attheraces Terminates 10-Year Broadcasting Dea

29 January 2004

Citing slumping revenues, British racing consortium attheraces has terminated its £307 million (US$560.5 million) broadcast rights agreement with England's Racecourse Association (RA). The group, comprised of Channel 4 Television, BskyB and Arena Leisure Plc, announced today that it will instead seek new contracts with individual tracks.

The 10-year deal, signed in 2001, gave attheraces broadcast rights to the 49 of England's 59 racecourses. The rights to the remaining 10 tracks were held by the Racing Channel, which shut down its broadcasting operations in January 2003.

The original contract states that attheraces could break the agreement if its share of Tote revenues (which account for all of attheraces' profits) drops below 20 percent for over 90 consecutive days. That happened Oct. 24 (according to attheraces, because the Tote had slashed margins on interactive bets by 47 percent), and the 90-day termination notice expired Jan. 22. RA and attheraces had a 30-day period to renegotiate, but already the two sides have agreed to part ways.

Now attheraces must negotiate with the individual tracks. They have until March 29--the end of the notice period--to do so.

attheraces has stated intentions of continuing its operations under new deals, but the termination of the 10-year contract raises concerns among British racing. Alan Delmonte, communications manager for the British Horse Racing Board, tried to ease those concerns.

"It is important to remember firstly, that the bulk of the sport's overall income from data and pictures emanates from sources other than attheraces and, secondly, that it is attheraces's express desire to secure the long-term viability of the channel and to maintain its relationship with British racing," Delmonte said in a statement. "Provided that any agreed future relationship achieves this outcome and still properly recognizes the value of the British racing product, it should be in the interests of the sport."

Nevertheless, the Daily Mail predicted that British racing would likely see a drop in revenues of £100 million. The publication also reported that the renegotiated terms could be particularly difficult on smaller racecourses. It could even lead to closures.

Concerned Jockeys Association chief executive John Blake told Reuters that this probably won't be the case. "The hope would be that any renegotiated attheraces deal doesn't undermine their budgets so much that they would be forced to close," Blake said.

"In terms of our profession, we of course support all the courses. The smaller ones are extremely important both for bringing horses through, and providing vital opportunities for the 450 or so professional jockeys and many amateurs too."