The chances are that not many readers of these pages are subscribers to Racing TV (RTV), the channel which live broadcasts all Irish racing. The service costs about €30 per month.
Up to the end of 2018, you could use At The Races which is a free service, as long as you are on the Sky platform. Now rebranded as Sky Sports Racing (SSR), this channel covers racing from 24 British racecourses and last week it emerged that SSR is likely to win back five Irish tracks, starting next year.
This is big news as it represents the first time that all 26 Irish racecourses have not stuck together when selling their media rights.
The current deal with RTV expires at the end of this year, and it seemed another five-year renewal was on the cards when, last October, the Association of Irish Racecourses [AIR] announced that RTV’s parent company was the “preferred bidder” and all that needed to be worked out was the small print.
But during the winter, five smaller racecourses came together and questioned whether this new deal was the best for them. Limerick, Kilbeggan, Roscommon, Sligo and Thurles argued that the deal was unfair in two respects – it favoured the bigger tracks with the biggest races, and they said Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) was taking too big a percentage of the takings.
The whole thing came to a head last week when representatives of all the tracks came together to vote on the new deal.
Sure enough, the five ‘rebels’ opted out, saying they want to explore an offer from a company linked to SSR, which guarantees them a €100,000 media rights payment per fixture.
We don’t have the full details of both offers to allow us make a direct comparison, but it seems likely the Sky offer is around 25% better than the current deal.
Which makes you wonder why they didn’t win the tender in the first place.
So, what does all this mean for the home viewer? Well, the five tracks have a combined total of 45 racedays per year and they will almost certainly be shown on Sky, which will go down well with many.
There should be enough free air-time to give them proper coverage, with interviews, et cetera, though there have been cutbacks on Sky recently.
Their Sunday morning chat show was cancelled, their Irish racing expert was dropped, and they didn’t cover the winter racing from Dubai or Saudi Arabia, instead opting to show more greyhound racing in between the horsey action.
It remains to be seen how often they send presenters to the track to cover the Irish meetings. In fairness, Racing TV have been very good at this.
Their problem is that they simply have too much racing at times to fit everything in.
However, you may have noticed that TG4, Virgin Media, RTÉ and even ITV have been showing more Irish racing in recent years.
That’s because the current media rights holders are happy to supply pictures to terrestrial channels within reason. That was not the case when At The Races held the rights to Irish racing, so viewers – and the sport in general – could lose out too.
Overall, competition is a good thing in all walks of life, so we can at least take some comfort in the fact that there is such international demand for Irish racing. Stay tuned.