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Tuesday, 15 January, 2019

Plain speaking: ITV boss Niall Sloane calls for racing to unjumble its jargon

Niall Sloane: ITV's director of sport says racing needs to reach out to new audiences
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Fresh from leading the ITV Racing team to a Bafta award for its Grand National coverage, the channel's director of sport Niall Sloane has called for racing to demystify its language in order to attract a bigger audience to television and the racecourse.

Referring to the Saturday magazine programme The Opening Show as a key component of ITV's coverage, he warned there was a danger of people "not knowing what we're talking about".

Speaking to around 500 international delegates at the Asian Racing Conference in Seoul, he asked: "Why is the language so difficult to understand? What is 'on the bridle', what is 'off the bridle'? What are guineas, and is the 2,000 prize as good as the 1,000? Why are there different sorts of fences – water, plain and open ditches? What does it mean if a horse carries 9st 7lb?

"Can anyone in this room really say that a serious effort has been made to explain all this? This a complex sport and needs all the help it can get."

Sloane added: "As a broadcaster we are your window on the world, but even though we are moving forward together well, we are not the solution to problems in themselves.

ITV's The Opening Show is a programme from which racing could pick up new audiences
"Racing has to work out what it wants to be. It is often characterised through the age-old dichotomy of heritage versus baggage; too much baggage and you will stand still at best, but if you throw out heritage you lose your sense of self.

"Racing around the world needs to embrace change, and if it does so it will discover new audiences."

Sloane revealed that following innovations such as the use of drones and head cameras, his team hoped to extend its initiatives into tracking and timing. In this respect, he said: "Britain has lagged behind other countries."

However, he warned against racing repeating his experience with F1 racing ten years ago, when similar initiatives were suggested by the BBC but ran into Bernie Ecclestone's insistence on extracting every last penny for the data, at which point the idea was dropped.

Racing can be a glut of figures and jargon, sometimes difficult to understand to the untutored eye
He also defended ITV's free-to-air offering against the possibility of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon being courted to cover horseracing.

"None of these leviathans appears to be in a rush to engage in live sports broadcasting," he said. "For the next five years all sports should work with social media in conventional terms, sharing material to broaden the reach of the industry at very little cost, and providing a platform to tell people to come to the racecourse and our broadcast."

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Why is the language so difficult to understand? What is 'on the bridle', what is 'off the bridle'?
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