It's Official: Belmont Stakes Headed to ABC

It's Official: Belmont Stakes Headed to ABC
Photo: Barbara D. Livingston
NYRA chairman Barry Schwartz on the previous Triplce Crown contract: "It's not an equitable split."
The 18-year-old television deal between the partners in Triple Crown Productions has been dissolved. Just days after New York Racing Association chairman Barry Schwartz said the NYRA would move in another direction, it was announced Oct. 4 the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), third leg of the Triple Crown, would be broadcast via ABC Sports beginning in 2006.

The contract will run only until 2007, the year NYRA's franchise with the state of New York to run racing at three tracks, including Belmont Park, expires. NYRA has been furiously trying to get an extension of its franchise, but state government leaders, after NYRA's many legal, financial, and public relations problems in recent years, have been adamant about putting the franchise up for bid.

ESPN has acquired distribution rights for the race across numerous outlets, including ESPN international, ESPN.com, ESPN Deportes, and ESPN Classic. The parties will explore other opportunities linked to video on demand, broadband, wireless, and pay-per-view, according to a press release.

ABC broadcast the Belmont Stakes from 1986-2000.

In an Oct. 2 interview with The Blood-Horse, NYRA chairman Barry Schwartz said the move was inevitable because of the revenue splits between the three Triple Crown tracks: Churchill Downs, Pimlico Race Course, and Belmont Park.

"It's not an equitable split," Schwartz said of the money NYRA receives for the Belmont Stakes as part of a deal with Churchill and Pimlico to televise the Triple Crown races. Churchill hosts the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Pimlico the Preakness Stakes (gr. I).

The Blood-Horse previously reported NYRA had informed Churchill it was prepared to not renew its Triple Crown Productions contract and strike its own deal with a network to televise the Belmont Stakes. Officials said Churchill gets 50% of the television revenue, while NYRA and Magna Entertainment Corp., owner of Pimlico, each receive 25%.

Under a five-year deal that runs through 2005, NBC Sports is paying Triple Crown Productions $51.5 million for various rights to the three races. A parallel deal with Visa, which sponsors the $5-million Triple Crown bonus, is worth another $25 million.

"We've just been unhappy with the splits for a couple of years now," Schwartz said. He said NYRA demanded a "fairer" distribution of the television revenue, "which we couldn't get from the other two participants."

In the last three years, the Belmont Stakes has outdrawn the Kentucky Derby in television viewership. This year, the Belmont earned an 11.3 rating, the Derby a 7.4 rating, and the Preakness a 6.1 rating. "We felt something more than one-quarter of the revenue should be attributed to the Belmont," Schwartz said.

An official with Churchill Downs said the company doesn't comment on such matters.

Schwartz said he is "positive" the deal negotiated separately between NYRA and ABC will be better for NYRA than the current Triple Crown Productions arrangement. NYRA is hamstrung, though, in the length of a new television deal.

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