Negotiations to secure Irish racing’s new media rights deal set to intensify

Bidding war between RMG, SIS and Sky Sports Racing could increase value of deal

The right to broadcast Irish racing includes international and streaming rights as well as pictures for Licensed Betting Offices (LBO) in both Britain and Ireland. Photograph: Russell Pritchard/Inpho/Presseye

The right to broadcast Irish racing includes international and streaming rights as well as pictures for Licensed Betting Offices (LBO) in both Britain and Ireland. Photograph: Russell Pritchard/Inpho/Presseye

 

Final runners and riders in the race to secure Irish racing’s lucrative new media rights deal are yet to be declared although a result could be announced before the end of the year.

Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) is awaiting formal offers but negotiations are expected to intensify in the coming weeks.

The current deal, designed to be worth up to €40 million a year, and which aroused controversy when it was signed due to coverage of the sport being put behind a paywall on Racing TV, is due to finish at the end of 2023.

Racing TV’s direct to home coverage was part of a successful package offered by SIS (Sports Information Services) and the Racecourse Media Group (RMG) which is an umbrella group for the majority of British racecourses.

The right to broadcast Irish racing includes international and streaming rights as well as pictures for Licensed Betting Offices (LBO) in both Britain and Ireland.

In comparison direct to home rights are not as remunerative for the sport.

However the decision by the HRI media rights committee and the Association of Irish Racecourses to accept the SIS/RMG deal in 2017 prompted criticism of how Irish racing ended up behind a paywall.

It had previously been broadcast on the Attheraces channel which came free on the Sky platform.

‘Retrograde step’

At the time leading owner JP McManus said he was “saddened” by the development. Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary called it “a very retrograde step” for Irish racing with less people having the chance to watch the sport.

Although the current deal has over two years to run, potential rights bidders are readying themselves for a bidding war that could prove even more lucrative for racing here.

RMG, SIS and Sky Sports Racing are believed to be in the running for the rights with the potential for a tussle that could increase their valuation significantly past €40 million a year in total.

Approximately 85 per cent of the sale of media rights goes to Ireland’s 26 racecourses with the balance going to HRI. Those rights have been crucial to the survival of tracks during the Covid-19 pandemic.

With no crowds permitted on-course for much of the last 18 months, and betting shops closed in Ireland and Britain for lengthy periods of time, revenue from increased streaming in particular has been key to the finances of many courses.

It is understood from some industry sources that any deal could be finalised by the end of this year although officials were not prepared to comment in detail on aspects of any new potential deal.

“The current media rights deal takes us up to the end of 2023. We are in continuous engagement with all parties who are interested in acquiring those rights.

“The renewal of those rights, and when that deal is done, will be dictated by when the opportunity arises to ensure the best possible deal for Irish racing,” said Conor O’Neill, the chairman of HRI’s media rights committee, on Monday.

“Our key focus is to ensure that the renewal of that deal is done on the best possible terms for Irish racing and whenever we feel that is, that deal will be done given the significant financial value that it has,” he added.

In the current deal all media rights were under the one umbrella but it is possible they could be negotiated separately if it proves more valuable to HRI and the tracks.

If Sky and RMG are understood to be the front-runners interested in direct to home rights, there could be a bigger field for international and streaming rights. SIS is the leading candidate for LBO coverage.

Some experts privately think another collective deal could ultimately prove to be more lucrative for Irish racing.

Nevertheless the issue of what channel Irish racing will be broadcast on from the start of 2024 is likely to provoke renewed debate on Irish racing’s visibility to the general sporting public.

No comment

On Monday there was no comment from Sky Sports Racing on any bid but it is understood no change is planned in its current free to air structure on the Sky platform.

In other news, in-form trainer John Ryan is in the unenviable position of having two of the three reserves for Wednesday’s Guinness Kerry National.

The leading market fancy Fairyhill Run is first reserve for the €100,000 Listowel Festival feature after a final field of 18 was declared on Monday. Ryan’s Waitnsee is third reserve.

In contrast JP McManus has seven runners guaranteed a spot in the historic handicap. They include Aramax from Gordon Elliott’s yard who is the pick of number one jockey Mark Walsh.

Elliott has three other chances of a first big race success since returning from a six month ban last week. Jack Kennedy will ride Conflated for Gigginstown Stud who also have Farclas in the race.

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