Fans of the Grand National and Royal Ascot will have to switch to Channel 4 from next year after the channel won a bidding war reportedly worth £15m to air racing.
The Grand National and Royal Ascot – as well as The Derby meeting and British Champions Day at Ascot, which are all currently shown on the BBC – will now be broadcast by Channel 4 as the channel becomes the exclusive broadcaster of racing on terrestrial television.
Channel 4, which currently shows 80 days of racing including Cheltenham, Newmarket and Goodwood, secured the four-year deal, which will run from 2013.
Racing is Britain’s second biggest spectator sport, and almost 5million extra viewers were attracted to Channel 4’s racing coverage last year – from 37.4m in 2010 to 42.2m in 2011.
The channel aims to reach a “broader and younger” audience.
“Channel 4 has shown a total commitment to our sport,” said Richard FitzGerald of Racing Media Group who headed racing’s negotiating team. “This new deal will not only deliver increased revenues for British racing, but with all of our sport’s crown jewels in its portfolio, Channel 4 offers a compelling vision to innovate the way racing is broadcast. This is a great opportunity for racing in the long-term.”
Charles Barnett of Ascot racecourse, said it was a “tremendous announcement” for racing, adding: “A one channel scenario will enable us to tell our stories clearly and consistently, and obviously Royal Ascot is fundamental to that. I would personally like to thank BBC for everything they have done for racing and we look forward to continuing to work with their other platforms.
BBC funds will reportedly be directed towards retaining events such as the Six Nations and Formula One. The BBC said it put in as “competitive a bid as possible” to keep the rights.
“We are of course disappointed that we have lost the rights, but we are pleased that all the races in the contract remain free to air,” said a spokesman.
“We forward to broadcasting the Grand National next month and then of course the Derby and Royal Ascot, which have special significance in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year.”
BBC TV presenter Clare Balding this morning (Monday 19 March) tweeted: “Desperately sad that BBC TV has lost all rights to cover horse racing. I’ve worked with some wonderful and talented folk over the past 16 years. I’m not rushing into any decisions about what I will do in the future. 2012 is a busy enough year to keep me on my toes and then we’ll see.”