Racing: Horseracing TV deal collapses

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The Independent Online

Britain's betting industry was last night forced to resort to emergency contingency plans to compensate for a lack of horseracing pictures in its shops after talks over a new TV rights deal broke down.

Britain's betting industry was last night forced to resort to emergency contingency plans to compensate for a lack of horseracing pictures in its shops after talks over a new TV rights deal broke down.

The failure by bookmakers, such as Ladbrokes and Stanley Leisure, to reach an agreement with the racing industry ahead of a 1 May deadline is the latest example of sports TV deals breaking down. It follows the plight of the Football League, which is owed £178.5m by the stricken pay-TV channel ITV Digital.

The negotiations collapsed after the two sides failed to agree on a price for betting shops to broadcast live coverage from 49 racecourses across Britain, including Sandown Park and Cheltenham. It limits the races that the betting shop operators can show to just those televised on the BBC and Channel 4 – just three races from Ascot today. They can also show pictures of British racing from the 10 smaller tracks that broke away from the Racecourse Association, which is handling the negotiations, to strike a separate deal.

While the bookmakers point to the 58 per cent increase that their latest offer – worth £20.5m a year – represents on the old deal, the RCA is understood to be seeking £45m.

"We are disappointed that our offer has been rejected but it remains on the table," said a spokesman for the Confederation of Bookmakers Association, which is conducting talks with the RCA. Chris Bell, the chief executive of Ladbrokes, said: "It is our view that this increase represents particularly good value considering that these pictures are available via a number of free to air programmes."

The failure to strike a deal comes as a new Sky digital racing channel – Attheraces – is launched. The channel is the result of a deal reached last year by a consortium of BSkyB, Channel 4 and Arena Leisure to buy the domestic broadcast rights to the 49 RCA courses. Betting shops are restricted from showing this coverage and will instead rely on broadcasting Irish, South African, Italian and US racing, supplemented with live coverage of up to six greyhound meetings every day.

The delay casts doubts over the future of William Hill and Coral Eurobet, which had been gearing up for a floatation. It comes just days after the industry reached a historic £600m deal for data and sound rights.

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