How quickly things change.
The on-again/off-again relationship between live racing and British television appears to be back on as two groups are gearing to launch new services over the summer.
At the end of March, the attheraces media consortium discontinued its live broadcasts from 49 U.K. tracks, leaving racing fans without an around-the-clock broadcast feed. The service was shut down after consistently low turnover numbers triggered a termination clause in attheraces' contract with the Racing Association.
Forced to scurry to their local betting shops to watch races after the feed was cut, many casual punters stopped betting, and turnover figures dropped even further.
With the dust still setting, the Horse Racing Channel (THRC) started inking deals last month with individual tracks.
A revamped attheraces, meanwhile, announced Wednesday that it is lining up new tracks for its re-launch.
Both groups are hoping to be on the air in time for the Royal Ascot on June 15.
The Horse Racing Channel said it has inked deals with 27 British tracks, including those owned by Racecourse Holding Trust: Aintree, Cheltenham, Epsom, Haydock, Kempton, Newmarket, Sandown and six others. The group of tracks represent about 48 percent of the fixture list in England.
"We have made real progress, having reached a critical mass of 27 racecourses and a good spread of fixtures representing 52 percent of the racecourse betting turnover," a spokesperson for the Horse Racing Channel said. "These figures ensure the viability of the channel and provide the foundation for us to be able to launch the channel sooner rather than later, and an announcement is imminent. We are putting all the ducks in a row."
attheraces has entered agreements with 25 different tracks, representing 50 percent of England's fixture list and about 47 percent of the betting turnover.
The new ATR also hopes to continue broadcasts of racing from South Africa and the United States, both of which were popular during times of the day when there wasn't live racing from England.
THRC fashioned its business model with an eye on avoiding the the original attheraces' mistakes. Unlike the first version of attheraces, which paid a £300 million rights fee to the tracks, THRC is owned and controlled by the tracks that make up the group. That means all parties involved are reliant on the success of racing.
Sally Iggulden of Beverley, one of the courses signed to THRC, told the Racing Post, "In the aftermath of the termination of attheraces in March, THRC offered the best deal for racing: 100 percent equity and control of the channel, all net revenues coming back to the sport and racing retaining control of its rights, rather than allowing others to profit from them."
Matthew Imi, the new chief executive of attheraces, said today the channel would be functioning by June but was non-committal about an exact date.
"We are concluding our agreements with four racecourse groups and continue to engage with a number of others," Imi said. "We would like to have as many courses as possible on board when we launch the service in June."
One of the biggest differences between the two groups is that attheraces will be a free channel, while THRC will be a premium channel for cable and satellite users.
Six tracks--Cartmel, Hamilton, Newton Abbot, Plumpton, Ripon and Salisbury--have yet to align themselves with either of the new channels; none of them account for major racing.
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