TV times, they are a changing
It’s been a good few weeks for ITY Racing.
They picked up the BAFTA for coverage of last year’s Grand National, had a success with covering Sandown’s evening meeting featuring the Brigadier Gerard Stakes (Newcastle’s evening meeting on 29 June is to get the same treatment) and are starting to see growing viewing figures.
Following on from the highest number of viewers since 2013 watching ITV’s coverage of the Investec Derby, so far in 2018 ITV Racing’s audience figures for live race day coverage are up 9% year-on-year with an average audience figure of 550,000 across both its main channel and ITV4.
Breaking down the figures, ITV is up 4% year on year with an average audience of 882,000 with ITV4 growing at 20% up to a 325,000 average
Missing from ITV’s round-up of audience numbers is the Opening Show. It was creeping upwards when figures were last reported now that it has a fixed position on ITV4. It would be nice to know how it’s doing.
Now ITV Racing is heading to Royal Ascot where it will show every race, albeit that this year there’s going to have to be some channel-hopping with some days split between ITV and ITV4 because of the World Cup.
Up against the football, and Queen’s Club tennis on BBC, it’s likely the Royal Ascot audience will take a dip.
Coverage on the radio however looks like it’s going to be squeezed, as BBC Radio Five Live and Five Live Sports Extra are not only covering the football, but also international and county cricket.
Radio Times makes no mention of commentaries from Ascot but it’s assumed races will be covered, but on which station is anybody’s guess.
RacingUK will also be at Ascot, but for how much longer?
The Berkshire track is still deciding what to do with the media rights for its pay-per-view TV contract, the choice being to stay with Racing UK or go with At The Races, who are rebranding as Sky Racing.
One Racing UK insider told me it’s odds-on Ascot will go to At The Races.
It’s also likely that Sky Racing will bid aggressively as other track’s rights become available to build their portfolio of racecourses.
Like ITV, they want live sports content as it is still an aspect of conventional broadcasting which can attract and hold an audience. Not only is bookmakers’ advertising lucrative, but in Sky’s case some sports rights are departing and the gaps need to be filled.
Men’s tennis is off to Netflix, the US PGA has done a deal with Discovery (who own Eurosport) for its worldwide rights so there’s no guarantee that Sky will still show US golf, Amazon has bought a Premier League package, and Heineken European Cup Rugby (the lager is back as title sponsor) is now split between BT Sport and Channel 4.
Racing UK will have Irish Racing next year and it will be interesting to see if any British tracks feel coverage of their racing is compromised when RUK try to fit everything in, especially if better money is on offer from Sky.
That too could be a challenge for those courses who are Racing UK shareholders – what will be worth more, their investment or higher rights fees from Sky?
A word of praise for York’s racecard. Free to those in the County Stand, and £3.50 elsewhere, it’s packed with useful information but with a bit of a design refresh it’s now even better.
It used to suffer from design by confetti – lots of things chucked at it, and what stuck, stayed.
Now the clutter has been removed and it’s a model for other courses to follow.
It’s good to talk
The decision by its board to postpone the launch of Britbet, the pool betting operation owned by 50 racecourses and, instead, carry on talks with the rival Tote is good news.
The key to success in pool betting is liquidity, so two competing outfits would have diluted the money staked and the chances are that the Tote, albeit absent from almost every track, would be the major player.
Whilst the Tote remained firmly in the ownership of Fred Done, who is not exactly enamoured with the racecourses, there was only a remote chance of cooperation.
But now that a consortium called Alizeti has purchased 25% of the Tote and intends in time to be the outright owner, talks have begun.
Whether or not this means Britbet is dead in the water remains to be seen. The courses could still run their own pool operation but co-mingle with the Tote to maximise pools and dividend pay-outs.
The downside of this means there are two separate brands, one on-course and one off-course. One is long-established, its name is synonymous with pool betting and it owns the naming rights to the Placepot, Jackpot, Scoop 6 and more. The other is hardly known.
Something which the talks need to establish is who are behind Alizeti and what their long-term plans are for the Tote. This begins by finding out a little more about the people involved.
The consortium says it has the financial backing of high net-worth racing figures but the only named people on a website promoting their aspirations for the Tote are owner and breeder Alex Frost, who also sits on the board at Epsom Downs Racecourse, and Eamonn Wilmott, an owner and pioneer of advanced racing technologies, as well as former board member of the British Horseracing Association.
Otherwise, the website reproduces supporting testimonials from trainers and past and present jockeys. It’s not clear if they also have a financial stake in Alizeti.
Going forward, an ideal outcome would be for Britbet to run the on-course pool betting operation, trading under the Tote brand, offering such bets as the Jackpot and Placepot entered into a single pool.
The Tote, meanwhile, operates online and through betting shops where it already has agreements with other bookmakers through Tote Direct. Nothing then gets diluted – not brand awareness and not the pools.