ITV seeks to renew lucrative horse-racing rights

ITV is pushing to renew its rights to show horse racing on British television as it seeks to secure a lucrative revenue stream that draws in advertising from bookmakers.

The broadcaster has indicated to racing chiefs that it is keen on renewing a contract that was signed only last year, according to several people with knowledge of the matter. However, formal talks are yet to begin.

The existing deal, which covers marquee events including Cheltenham, the Grand National and Royal Ascot, was signed in August 2020, following the resumption of racing after the coronavirus pandemic forced the suspension of meetings and plunged the sport into crisis.

The outcome of any discussions will be closely watched by the wider racing community, which lost several hundred million pounds in revenue during the pandemic, largely because of lost ticket sales.

ITV has shown racing since 2017 when it won the contract from Channel 4 and is contracted to show almost 100 days of horse racing on terrestrial television.

Racecourse Media Group, which manages media rights on behalf of a group including the Jockey Club, which runs Cheltenham, plays an important role in negotiating broadcast deals. Ascot Racecourse and Arena Racing Company (ARC), two other venue owners, manage their media rights separately.

The Grand National and Derby races are among sporting events that have to be shown on free-to-air television, according to broadcasting laws drawn up in 1996.

Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, owned by gambling group Flutter, is the headline sponsor for ITV’s racing coverage and is likely to roll over its deal if negotiations result in an early renewal of the contract, a person close to the company said.

Alan Byrne, chief executive of Spotlight Sports Group, which owns the Racing Post, said ITV’s ownership of the rights was a “significant benefit to the sport as a whole in terms of profile, introducing people to the sport, generating increased focus on future events and generating additional betting turnover”.

The move comes ahead of an overhaul of the UK’s gambling laws that racing industry executives fear could have a detrimental impact on the sport if the government rules that gamblers will have to submit proof that they can afford certain levels of bets.

Horse racing receives £350m each year from the gambling industry through sponsorship, media rights and levies on bets, according to a report published in March by the gambling industry trade body, the Betting and Gaming Council.

“If you make it harder for people to place bets then bookmakers are going to clearly lose income and as will racing which, in turn, is reliant on bookmakers for large sums of money,” Byrne said.

Before gambling companies were first permitted to advertise on UK television in 2007, Channel 4, which then owned the rights to show horse racing, was paid to show races in order to ensure coverage.

The Jockey Club, Ascot Racecourse and ITV declined to comment. RMG did not immediately respond to a request for comment. ARC said it would be “happy to engage in discussions on an early renewal”.

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