John Moloney: The man who transformed Ballybrit

During his years as manager of Galway Racecourse, John Moloney pitched the Ballybrit venue into a realm of its own.

In more recent times, as chairman of the Association of Irish Racecourses (AIR), he is attracting extra finances to the country’s 26 race tracks through the complex media rights deal he helped broker.

Raised on a stud farm in Knocklong, Limerick, Moloney says racing must equip itself to grasp the many new opportunities that beckon for the industry.

And media rights, he says, are a valuable asset in targeting new audiences in constantly changing environment.

He said: “The big issue of recent years in the AIR revolves around the sale of our media rights. That now is of huge benefit to race courses. When I joined the AIR in 1990, it was only the audio which was available to be sold. Now our media rights include audio, television, data and streaming rights. So racecourses are getting a portion of this with the new deal we have done with SIS (Sports Information Services).”

The AIR along with Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) decided to ‘bundle’ the racecourse media rights into one package, rather than sell them separately.

“SIS won the media contract after it went out to tender and it started on January 1, 2018 and that lasts until the end of December 2023.

“This deal is a huge asset to Irish racecourses. The HRI media rights committee, of which I am chairman, negotiated that deal. We do not disclose for commercial reasons, the worth of this deal.”

On a race-by-race basis, SIS pay a track €10,000 for each group (Flat) race and for each graded (National Hunt) race and €7,000 each for all other races. Moloney said some people are concerned Racing UK and not At The Races would be getting the SIS service.

“When we sold our media rights to SIS we had everything in the bundle. So it was always theirs (SIS) to sell on the tv rights; we knew it would be out of our hands, that it would stay with At The Races or go to Racing UK. And SIS sold the tv rights to Racing UK.

“The deal also guaranteed more streaming rights and this is very welcome.”

The new contract represents almost 15% more than the previous media rights deal.

Moloney took up his first executive role in racing at Tipperary in 1986 when he was appointed assistant manager.

On the retirement of the legendary Luke Mullins as manager at Ballybrit, Moloney successfully applied for the job in Galway and took up the role in January 1989.

He remained until August 2015, when his son, Michael, was appointed by the board to replace him. Micheal was part of his father’s backroom team at Ballybrit during his college days and was financial director and manager of Plumpton racecourse for four years before returning to Galway.

During his 26 years at Galway, John Moloney oversaw developments costing over €40m.

He recalled: “The amenity building was built in 1990, then we went on to develop two underpasses on the course for safety reasons to let traffic and pedestrians in and out without going onto the track. It had been a chaotic situation with crowds at the stiles waiting to get in as horses were going down for the start of a race.

“We then started on the Millennium Stand and that cost about €7m and in 2007 we completed the Killanin stand which cost €22m. We also built a new weigh room along with other improvements in the hospitality area.”

With his farming background, Moloney was always involved in overseeing the track maintenance.

“A proper racing surface is the most important thing. Over the years we improved it with drainage and track husbandry was a very important part of my work. We put sheep out grazing as we don’t race from October to July and you can graze off the old grass during the winter and you then get a complete new growth of grass.”

“Tom Broderick, as foreman, gave a lifetime to working on the track and his son Gerry is now continuing it.”

Galway, he said, proves that quality ground, begets quality horses and quality racing. All of which adds up to huge attendances.

He said: “The calibre of two-year-olds who had their first run in Galway before going on to win Classics is a testimony to quality of the track and its status among the top trainers in setting out their programme for Classic hopefuls.”

Moloney said the timing of the big festival meeting in late July also ensures a good covering of grass and a good surface to race on.

“The contours of the track suit horses that go on to Epsom in that they have to cope with the gradients.

On the National Hunt side, the horses winning the Galway Plate and the Galway Hurdle now are top grade National Hunt horses. When I first went to Galway as manager, it used to be a case of trainers not running their horses to get a good handicap mark for Galway.

“Now they have to run the horse, otherwise they won’t get into the race and the quality of the horse winning those races are up in the 140-150 handicap mark and you see horses going on to win at Cheltenham and Aintree over the past number of years. That’s a great crowd drawer. People love to come racing and see a decent horse.”

Moloney has been chairman of the AIR for the past eight years and his term of office, finishes next month.

“The 10-member committee meets monthly and each is elected for a period of three years. As the committee rotates you have people from different grades of track and it is very representative.”

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