Media rights moves send seismic shockwaves through sport
Seismic changes occurred in the world of racing’s media rights last week, moves which could threaten the harmony built up within British racing over the last few years.
The changes affect Irish racing as well with the shock news that Irish coverage of the sport will switch to Racing UK from At The Races at the start of 2019.
The development was met with anger and concern in Ireland while it puts the future of At The Races in doubt, reducing its stable of Irish and British courses by more than half in one fell swoop.
Those involved in finalising the new deal would not comment while the process is ongoing, but while the arrangement is still to be ratified and the Association of Irish Racecourses (AIR) has the capacity to veto the move, it is understood that the prospect of the AIR board exercising its right to veto when it meets on Tuesday is so slim as to be non-existent.
Gigginstown House Stud’s Eddie O’Leary said: “I am absolutely shocked. It looks like this AIR meeting on Tuesday is too late.
“It sounds like ATR didn’t even have a chance, but surely we should have some say over the pictures for the future of our sport.
“I hope we’re not sleepwalking into oblivion. How this has occurred without anybody knowing and it’s a done deal is amazing. Our opposition effectively have the pictures now, which is not good for competition, and media rights revenue could plummet. How the authorities have allowed this to happen is unbelievable.”
SIS holds sole and exclusive rights to broadcast racing from every Irish racecourse, having in March 2016 agreed a five-year deal with the Association of Irish Racecourses (AIR) – via an HRI media rights committee – that extends the arrangement until the end of 2023.
At the time it was made clear that ATR would not be guaranteed to be providing the pictures when the new deal kicks in, so AIR must effectively accept the situation now, as SIS retained the right to renegotiate the provider.
The news came just a few days after it emerged that Racecourse Media Group (RMG), which controls RUK, had effectively marginalised ATR by aligning itself with SIS in breaking away from GBI Racing which distributes Irish and British racing to overseas betting operators.
That move prompted David Thorpe, chairman of major At The Races shareholder Arena Racing Company, to accuse RMG of “fracturing British racing”.
A breakdown in relations between Arc and the RMG stable of courses could cause problems for British racing’s governance if it affects the Racecourse Association, which is one of the three members of the sport’s tripartite agreement.
Meanwhile, Ascot has asked interested parties to make them offers over three sets of media and betting rights including pay TV, which might provide a ray of hope for At The Races.
Aside from those pay TV rights, Ascot’s rights for international betting media and data, which sit with Racecourse Media Group, and UK streaming all come up for renewal in March next year.
It intends introducing a multi-faceted model in which its pay TV rights could sit with ATR, while other rights would be with RMG. The course switched to Racing UK from ATR in 2014.
Operators told to end unfair promotions
The competition watchdog last week told the online gambling industry it faced action if it did not act to stop offering unfair online promotions that trap punters’ money.
Three leading operators – Ladbrokes, William Hill and PT Entertainment, a subsidiary of Playtech – have committed to change the way they offer bonus promotions after pressure from the the Competition and Markets Authority, with all firms now having to adopt the changes.
Those in breach will now face regulatory action from the CMA, who have been working with the Gambling Commission to improve conditions for online gamblers.
The firms involved have also agreed to be clearer in the terms and conditions of their bonus promotions, and punters will not be required to place bets multiple times before they can withdraw their own money.
Online bookmakers will also not be able to make punters oblige in taking part in publicity.
George Lusty, project director at the CMA, said: “The CMA is here to make sure businesses’ terms and practices are fair for their customers. We welcome the commitment from these leading firms to address the problems our investigation uncovered by making important changes to their terms and conditions.
“We now expect others to follow, and look forward to the Gambling Commission’s continued work to make sure all operators in this sector play fair with their customers’ money.”
A Ladbrokes Coral statement said the new rules would improve transparency, and the firm recognised “things had unintentionally gone too far”.
A statement from Hills read: “As one of the largest online betting and gaming brands in the UK, William Hill has worked with the CMA to ensure its concerns have been fully met.
“We welcome the standards and principles the CMA has outlined and we look forward to their adoption across the industry.”
The CMA said its work in the sector was ongoing and that it would continue to look at obstacles facing customers trying to withdraw their money after gambling online, whether part of a promotion or not.
That includes terms that force players to withdraw money in small instalments over a long period of time and terms that allow firms to confiscate funds if they have not been played with for a few months.
Sky Bet owners eye stock market listing
The majority owners of Sky Bet are investigating a possible stock market flotation of the online gambling giant, according to reports last week.
Reuters said private equity firm CVC Capital Partners had hired investment bank Rothschild to examine a listing of the firm, which they claimed could value the business at between £2.5 billion and £3bn.
CVC declined to comment on the reports when contacted by the Racing Post.
Sky agreed to sell its controlling stake in Sky Bet to CVC in 2014 in a deal that valued the bookmaker at £800 million.