The new owners of the Racing Post (RP) have a number of tricky hurdles to negotiate after buying the horse-racing title from Trinity Mirror for £170m last week. FL Partners must reverse the RP’s declining circulation, find ways to compete with a burgeoning online gambling sector and see off the threat from a new rival racing paper if it is to prove a good investment for the Irish private equity group.
Trinity Mirror sold the 21-year-old title as part of its divestment of non-core assets. The change in ownership sees former editor Alan Byrne return as editor-in-chief, a move FL Partners says indicates its commitment to the paper.
Byrne, who was editor between 1993 and 2002, has been tasked with beefing up the RP’s online offering. He must also address growing criticism that the paper has become complacent due to a lack of direct competition since the demise of the Sporting Life and, more recently, The Sportsman.
One industry source says: “People have been unhappy with the Racing Post because it has got complacent and standards have dropped.” The source points to the recent publication of a race card on the wrong day as an example of standards slipping.
Byrne is surprised by such criticism and says the RP has faced competition in the betting guide market from online sports sites for some time.
FL Partners has promised fresh investment, but experts say Byrne and the management team must be careful not to alienate industry professionals, such as breeders and racehorse owners, in increasing the paper’s circulation.
Previously, it has looked to broaden its appeal by adding to its mix of racing news, analysis and form guides with sections on other sports, such as football.
However, its circulation hovers around 72,000 – significantly below the high of about 90,000 it has reached in the last five years.
One area earmarked for change is the paper’s website, as the new owners deliberate over whether to charge for the betting data and analysis available online.