Arena sidelined in Go Racing TV bid

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The Independent Online

Arena Leisure, the racecourse owner, has been sidelined by the other members of the Go Racing consortium bidding for the sport's TV rights.

Arena Leisure, the racecourse owner, has been sidelined by the other members of the Go Racing consortium bidding for the sport's TV rights.

Channel 4 and BSkyB are understood to have become concerned about the awkward relationship between Arena and many of the 59 racecourses that will decide whether to accept their 10-year, £750m bid.

Go Racing is competing with Carlton, the TV firm currently offering £530m for the rights.

The three Go Racing members are nominally equal partners, but the two broadcasters have relegated Arena to a lesser position, reflecting its smaller contribution. Arena brings its pari-mutuel betting service, but BSkyB also has a gambling facility via Surrey Racing, part of Sports Internet Group that it acquired in May.

Arena Leisure, backed by entrepreneur Trevor Hemmings and owning six English racecourses, has ruffled the feathers of some elements of the Racecourse Association with its ambitious expansion plans. The new pecking order was noticeable at Go Racing's presentation to racecourses of its revised bid.

Go Racing remains the favourite to prevail over Carlton when the decision is made later this month. There is concern about Carlton's ability to provide the terrestrial coverage considered critical to racing's popular appeal. Granada, ITV's other main franchise operator, is not involved in Carlton's bid.

Hopes that the BBC would join the Carlton team are understood to be wide of the mark. Channel 4, meanwhile, has made it clear it would not participate in a successful Carlton bid.

BBC support may tip the balance in favour of one bid or the other as it has close relationships with courses whose action it broadcasts. Channel 4, which has been showing meetings since 1994 when ITV dropped the sport, commands support from influential elements in the racing fraternity. Go Racing's £750m bid consists of £320m upfront, plus £80m of marketing support and predicted shared revenues of £350m. Carlton's down-payment is a more generous £350m, topped up by a marketing contribution of £50m and anticipated shared revenues of £130m.

Either bid would be a bonanza for a sport that currently pockets £6m a year in TV revenue.

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