Shares in Arena suspended as TV deal unravels

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The Independent Online

Arena Leisure, one of the members of the Go Racing consortium, will have to return the £85m it has raised from shareholders unless a deal for the rights to British horseracing is in place by Monday.

The company suspended its shares yesterday, as Go Racing's £320m media deal for the rights to British horseracing was described as "on the rocks". After another day of confusion and infighting over the rights, it looked likely that the deal ­ already two years in the making ­ would founder. The British Horseracing Board, the sport's governing body, declared that the industry had been wrong to select Go Racing for the rights ­ it said it favoured Go Racing's rival, Carlton ­ and called for the bidding process to begin again.

Arena's chief executive, Ian Penrose, said his company needed a deal by Monday, when the group plans an extraordinary meeting to ratify its fund-raising, and that talks with the BHB were continuing. Go Racing has still not secured the rights to the pre-race data, which provides information on the runners and riders in races and is owned by the BHB. Although it has a deal with the courses for the racing pictures, the consortium also needs this data to assume the rights on 1 July. The BHB has not yet named a price for the data.

Arena issued new shares to fund its part of Go Racing, a partnership with Channel 4 and BSkyB, for a £320m 10-year contract to cover racing at most courses in this country.

Mr Penrose said: "We are working for a deal by the EGM. We need to conclude it by then. Otherwise, it would be impossible for us to take funds from shareholders."

The BHB said yesterday that it was not working to an 18 June deadline, but a deadline of 30 June, adding that it was not willing to conclude any 10-year deal and that Go Racing would have to come up with more money if it wanted to use the data on new technology, such as third-generation (3G) mobile phones.

The BHB chairman Peter told its annual meeting that the "deal is on the rocks. Whether it is actually dead in the water or marooned is up to Go Racing."