ITV in danger of losing rights to show live horse racing with the broadcaster refusing to guarantee Cheltenham Festival and other big events will air on their main channel from next year
- ITV are in danger of losing the live rights to televise horse racing from next year
- The broadcaster are refusing to promise that big events will be on main channel
- Talks between ITV and Racehourse Media Group have struck an impasse
- The existing £20million-a-year deal is set to expire in just nine months
ITV are in danger of losing the live rights to televise horse racing as the broadcaster are refusing to guarantee that the biggest events, including the Cheltenham Festival which starts on Tuesday, will be shown on their main channel from next year.
Negotiations between ITV and the Racecourse Media Group [RMG] – who handle media rights sales on behalf of the courses – over an extension to the current four-year deal have been taking place for over 12 months, but Sportsmail has learned that the talks have reached an impasse with just nine months remaining on the existing deal.
ITV have offered a small increase on the existing £20million-a-year deal for another three-year contract for live racing rights from 2021 onwards, but it is understood that the talks have not progressed well and the RMG may consider alternative bids, with BBC and Channel 4 waiting in the wings.
ITV are in danger of losing the rights to broadcast live horse racing from next year
The broadcaster are refusing to guarantee that big events will be on their main channel
In another source of tension ITV have also demanded exclusivity over a range of digital rights, which if granted would significantly restrict racecourses’ ability to market events through social media, fulfil obligations to sponsors, engage with fans and collect personal data.
There is also frustration in racing circles that opportunities were wasted when negotiations were put on hold last autumn during ITV’s Rugby World Cup coverage and their failed bid to win the Champions League rights, with the result that time is now running out to reach an agreement.
Racing officials regard live coverage on ITV for its biggest festivals as non-negotiable, as the main channel generates far higher viewing figures, with more than 10 million people watching last year’s Grand National. They are also digging in over control of their digital rights as granting exclusivity to a third party would have a significant impact on their marketing operations.
ITV currently has just nine months remaining of their current £20million-a-year deal
Since taking over from Channel 4 in 2017, ITV have put around a third of their racing programming on the main channel. Last year, ITV4 had 60 days of live racing. There were 34 days shown on ITV but crucially that included every day of the showpiece meetings at Cheltenham, Aintree and the Derby meeting at Epsom.
Channel 4 and BBC have expressed an interest if a deal cannot be agreed with ITV, with the sport eager to retain a terrestrial broadcast partner. The Grand National and the Derby are listed as ‘crown jewel’ events which must be live on free-to-air television, although Cheltenham is not.
Losing racing rights would be a bitter blow to ITV, whose ratings have grown by over 10 per cent year-on-year since the start of the contract.
While relations at executive level are currently strained, ITV’s award-winning coverage has proved hugely popular within the industry and with punters, with main presenter Ed Chamberlin warning last month that the sport would struggle to survive without exposure on terrestrial TV.
‘The thought of the sport not having terrestrial coverage is catastrophic,’ he said. ‘We are the envy of so many sports with the coverage we get. We’ve delivered on numbers, won a BAFTA and without that who knows what will happen? In 10 years’ time if the sport isn’t on mainstream TV we will know something has gone wrong.’
Losing race rights would be a bitter blow for ITV who have been successful with their coverage