Fred Done: I would have stopped Chelmsford switch to RUK if I could
Betfred founder Fred Done described the controversial decision for all Irish racing along with Chelmsford to transfer to Racing UK from next year as a "backwards step" and bad for both racing and betting.
The Chelmsford City Racecourse owner said on Wednesday he would not have allowed the track to move from At The Races to RUK if he had been able to prevent the switch.
He made those comments despite holding a 13.5 per cent shareholding in SIS, which was integral to the move.
When Horse Racing Ireland and the Association of Irish Racecourses renewed their contract with SIS in March 2016, SIS was for a first time granted the right to sell the pictures to the broadcaster of its choice before a new five-year arrangement kicking in on January 1, 2019.
The Racing Post revealed on Friday that a deal had in effect been done with RUK's parent company Racecourse Media Group (RMG) and it subsequently emerged that SIS could also sell Chelmsford's rights from the same date.
Done, speaking to the Racing Post at the Ice conference in London, said on Wednesday: "I'm a bit upset with SIS selling the rights from ATR to RUK. I don't think they are doing the working man, who is the bread and butter of betting shops, any favours by putting it on pay TV.
"I don't think they're doing the industry any good, either racing or betting. We're scraping the barrel by selling all these rights."
Paddy Walsh, chief executive of AIR – which has welcomed the switching of Irish race coverage to Racing UK – was quick to point out that "more than 95 per cent of all Irish races" will be shown live on the rebranded RUK, but concerns have been expressed in Ireland that the increased volume of fixtures on RUK will compromise the sport's coverage.
Done added: "I read about JP [McManus] last week and the Irish trainers saying exactly the same. I'm in line with them, I think it's a backwards step."
Done said he had been unaware of the plans to switch coverage and had no control over what happened to Chelmsford. "If I would have had a vote in it as a shareholder in SIS I would not have voted for it going to RUK." he said. "I would have kept it where it is.
"I found out about it this morning through the Racing Post. I'm told it was supposed to be in board papers somewhere – I haven't seen it, but I haven't been to a board meeting at SIS for a couple of years.
"The rights belong to TML [Tote Media Ltd] with Chelmsford and we sold it on in our deal with SIS about pictures. When we did that we had no control over what happened after that. They've then sold it on.
"If it had been Chelmsford's decision it would have stayed with ATR. They'll know what my feelings are, I assure you of that."
Done added: "Common sense says there will be fewer people watching racing," he said. "I think we will lose viewers and therefore we will lose punters."
Chelmsford chief executive Phil Siers, who is also Betfred's chief commercial officer, echoed Done's thoughts.
He added of the track's international rights: "We can confirm that any tote bets taken on CCR will continue to be commingled into the official UK Totepool, and those rights reserved to Tote Media Limited will continue to be delivered by ATR for the foreseeable future."
A spokesperson for RMG said their research showed that a switch to RUK would not affect betting turnover.
"From our experience and analysis – and Racing UK has been broadcasting for 14 years now – betting interest has not suffered in any way at the RMG racecourses from which we broadcast," they said.
"It's important to put in context the TV audience figures. ATR’s Barb figures show the highest average audience figure for the most recently published week to be 51,000 viewers – the tenth highest average was 9,000 – with an average weekly viewing time of one minute per person.
"More than 50,000 fully engaged members, with a high propensity to bet, plus 6,000 pubs and clubs, take the Racing UK service in Great Britain and Ireland. In addition, RTE has just signed a three-year deal to cover the key meetings on terrestrial TV in Ireland.
"Those realities, allied to the popular bet-to-view proposition with our soon-to-be 25 online bookmaker partners, and the premium content being showcased in 99 per cent of betting shops in Great Britain and Ireland via SIS, means punters will be just as well catered for, if not better, under the new arrangement."
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