Victoria Racing Club (VRC) members returned Directors Neil Wilson, Glenn Carmody, Vin Cox, David Barham and Michael Saadie to the Club’s Board at today’s Annual General Meeting (AGM).
The five vacant positions comprised four casual vacancies filled during the year and the term expiry of Glenn Carmody. The positions were contested by six candidates, with all incumbents returned.
Mr Wilson said, “I congratulate my fellow Directors on their election success. I am humbled by the support of the members to be given the honour of becoming Chairman of the Victoria Racing Club. I look forward to building on the positive momentum of the Club, which has continued during this most testing of years.”
Mr Wilson thanked VRC members for their ongoing support – in particular during the COVID-19 period where they were unable to attend races at Flemington.
At the AGM, Mr Wilson shared highlights and challenges of a racing season like no other, shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While the global pandemic has dominated our lives during most of 2020, it is important to remind ourselves of the positive milestones our Club has achieved during the 2019-2020 racing season that ended in July this year,” Mr Wilson said.
“The VRC remains the largest membership of any racing club in the world, with our members enjoying the benefits of the award-winning Club Stand during its first full year of operation in 2019.
“On the track, the racing season at Australia’s premier racecourse continued to deliver, underlined by Vow And Declare’s 2019 Lexus Melbourne Cup win and champion jockey Damien Oliver breaking the record for the most Melbourne Cup Carnival wins. We also saw Australia’s undefeated champion Black Caviar return to Flemington to celebrate Black Caviar, The Great Horse Race Day and the introduction of Rapid Racing last summer, a shorter, sharper program featuring a seven-race card with all races coming down the famous Flemington straight.”
Reaching new audiences
As part of the VRC’s strategy to increase existing and create new revenue streams, 2019 saw the Club enter a new era, commencing the first year of a five-year $100 million Melbourne Cup Carnival broadcast agreement with Network 10.
Network 10’s multi-platform Cup Week coverage reached 4.1 million Australians nationally in 2019, while the Lexus Melbourne Cup continued to be one of the most widely watched races in the world, with a reach of over 750 million viewers across 160 broadcast territories.
“Our partnership with Network 10 focused on deepening our world class racing coverage and expanding into areas such as fashion, food, celebrities and entertainment,” Mr Wilson said.
“I congratulate and thank Network 10 on their first year as our broadcast partner, and also wish to acknowledge their tremendous support of the 2020 Melbourne Cup Carnival.
“Internationally, the VRC was delighted to partner with US giant CBS Sports, making the Lexus Melbourne Cup available to more than 63 million viewers in North America, while a new partnership with China’s Hainan TV garnered over 800,000 viewers across China on AAMI Victoria Derby and Lexus Melbourne Cup Days.”
Engagement across all media platforms for the 2019 Carnival reached 5.1 million people domestically.
The VRC’s global media business venture with Ascot, Goodwood, Breeders Cup and The Hong Kong Jockey Club saw World Horse Racing grow its reach and participation in 2019, regularly rating number one globally for racing coverage on social media.
Growing our digital off course engagement
The VRC’s digital engagement strategy evolved rapidly this year as the Club sought new ways to connect with members, including VRC at Home, and racing fans away from the course.
“Although the circumstances of this year meant that we were unable to progress several of our strategic goals to the extent we had hoped, it also presented us with an opportunity to fast-track others, particularly in the digital space,” Mr Wilson said.
Growth in digital engagement took on heightened significance when, for the first time in Flemington’s 180-year history, racing moved behind closed doors in response to the pandemic. The Club continued to have race days without crowds, delivering an at home racing experience that achieved record audience engagement across both broadcast and digital platforms off course.
Reaffirming our commitment to equine welfare
The VRC made progress on a number of its strategic priorities including equine welfare. The Club established the VRC Equine Wellbeing Fund in November 2019 with contributions from the 2019 Melbourne Cup Carnival ticket sales and membership fees creating an initial fund of $1 million. Initiatives already supported by the Fund include optimising facilities on course for horses to train, race and recover, as well as opportunities to positively influence their careers after racing. This work continues into the 2020/21 racing season with the recent announcement of proposed changes to the entry conditions for the Lexus Melbourne Cup, aimed at ensuring our greatest race is also our safest.
Supporting the Victorian community
The Melbourne Cup Carnival remains a major contributor to the Victorian economy, and in 2019 generated an economic impact of $434.5 million for the state, providing substantial direct and indirect employment, with more than 800 companies and 21,000 people working on site.
The Club also continued its charitable focus, with the 2019 Pin & Win Charity partner Very Special Kids raising a total of $450,000 to assist with their important work. Pin & Win was one of a number of charitable contributions totalling well over $1 million for the year.
Fiscally prudent in a year like no other
A conservative approach to expenditure at the onset of COVID-19 ensured the Club remained in the black, posting a net operating profit of almost $5.7 million, up from $600,000 in FY19.
“Our revenue streams were placed under enormous pressure in 2020, as were those of our commercial partners. However, our response to the pandemic, including halting all non-essential spending, postponement of capital works and the difficult but necessary decision to stand down 50 per cent of the VRC team meant that we were able to withstand the pressure and post a modest profit this financial year,” Mr Wilson said.
“The full financial impact of the pandemic is expected to be felt in FY21, as the effect of hosting the 2020 Melbourne Cup Carnival with no attendees and the ongoing impact of COVID-19 restrictions on race day activities and non-race day events is realised.
“We thank the Victorian Government and Racing Victoria for their support and together with the decisive measures taken by the Club, we have established a solid financial foundation for recovery next year and beyond.”
Hosting a Carnival like no other and looking ahead
As the new racing season commenced and the VRC navigated the task of delivering Australia’s premier racing carnival without our members or crowds, the Club embraced the challenge and developed further opportunities for growth, implementing initiatives that will become a feature of future race days.
Some of the highlights from the 2020 Carnival included:
- 441 horses competed in 37 races, representing an average field size of 11.9 runners, while the four race cards, offering nearly $24 million in prize money, saw 25 individual trainers and 19 jockeys enjoy victory, with Flemington Racecourse trainers winning six of the eight Group 1 races.
- Wagering on the Melbourne Cup Carnival reached a new record high this year, with total domestic wagering turnover of $667.3 million, an increase of six per cent from last year.
- Engagement across all media platforms for the Carnival reached a record 6.14 million, a 16.9 per cent increase on 2019.
- Network 10’s multi-platform Melbourne Cup Carnival coverage reaching 4.4 million Australians nationally across the week, up from 4.1 million in 2019.
- There were more than 2.8 million views of VRC-owned content during spring, an increase of eight per cent on last year, with the average number of views per user increasing by 40 per cent, showing a significantly more engaged digital audience in 2020.
- In the twenty-sixth year of Pin & Win Very Special Kids raised more than $300,000, taking the total raised in the two years of the partnership to more than $750,000.
- The Club also donated $50,000 to bushfire-affected Kangaroo Island, which was one of this year’s Lexus Melbourne Cup Tour destinations. The South Australian town was the winner of the Lexus Melbourne Cup Tour National Sweep, which saw 24 regional and rural towns represented by a horse in ‘the race that stops a nation’™. This contribution was matched by the owners of winning horse Twilight Payment, with the Royal Flying Doctor Service the recipients of the $100,000 gift.
- More than 300 bouquets of Flemington’s famous roses were delivered to local frontline workers and community organisations to say thank you to those most affected by impacts of COVID-19.
- The VRC also strengthened its commitment to the community with the launch of the Melbourne Cup Foundation.
“As I look ahead, I would like to acknowledge the outstanding contribution of my predecessor Amanda Elliott – her passion, knowledge and drive over the past 18 and a half years on the VRC board, including four years as the first female Chairman, have left our Club in a strong position to achieve our strategic goals,” said Mr Wilson.
“Together with VRC Chief Executive Officer Steve Rosich, we look forward to building on her legacy and safeguarding our pre-eminent position in the world of thoroughbred racing.
“As we emerge from the challenges of 2020, the VRC Board and team remain unified and focussed on our vision to be a global leader in racing and events, delivering an unrivalled experience for all.
“Finally, I want to sincerely thank our members for their loyalty and support this year. It was wonderful to have members back at Flemington last week, and we look forward to welcoming more this weekend for our Christmas Race Day.”