They were contract negotiations that were heading nervously down to the wire.
When ITV signed a four-year deal to secure exclusive terrestrial TV rights to UK and Irish racing in January 2017, they probably wouldn’t have wanted talks on a extension to still be taking place with just four months left on the current terms.
But finally, it is believed that ITV’s decision-makers have sat down with representatives from Arena Racing Company, the Racecourse Media Group and Ascot and fleshed out a new contract that will ensure top-level racing continues to be broadcast for free until at least 2023.
It’s a huge sigh of relief for everyone in racing, with live televised coverage proven to increase betting turnover which, of course, then gets fed back into the sport. ITV’s investment also goes into the coffers for prize money too, so this is a necessary deal that helps to secure the future of horse racing into the future.
Ed Chamberlain, who fronts the broadcaster’s coverage alongside Francesca Cumani, said:
“The sport is in desperate need of some good news and it looks like we’re very close.
“I’ll only believe it once it’s signed, sealed and delivered, but it’s so important this sport stays on terrestrial TV and I’m thrilled it looks like it’s going to be us once again.
“We’re proud of what we’ve achieved on ITV. Our numbers have continued to grow, bucking a growing trend on TV, and we’ve enjoyed doing it with a great team across the board.”
A Numbers Game
It is rumoured that relations between ITV and key stakeholders within racing were fraught. Ascot had signed a deal with Sky Sports which didn’t go down too well, while discussions over a rebate for the cancelled Grand National also led to a stand-off on both sides. The fear was that this renewed contract might never see the light of day.
But it is expected to be announced on Tuesday that an £8 million golden handshake deal has been agreed, which will be an increase on the £7.5 million that they paid last time around.
The new contract is expected to have similar terms to the previous agreement, and so punters will get to enjoy as many as 94 days of live coverage from their armchair. The main meetings – Cheltenham, the Grand National, Royal Ascot and co – will continue to be shown on the main ITV channel, while a catalogue of other meetings will be shown on ITV4.
The hope is that ‘smaller’ meetings will get a look in too. Due partly to the coronavirus pandemic, ITV have rejigged their schedules to take in racing from Salisbury and Thirsk, while a rare trip to the Curragh suggests an expansion into Irish racing could be on the cards.
The broadcaster more than doubled the viewing figures of predecessor Channel 4 for Glorious Goodwood, with a peak audience of 1.1 million and an average of 753,000 throughout the week – trumping the 346,000 that their rival delivered.