Racecourses up the stakes as broadcasting row goes to court

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The Independent Online

A row between some of the UK's biggest racecourses and a broadcaster backed by the bookmaking giant Ladbrokes is to be settled in court.

Racing UK is accusing Satellite Information Services (SIS) of broadcasting data and commentary it does not own the rights to, and will go to court on 6 October to seek an injunction. It will then pursue "significant" damages and costs.

Racing UK was set up earlier this year and is owned by 31 racecourses, including Aintree, Doncaster, Epsom Downs, Goodwood, Sandown Park, Newmarket and York.

SIS is owned by a variety of racing bodies, including bookies Ladbrokes and William Hill, which hold stakes of 23 per cent and 19 per cent respectively. The Tote, the state-owned pool betting outfit, has a 6 per cent holding, while industry body the Racecourse Association owns 10 per cent.

Racing UK runs a racing channel, which subscribers can access by paying £20 a month, and has exclusive non-betting-shop rights to the 31 tracks. However, one of its biggest revenue sources is the sale of images, commentary and on-course data from its racecourses overseas.

SIS has access to all 59 British courses but its activities are strictly limited to domestic betting shops. Separately, it also provides production services for Racing UK's rival, Attheraces.

Racing UK executive chairman Simon Bazalgette said the overseas market was a crucial one for racing. The sport is perceived by punters abroad as having integrity and is therefore very popular.

He added: "That's why we have got litigation starting against SIS. It's driving a coach and horses through the whole rights market, which is fundamental to the whole industry."

Mr Bazalgette said the damages being sought had not been specified, but added that they would be "significant" and estimated the sum would be "well into six figures, possibly seven".

Racing UK is launching the action with the owners of all the racecourses signed to the channel and its South African partner, Phumelela.

It is understood that SIS believes it has an implied right to use the data. It declined to comment, but an industry insider said the court case was probably needed to settle the issue once and for all.

"These sort of contracts have grown up historically under custom and practice," he told The Independent on Sunday, "but as rights become more and more important, we need certainty and clarity."