All of us can identify with a certain day or event in their lives that they can relate to as life changing. It’s not a term that is used lightly and in my life, bar meeting my best friend and subsequently marrying her, and the time I have enjoyed with my two boys (now young men) there was, given I have lived in Christchurch most of the last 20 years, three such events.
The first was September 11, we all know where we were that day. The second was 12.51pm on February 22, 2011 when a magnitude 6.2 earthquake struck Christchurch and the third was March 15, again in Christchurch, when our innocence as a country was destroyed with the Christchurch Mosque shootings.
Event number four came Thursday March 12 when I had just come out of a RITA board meeting to find the NBA had pulled the pin on their 2020 season, the trigger point for a 24 hours I will never forget. Virtually every major sports competition followed, joining those already severely impacted by COVID-19 and thus creating a giant size hole in the TAB’s ability to fund the racing and sports industries in New Zealand.
And to put it mildly, it's only been a downward slide since then, both internationally and in our own country, with not only the magnified threat to our health and wellbeing, but also a double whammy with the most significant economic shock we have ever seen.
Yesterday’s announcement from the Prime Minister provided a stark picture of the reality of the situation we are facing with all non-essential services effectively closed for at least a month and all indoor and outdoor activities off limits, including all racing and sport in New Zealand. Dealing with the economic reality of what we now face is a challenge for virtually every business and our industry is no different.
Even if the TAB had significant reserves tucked away for this (very) rainy day (as it once had a number of years ago earmarked for a potential equine influenza outbreak), I’m fairly certain it wouldn’t come close to solving all our troubles. It would have helped, no doubt, but the sheer tsunami of sh#t this event has thrown at us, is unprecedented.
Prior to yesterday’s announcement we had scrambled to fill the approximately 27% decrease in turnover from the obliteration of sports content but with the suspension of domestic racing, in effect, we’ve now lost about 75% of our content (if not more). While we continue to present whatever racing is available on Trackside (with a radio simulcast on Trackside Radio) and provide as much product as we can on TAB.co.nz, the reality is when we are not selling bets, we’re not generating any revenue, and therefore we are losing money every day.
Our immediate focus at RITA has been to inject whatever content we can, such as offering esports for the first time and reducing our expenditure as much as possible. We’ve peeled back costs, put in a limited production on Trackside, suspended contracts where possible and we continue to look at every other aspect of our operations to identify cost savings.
We know the Government has moved quickly to provide some certainty to businesses, including those who derive a livelihood from racing. We encourage you to find out more about the financial support available to racing organisations at COVID-19.govt.nz. The website includes information about a wage subsidy scheme, leave and self-isolation support and business cash flow and tax measures. If you’re not sure what assistance may be available, you should talk with your relevant industry organisation or call the free government helpline on 0800 779 997 (8am–1am, 7 days a week).
We need to deal with this change by quickly adapting, innovating, looking after each other and working together. The racing codes and the TAB are working closely to do everything we can to keep the wheels of commerce turning for the industry and we all play a part in keeping our events going. Without the commitment and dedication of every single one of us, we won’t even have a chance of succeeding. For all who have already made a significant effort to keep racing going as long as we did, I personally thank you for that.
Things are literally moving in real time at present, as is clearly demonstrated by the last 24 hours. The industry has faced challenging times before and we have certainly had an eventful last couple of years but nothing is likely to stretch us more as the immediate future. We are presently talking with all the people you would expect us to be talking to, with the aim of mitigating the downside of what we are facing. We're working closely with the Government to highlight the impact on our industry and presenting options on how the industry responds. These conversations are taking place daily, but we know we are not on our own in seeking support from the Government and we know there is no magic bullet.
We appreciate our industry will want a level of certainty as soon as possible, but that will take time, so please be patient as we work through this. We are working closely with the Codes and meeting on a daily basis to explore what steps we can collectively take in response to the impact of COVID-19. As an industry we have some mighty challenges ahead, that is for certain, but by working together we do give ourselves the best chance of coming out the other side.