Audience fears over TV deal ‘overplayed’, says Horse Racing Ireland boss

Brian Kavanagh plays down concerns over Racing UK’s Irish racing rights deal

 Horse Racing Ireland chief Brian Kavanagh:  “I don’t think there will be a dip in audience or viewers.” Photograph:  Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Horse Racing Ireland chief Brian Kavanagh: “I don’t think there will be a dip in audience or viewers.” Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

As the process of finding a new chairperson for Horse Racing Ireland begins, the semi-State body’s chief executive has dismissed fears of a potential slide in audience figures due to the new television rights deal which will begin next year.

The Racing UK (RUK) channel will take over coverage of Irish racing from At The Races in 2019 following a deal by Sports Information Services (SIS) – who hold the media rights – with Racecourse Media Group.

The deal, which is worth approximately €35 million a year to Ireland’s racecourses, has been criticised by many leading figures in relation to its potential impact on racing’s public profile.

At The Races comes free as part of a standard digital package. However RUK is a subscription channel and it will show 95 per cent of Irish races live on full-screen next year.

“I don’t think there will be a dip in audience or viewers. I think that has been overplayed. It won’t be as big an issue as maybe is thought,” predicted HRI’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh.

“If you look at current levels of subscription to Racing UK it is about 56,000. That’s not a million miles away from average viewing figures for At The Races. And if you know you have 56,000 subscribers you know that’s your potential audience,” he said on Friday.

Kavanagh argued the deal is a good one for racing and insisted it brings certainty for racecourses in a volatile rights market which can fluctuate from year to year.

Unusual

“Racing is unusual in that it’s probably the one sport I can think of that puts its entire fixture list on to one TV channel which is accessible to all the public, and isn’t part of an enhanced package. The equivalent wouldn’t happen in the GAA or in rugby,” he said.

There has been some speculation as to what scheduling will occur with RUK although Kavanagh stressed that HRI retains a role in scheduling under the new deal.

“It is a collaborative process and that will continue. When fixtures are done every year there is dialogue with the British Horseracing Authority and the TV channels through SIS. When race times are scheduled there’s dialogue. That will all continue in the new arrangements.

“There’s a strong level of co-ordination and it’s interesting what you can achieve with a tweak here and a tweak there.

“Sometimes, during the winter in particular, there could be a blank Tuesday and if we say it is as easy to run a meeting on the Tuesday as the Wednesday, and the racecourse is neutral about it, that can be worked out.

“It’s the same sort of co-ordination with Dundalk on Friday nights and co-ordinating times with Wolverhampton. There is a formal process with that which won’t change,” he said.

Joe Keeling will step down from the chairmanship of HRI on March 19th and an advertisement for his successor was posted on the state board website on Friday.

The job requirements are for a new chairperson to attend about nine board meetings a year and approximately three meetings of the appointments and remuneration committee. It also states “there is a level of engagement with relevant stakeholders and attendance at a number of industry functions.” The post is worth €21,600 per year.

Applicants are offered a “self assessment questionnaire” which rates responses to topics such as “commitment to public sector values” and “working effectively with others”. They are required to have significant experience at CEO/managing director or chair level.  

Businessman Nicky Hartery has been linked with the post in recent months. The chairman of the international building materials group, CRH, owns the Caherass Stud in Co Limerick and bred the 2012 Nunthorpe Stakes winner, Margot Did. The closing date for applications is March 2nd and an appointment could be made by the Minister for Agriculture, Food & Marine by the start of May.

Fee increase

In other news, an incremental rise in jockeys fees, which will see National Hunt riders earn €200 per ride by October 2020, has been agreed.

The Irish Jockeys Association confirmed the fee increase on Friday after agreement was reached with the Association of Irish Racehorse Owners and HRI.

Flat jockeys currently earn €161.47 per ride with their jump colleagues making €184.59. Those fees will ride over the next three years until reaching €175 (flat) and €200 (National Hunt).

“The increase is designed to keep pace with the ongoing costs that jockeys face and goes some way towards acknowledging the hard work and risks jockeys take on a daily basis. The increases are spread  out and avoids the necessity of such negotiations on an annual basis,” said IJA spokesman Andrew Coonan.

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