NBC To Keep Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes Broadcast Rights

Officials of Churchill Downs, the Maryland Jockey Club, and the NBC Network Wednesday discussed the new contract under which the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) will be televised.

At a press conference in the track's new media center, Churchill Downs Inc., president and chief executive officer Tom Meeker; NBC Sports president Ken Schanzer; and Maryland Jockey Club president and chief executive officer Joe De Francis were present to discuss a deal that extends the telecast rights to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) for five additional years--from 2006 to 2010. The relationship between the parties that began in 2001 was to expire after this year's Triple Crown series.

Though Meeker would not disclose the financial terms, he did say the five-year accord "is substantially the same terms and conditions as the previous agreement."

"NBC is very proud and we're honored by this commitment to extend the Derby and the Preakness," said Schanzer. "We always said we wanted the Derby first, the Preakness second, and the Belmont third. We ended the year how we wanted and we are delighted. We owe each of these groups for this.

"And we're going to promote the heck out of it," Schanzer said. "To be honest we'd love to have kept the Belmont, but it truly is a great mystery to me--especially in the face of how dramatically we improved the product with 25- to 30-percent increases in viewership. We did, I feel, an extraordinary job of promoting the Triple Crown."

Schanzer said NBC's strengths were its ability to promote the two events and their special character, its ability to give the audience a view behind the story line, and an excellent broadcast team.

"Our talent pool is an extraordinary group of men and women," said Schanzer. "They cut a broad, wide swath and are probably the best team in anything that we do."

Word of the contract comes on the heels of a recent announcement that telecast rights for the third mainstay of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), was transferred by the New York Racing Association to ABC/ESPN for the years 2006 and 2007.

The deal ensures that for at least two years the Belmont will be broadcast on a different network than the first two events. Last week ESPN entered into an agreement to show the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships for eight years, beginning in 2006.

Both Meeker and Schanzer remain aware that when Triple Crowns are on the line, as they have frequently been over the past several years, the Belmont tops the Derby and Preakness among viewers.

"The Triple Crown is still there," said Meeker of Visa's dropping its $5 million bonus to any horse sweeping the three races, choosing only to stay on with the Kentucky Derby. "We protected it. It's a great intellectual property and we're going to continue to protect it. The Triple Crown challenge is still there."

Meeker said Visa "owned" the sport of horse racing when it underwrote the bonus and equated it with Nextel's association with NASCAR. "Someone can own this sport if they take up the sponsorship challenge."

Meeker said the Derby would not be referred to or promoted as 'the Visa Kentucky Derby.'

"Visa will be cast as a proud sponsor together with our other sponsors," he said.

"The proof is in the ratings," said a pleased De Francis, whose organization was founded in 1743 and constitutes the oldest sporting association in North America. "With the diffusion of the product across the many channels, the ratings increases for the Triple Crown on NBC are unparalleled in the sporting world in today's environment

Magna Entertainment Corp., North America's number one owner and operator of horse racetracks based on revenues, purchased a majority share of the Maryland Jockey Club in 2002.