Racing: Racecourses seek new TV deal

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The Independent Online

As the screens went black on the horse racing channel Attheraces last night, racecourse owners were lining up to broker a new deal to keep live horse racing on television.

The channel went off the air at midnight last night, but Chepstow, the owner of the Brighton, Uttoxeter and Newcastle racecourses, and other owners are continuing discussions over their broadcasting rights.

"We are in discussions with Attheraces and we firmly believe a new deal will be done. The screens won't be blank for long," Rod Street, the managing director of Chepstow, said yesterday. Chepstow stages 15 per cent of the UK's race fixtures.

Attheraces was set up in 2001 in a consortium between BSkyB, Channel 4 and Arena Leisure, which owns a number of racecourses. But it has failed to generate its projected revenues and it is now unclear if all three parties will be involved in any new deal.

BSkyB is thought to be keen to take full control of a new racing channel. A rival channel, the Horseracing Channel, has also entered the frame and other courses are now looking at launching their own subscription channel.

Mr Street said: "Our rights remain significant. We don't know what the new shareholders will be, but when they get their act together, they can come and do business with us."

He said the situation was not comparable to the plight many football clubs found themselves in when ITV Digital folded. "The exposure we get from selling our horseracing pictures is important. But in terms of the business, it is not material. Around 80 per cent of our revenue comes from our race days - that's admissions, catering, betting, hospitality. We have other, more important forms of income."

Mr Street hopes a new TV deal will mean smaller racecourses will get a bigger slice of revenues.

Chepstow yesterday reported a strong rise in profits, thanks to an increase in race day income. The company, which previously had only the Chepstow course, took over Northern Racing at the end of last year. This gave it eight race courses and helped boost turnover for the year by 131 per cent to £9.4m. Pre-tax profits doubled to £1.3m.