Racecourses delay on TV screening rights

Racing's leading players were last night still deciding whether to send the sport down the route of football and join forces with the Sky network.

Racing's leading players were last night still deciding whether to send the sport down the route of football and join forces with the Sky network.

Representatives of the Super 12 group of racecourses, which include Aintree, Ascot, Cheltenham and Newmarket, met at a London hotel to discuss a potential television revolution of the turf, but will gather again before making a definitive announcement. Channel 4, racing's premier broadcaster at present, are thought to have increased their bid for the rights to racing, in conjuction with the international cable company ntl, yesterday morning. Sky, with its vast resources, is still thought to be in the driving seat, however.

At stake are not only the screening rights to the principal races in the sport (the protected Grand National and Derby apart), but also the avenue to the interactive betting realm of the near future. Racing's apparently comfortable home on Channel 4 may soon be knocked down and the emphasis switched to the extraterrestial outlet, though it is believed that, in appeasement, Sky has offered the sweetener of BBC involvement in some races.

These were the matters on a table populated by such as Douglas Erskine-Crum, the Ascot racecourse director, the Cheltenham managing director, Edward Gillespie, and Sue Ellen, the managing director of the United Racecourses trio of Epsom, Kempton and Sandown. They will have to determine what effect Sky's bid will have on racing's finances. On the plus side is the huge pile of chips the network is prepared to invest in the sport. On the debit side is the question of how sponsorship, off-course betting and thus ultimately the levy agreement which finances racing would react to coverage being moved from its current slot.

"I think you'll probably find that we've all agreed to make no comment at the moment," Sue Ellen said last night. "We met today, we've got a few more things to sort out and we'll make an announcement as soon as we're ready."

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