstand, which will help develop the non-racing side of the business. The work, which has been delayed by ten months, will now be completed in the second half of 2010.
Last week, Northern Racing’s main rival Arena – owner of seven racecourses in the UK – announced it was cutting its final dividend amid difficult market conditions. Total attendance at all UK Racecourses fell by 2% last year to 5.7 million, and average attendances were down 8% at 4,017.