NZ racing publication closes down

The New Zealand weekly racing publication The Informant has published its final copy and on Friday editor Gus Wigley released a statement regarding the final issue.

The statement from Gus Wigley, Editor of The Informant and General Manager, Thoroughbred Publications Ltd:


Dear Reader,

This week’s issue of The Informant will be the last produced.

Despite encouraging sales trends Thoroughbred Publications Ltd does not believe it has the opportunity to compete fairly in the form guide market against the NZ Racing Board and its in-house publication, the Best Bets.

We have spent the last three months in lengthy negotiations with the NZ Racing Board in an attempt to secure some future for The Informant, but without the result we had been hoping for.

Some of the country’s leading figureheads have lobbied the NZRB on our behalf, only to meet the same brick wall TPL management have hit. The heads of the three racing codes have also been extremely helpful in their support of The Informant, assisting in our negotiations.

We still believe our proposal to merge The Informant and Best Bets into one strong and independent publication was a sound one that would have catered for all groups within the industry. It was hugely disappointing for the NZRB to deliberate over our proposal for three weeks, only for it to be declined with no reason given. The offer made was nearly twice the figure the NZRB valued the Best Bets title at less than twelve months ago, and its circulation has taken a further step backwards since.

One of the more distressing aspects to our negotiations with the NZRB has been the clear disconnect the management and board have with the participants of the New Zealand racing industry. They have made it clear that their ‘customer’ is the punter, and the results of their recent ‘survey of punters’ have told them that the punter does not value editorial. The punter is the source of revenue for the racing industry, but if the NZRB continue to concentrate on just the punter and ignore the source of the product – the breeder and owner – our industry is headed for troubled times. The NZRB management fails to see that there is no one group of more importance in the industry, we all have one symbiotic relationship and without one group functioning coherently everything falls apart.

The five year ‘Racing Ahead’ strategic plan released by the NZRB earlier this year must be of concern to all industry participants. I believe goals such as having ‘the world’s best quality racing’ within five years shows that management has little understanding of the makeup of the New Zealand racing industry and where our strengths lie. Is it of any benefit to our industry for our leadership to set fanciful goals they won’t be accountable for? We should be modelling ourselves on the world’s best racing jurisdictions, not trying to supersede them.

I believe there are many issues threatening the New Zealand racing industry at present and that our industry’s integrity is far from the greatest threat New Zealand racing faces as the NZRB believe. It’s almost comically ironic how the NZRB have lacked integrity themselves in the way in which they have treated TPL over the past six months.

I feel the publishing industry is far from the core business upon which the NZRB should be focusing and that as a statutory body it has no business entering a market to compete with a private company. And on the hot subject of integrity within the industry, does this display integrity for the body controlling wagering in New Zealand to be offering tipping advice?

One of the three purposes of the Racing Act is to promote the long term viability of New Zealand racing. One of the ten functions of the Board is to develop policies that are conducive to the overall economic development of the racing industry and the economic wellbeing of people who, and organisations which, derive their livelihoods from racing.

The Act specifically requires the Board, when carrying out its functions, to comply with the principles of natural justice (act fairly) and to exhibit a sense of social responsibility by having regard to the interests of the community in which it operates. Bearing in mind the very clear directives provided by the legislation, TPL wishes to make the following comments:

(a) Could it ever have been contemplated by industry participants that the Racing Board would compete with those that it has a specific obligation to ensure the wellbeing of? Of even greater concern to TPL is the use by the Board of a statutory monopoly to effectively end our business. It must be clear to all industry participants that the Racing Board through its ability to control the supply of form has the power to control the market within which that form is published. It has power to decide as it has done to provide significant funds to the daily newspapers upon the basis that it is an advertising cost and to adopt the same approach with TPL and then to cease that aspect of its dealings as part of its own systematic entry into the publication business.

(b) TPL found itself having to deal with the termination of a previously agreed financial arrangement upon which TPL was temporarily reliant; a fact of which the Racing Board was acutely aware. It seems to TPL that the Board have in mind for the Best Bets much of what The Informant was intending to do – or was already offering. In recent times for example, two of our journalists have found their way onto the payroll of the NZRB.

(a) Imagine this scenario; as part of the NZRB’s strategic plan to turn New Zealand into the ‘best quality racing jurisdiction in the world’, it offers ten of the world’s leading trainers six figure salaries to operate a stable in New Zealand. How would New Zealand trainers respond to this and how would this sit under the Racing Act? A fanciful scenario for sure, but I believe it draws an interesting comparison to the way in which the NZRB brought the Best Bets in-house to enter into competition with The Informant.

At the end of the day, we feel we have been bullied into submission by the NZRB, deprived of the opportunity to compete fairly in the form guide market. There are certainly things we could have done differently over the past three years to better our cause, but I’m left with little doubt that if the NZRB had kept to their original agreement with us The Informant would now be in a strong, independent and profitable position.

It was with a huge amount of regret and sadness that we decided this would be the last week of The Informant. The team at TPL has thoroughly enjoyed producing the 168 issues we have published over the past three years and we would sincerely like to thank our readership for its loyal support.

We are currently in the process of ascertaining the number of weeks left in our subscribers’ subscriptions, and will make contact with each subscriber next week regarding the refunding of monies owing.

Yours sincerely
Gus Wigley
Editor of The Informant
General Manager, Thoroughbred Publications Ltd