Battle over racing’s media rights erupts

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  • A row has erupted over racecourse media rights following an offer by the failed Attheraces Consortium (ATR) to the UK’s 59 racecourses earlier this week.

    The proposed Horseracing Channel (THRC), which has support from a number of leading independent racecourses, would be a subscription-based satellite and cable channel costing around £20 per month, while the so-called “Attheraces II” proposal would be a non-subscription satellite and cable channel.

    ATR emerged on Monday from the ashes of its failed media rights deals with racecourses to offer British Racing a rival proposal to THRC. The ATR offer will give racecourses a third of equity and control, as well as a percentage of the revenue, come what may.

    Ian Hogg of Attheraces explains: “The ATR offer to racecourses is a very similar deal to the last time round. However, one major difference is that we aren’t guaranteeing any kind of minimums, which was one of the pitfalls in our previous deal.”

    But THRC is confident that it can offer a more attractive package to UK racecourses. Andrew Brown, project director of THRC says: “We are offering 100% equity and 100% control to racecourses, and they will take 100% of the net profits. The financial terms offered are likely to be much more attractive than those from ATR.”

    THRC was quick off the mark to gather support from some of the countries leading racecourses, including Aintree, Cheltenham, Sandown, Epsom and Newmarket, following the termination of the original ATR deal last month. Therefore it is already in a position to schedule some of the UK’s leading race meetings, but it still has a little way to go, says Andrew Brown.

    “The ‘critical mass’ as far as we are concerned is a combination of quantity and quality. We have a lot of quality on our side, so now we are working at developing the quantity. We have commitments to sign from 24 racecourses, and a lot of support elsewhere, so we are confident that we will soon achieve the ‘critical mass’.”

    Meanwhile, ATR is confident of its position. Arena Leisure, which is part of the Attheraces Consortium, controls 20% of racing fixtures through its ownership of all-weather tracks at Lingfield, Southwell and Wolverhampton. In addition, Ian Hogg stressed that since ATR was a channel that was already up-and-running, broadcasting racing from America and Japan, they will need little further support among UK racecourses to go ahead with their proposal.

    “Of course we would love to have all 59 racecourses signed up, and there is absolutely no doubt that it would add enormous value to the channel, but if we don’t get the RHT courses on side, we can still go ahead.

    “We want to provide coverage of race meetings that don’t already appear on terrestrial television, at no charge to viewers. The major fixtures at many of the RHT courses are already televised, so we don’t believe that their absence on our schedule would hinder the success of ATR.”

    Ian Hogg also says that the initial seven-year contract period outlined in their offer will deal with the issue of legal disputes over the £50m rebates, which are a hangover from the previous ATR deal. If they do not sign up, racecourses could be forced to repay some of the money they were paid by ATR initially.

    “Our offer allows racecourses to move away from the issue, and the initial seven-year contract covers it,” he concludes.

    But in spite of their new rival, Mark Kershaw, managing director of Newbury Racecourse and a driving force behind THRC, remains very optimistic about what THRC is offering the racing world.

    “THRC gives racecourses the opportunity to be in charge of their own destiny and a chance to see the result of their own products,” he says.

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