BBC Makes Next Move in ATR Fallout

31 March 2004

In the wake of UK-racing broadcaster Attheraces pulling the plug on its TV signal, the BBC took steps on Tuesday to protect its racing interests.

The network inked a deal that will protects its coverage until the end of this year and mean that coverage of the Derby, Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood will all be available to terrestrial viewers.

The deal comes after the collapse of the £307million Attheraces venture, which had a clause bundling terrestrial television deals.

Channel 4, a member of the Attheraces consortium, revealed it remains in negotiations with the racecourses for the terrestrial broadcast rights and hopes to be in a position to update the market over the next few days.

The BBC warned that the deal was only good for one year and doesn't mean the return of daily racing coverage on TV.

"We've signed an interim deal that covers our racing until the end of the year. Contracts for coverage after that point need to be re-negotiated," said BBC spokesman James Macleod.

Representatives with Channel 4 said they were in heavy negotiations with racing officials to fill the gap left by Attheraces folding up its tent.

"We are working hard to reach an agreement which ensures the UK horseracing industry continues to benefit from the exposure terrestrial broadcasts provide, but which also makes commercial sense to Channel 4," the spokesman said.

Another wrinkle to the Attheraces fiasco unfolded Tuesday as well, when the 49 tracks that were part of the original deal announced they were threatening legal action to recoup the lost revenue from the deal.

The original contract called for £307 million to be paid to the tracks over a ten-year period. The deal was canceled after only 23 months when Attheraces said turnover from Tote bets declined to under 10 percent.

The Racecourse Association, which represented the 49 tracks in the original deal, is scheduled to have a meeting on Thursday to discuss its next option.

Attheraces is counteracting the possible threat of legal action by taking steps to obtain contractual rebates from the 49 tracks.

Stephen Atkin, chief executive of the RCA, said the reasons for Attheraces failing will be a leading topic of discussion on Thursday.

"We will be examining the potential implications of the collapse of Attheraces and will issue a statement after the meeting," he said. "However, that does not necessarily mean our position, as outlined last month, will have changed. I said in February that the RCA is firmly of the view, and has been advised to that effect, that Attheraces is not entitled to terminate the media rights agreement."

Standing firm that the original agreement should have never been severed, Atkin said the RCA will decide, in due time, what its next step should be, now that Attheraces is officially off the air.

"That remains our position, but sorting everything out will take as long as it takes," he said. "There are a number of options the racecourses can consider, but I think I speak for the vast majority in saying they would prefer a single, dedicated channel. That's certainly my view."

Referring to Attheraces' intention to claim back more than £50 million following the collapse of the media rights agreement, Atkin reiterated that he felt ATR had no right to end the agreement.

"I wouldn't like to comment, other than to reiterate that we informed the 49 courses involved that Attheraces was not entitled to terminate the agreement," he said.

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