Four greyhound tracks have had their funding stopped after consultants recommended a radical overhaul of the greyhound industry in Ireland to help it to survive.
Indecon Economic Consultants, engaged by the Irish Greyhound Board, said track attendances fell by 55% between 2008 and 2018 and there have been further significant declines in the latter half of 2019 following an RTÉ Investigates documentary.
The consultants said "[our] examination of the likely scenario for individual stadia suggests that losses will be unsustainable in the absence of a radical restructuring of the sector. Even with a more fit for purpose footprint following rationalisation, the sector will face financial challenges," it said.
The Indecon report led to an immediate announcement by the IGB that the recommendations were accepted by its Board, and it would stop funding track operations at Enniscorthy, Youghal, Lifford and Longford.
"The four tracks concerned have each contributed significantly to the Irish greyhound industry over a long number of years. Each track has been in operation for over half a century, with each one having a unique history, culture and tradition.
"The IGB very much regrets the decision to cease funding at these stadia and its impact on staff, owners and the wider greyhound community but is keenly aware of the challenges that Indecon Economic Consultants have identified for the industry," an IGB statement said.
Indecon said following the broadcast of the RTÉ Investigates "Running for their Lives" documentary in June there has been negative consequences, particularly for large urban stadia.
"The decline was particularly noticeable in IGB-owned stadia, which showed a fall of 8.9% in attendance. It is also noticeable that stadia in large urban centres appear to have fared worse than rurally-based stadia," it said.
The consultants said the IGB would have to plan for further long-term reductions in attendance figures and this would affect a network of stadia, some of which were already in poor condition and needing capital investment.
The report said without IGB prizemoney contributions the combined loss for tracks between now and 2022 is predicted to be €30m.
"Supporting the existing 16 stadia to operate on a commercial basis is not sustainable given the annual levels of financial resources available to IGB and likely market developments. We also note the number of stadia per capita is significantly out of line with international norms.
"It is also evident that the rationalisation of the sector has not kept pace with the scale of decline in attendance numbers. Indecon therefore recommends a radical restructuring of the footprint of the sector. Without this, the strategic problems facing the industry will be exacerbated," it said.
On this basis the IGB was told to withdraw its financial support for four tracks but even this will not be enough if attendances continue to decline.
"However even with the cessation of support for Lifford, Longford, Enniscorthy and Youghal the sector would not be financially sustainable if the decline in attendance continues and if the existing cost base is not reduced. In such a case we believe there could be a future need to withdraw funding for three additional stadia," the report said.
The report also suggested that the economic benefit attributed to greyhound racing may be over stated because if customers do not spend at tracks, they are likely to spend it elsewhere in the economy.
IGB CEO Ger Dollard said he hoped he report would be accepted by the greyhound community.
"I acknowledge that the report will make difficult reading for the passionate greyhound community, particularly those who are employed in, race greyhounds or attend greyhound racing in any of the stadia where the cessation of funding is recommended.
"It is important that members of the public, both inside and outside of the industry, have a chance to assess the outcome of the independent study and express their views before the recommendations are implemented," he said.