Television Rights Deal in Britain Apparently Dead

The biggest media rights deal in the history of British racing, worth a minimum of £307 million over ten years plus £80 million in marketing support, looks as though it was killed off on Monday, June 18, when the British Horseracing Board decided not to give a full pre-race data license to the Go Racing consortium of Arena Leisure, Channel 4 and Sky Television.

After a momentous few days of votes, intrigue, rumors, accusations and counter accusations, starting on June 13 when there was cliff-hanger BHB board meeting, subsequently declared invalid, continuing at the BHB annual general meeting on June 14 and culminating in through-the-night talks until 6am on June 18, the controversial Go Racing deal now appears dead and buried.

While the BHB was prepared to grant data licenses for television broadcasts in all forms and Internet sites, British racing's ruling body could not agree terms for new and future technology including Go Racing's desire for a 10-year exclusive license for visual data.

Peter Savill, the BHB chairman, who has consistently described the Go Racing deal as a poor one and complained that the Racecourse Association should have involved the BHB much sooner than three weeks ago, said: "One of our concerns was that Go Racing wanted a very long agreement for all rights with a limited potential return for racing."

Technologies such as horses carrying microchips which indicate their exact position in races that could be geared towards the improved "3G" mobile phone, palm computers and used on the Internet might offer a huge upside to racing's finances, but the sports' return through the Go Racing deal would have been be limited to below to below 40%.

Savill declared: "We are perfectly able to deal directly with new technology companies rather go through middlemen. Go Racing was not even putting an estimate on the returns from this type of technology and the BHB will grant data licenses on an ad-hoc basis when we know what we are dealing with."

He called on the whole racing industry to unite and pool all rights his comments being mainly directed at the RCA, which represents Britain's 59 racecourses and so far has been determined up to negotiate picture rights by itself.

The BHB chairman added: "Racing has to get together and produce different rights packages to put out to tender, something the industry to its detriment has failed to do."

He is confident that British racing will be a better position in ten years time than it would have been under the Go Racing deal and believes that the threat of Channel 4 potentially withdrawing from nationwide televised coverage of racing has been overplayed.

The now-void vote at the BHB board meeting on June 13, six against five to refuse Go Racing a full data license, turned into something more like ten to two at a properly constituted board meeting four days later if unofficial soundings are to be believed. This means that RCA, the only remaining opposition, is now in a much less powerful position and will find it hard to go it alone in the future.

For Go Racing, chief executive officer Christopher Stoddart commented: "Go Racing is disappointed that an agreement could not be reached with the BHB regarding a pre-race data license. Go Racing cannot take the significant business risk of having important rights excluded."