Commerce rules

I was disappointed to read today that Wimbledon have decided to award equal prize money to men and women, bowing to political pressure and bringing them in line with the other grand slams. It’s a case of politics ahead of commercials, it’s not a decision that can ever be reversed and it sets a dangerous precedent for other sports.

This is not to say that I blame the All England Club for taking the decision – human rights lobbyists wield a lot of power and can be bullies. The AE can’t afford to be typecast as an old school bastion of British maleness – they have a business to run. The men€™s and women€™s at Wimbledon are rolled into one event, but there is a marketplace that exposes the value differential of the two tournaments. Debenture tickets for the women’s final and semi finals days on the resale market go for around half of the men’s equivalent. What will happen next – will the veterans and juniors be brought into line to avoid accusations of ageism?

The AE could change the “Gentlemen’s singles” to the “Open singles”, trying to win the argument that way – it would make the point, but it’s too cute and would worsen matters. I think they should drop the “Gentlemen” bit regardless. There seems to be an implicit class distinction in it – are you not allowed in if you’re not a gentleman?

I’m a firm believer in free market forces in sport – commerce rules. I have my own ideas on how Betfair should pay for horse racing. At the moment we pay a percentage of our overall horse racing commission take to a central horse racing body. In an ideal world I€™d prefer us to be paying a percentage of our take for each horse race retrospectively into the purse for the race, a percentage direct to the host racecourse and a percentage to the central body. It would better align incentives. Racecourses are incented to serve up better racing fare for punters, and they have additional data to assist them in this. Owners and trainers have more incentive to go for competitive races rather than score facile wins at long odds on in poor betting heats, and also to promote betting interest in their own horses by sharing information. The central body still gets some cash to help finance their operation, and we have invested the rest of the money intelligently in their properties on their behalf.

As an idea it’s too radical and unworkable, but there is a strong underlying principle. If we are paying a sport for content (on our own behalf and also on behalf of our customers) then we have a right to a say on how that money should be invested within the sport. We want to work collaboratively with sport to pursue our joint interests, but managing such processes is complex and difficult. If we can devise commercial structures that align incentives better then a lot of this may just take care of itself.

Enough of that and on to the important stuff. Mon Michel runs tomorrow, and it€™s probably my last chance saloon for Cheltenham. He€™s receiving 7lb from the principals €“ if he can€™t beat them in receipt of that then he won€™t beat them in the Triumph. The ground (soft at the moment) is in his favour, he€™s had a lot of jumping practice and he€™s going well. Fingers crossed for a result.