Media rights income described as ‘lifeline’ for Irish racecourses amid negotiations

Racecourse Media Group secures deal but negotiations by HRI for new deal yet to begin

Racegoers at Leopardstown Racecourse, Dublin. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Racegoers at Leopardstown Racecourse, Dublin. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

Media rights income has been described as a pandemic “lifeline” for Ireland’s 26 racecourses as tentative negotiations take place ahead of those rights coming on the market again.

The current deal, which has Sports Information Services holding the rights to pictures to Irish racing, is due to expire in December 2023.

Earlier this week, a deal for media rights with 33 cross-channel racecourses was agreed by Racecourse Media Group until the end of 2028. The existing deal there is due to end in March 2023.

Formal negotiations by Horse Racing Ireland, which negotiates for the Irish tracks, for a new deal haven’t begun yet.

However, a HRI spokesman said on Friday that media rights issues are addressed a couple of years in advance.

There was controversy about the last deal negotiated in 2017 with direct to home broadcasting moving to Racing TV from the attheraces channel, now Sky Sports Racing.

High-profile figures such as Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary criticised the move as a threat to both competition and Irish racing’s profile with pictures behind a pay wall.

Betting shops

However, HRI defended an overall deal, believed to worth about €35 million per year to tracks, arguing it increased the value of the rights by 20 per cent and that most of the finance involved sales to betting shops and streaming.

Approximately 85 per cent of the sale of media rights goes to the racecourses with the balance to HRI.

Both specialist racing channels are expected to compete for the next rights deal, although on Friday HRI’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh didn’t rule out other interest when negotiations begin in earnest.

The new element in the mix is the impact of the pandemic which saw betting shops in both Britain and Ireland closed for much of the last 16 months with a consequent impact on revenue to tracks unable to host crowds.

“They [media rights] have been a lifeline for a lot of racecourses. It is notable how adaptable the business models for racecourses have been. While betting shops were closed streaming deals came in and took up a lot of the slack which allowed courses keep going,” said Kavanagh.

“The areas we hoped and expected would grow, streaming and international sales and areas like that, have probably grown more than expected during the pandemic.

“That has compensated for a slowdown in betting shops’ revenue because betting shops were closed for so long. There is still an overall drop in 2020 in media rights revenue compared to 2019 because betting shop revenue was the lion’s share of rights. So overall the net value of rights dropped. But there was a significant compensation element by an increase in streaming,” he added.

Kavanagh said that proved Irish racing is a valuable commodity to broadcasters and betting firms, both nationally and internationally although he stressed too how the media rights landscape is changing.

“Streaming and international is a growing part of the business. It’s going more digital,” he said.

“Their rights [Britain] were coming up in March 2023 and ours come up nine months later in December 2023 so it’s similar timescales. We wanted to see how that process concluded and then decide on our next moves,” he added.

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