Irish RUK switch: McManus saddened as heated debate continues
JP McManus said on Saturday he had been “saddened” to learn Irish racing will be switching from At The Races to Racing UK from next year.
Willie Mullins echoed that sentiment by saying he is "disappointed" about the development, but he and fellow trainer Ted Walsh suggested adopting a watching brief until it is known just what RUK's plans are for the broadcasting of Irish racing pictures.
The consensus on the ground at Leopardstown on day one of the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival was that the move causes great uncertainty and has the potential to impact negatively on the sport in Ireland.
All-powerful owner McManus said simply he was "saddened to learn of the development” when asked for his response to the news, which comes as a result of SIS opting to do a deal with Racecourse Media Group – RUK’s parent company – to broadcast all Irish racing pictures on satellite television from January 1.
SIS has sole and exclusive rights to stream Irish racing to online operators and to distribute direct-to-home pictures, having renewed its contract with Horse Racing Ireland and the Association of Irish Racecourses in March 2016.
Champion trainer Mullins said: "I hope RUK will serve Irish racing well, but from our point of view we're very disappointed to lose At The Races. They have been a great help to Irish racing, have provided a great service to the Irish racing fraternity and didn't have a secondary subscription fee.
"Of course it's worrying – anything new is worrying – but we’ll just have to see what RUK will offer."
The new five-year deal kicks in from January, and SIS retained the right to renegotiate which channel it sells the pictures to.
As such, while AIR could in theory veto the move at a board meeting on Tuesday, control over which broadcaster gets the pictures is, in effect, out of the hands of the Irish racing authorities.
The wisdom of that decision was queried by many at Leopardstown, while Walsh strongly suggested questions may yet need to be asked of HRI’s Media Rights Committee, which was charged with negotiating the deal on behalf of AIR, he said that point has not yet been reached.
“I’d have no problem with Racing UK taking it over, so long as they get an extra channel or a red button. With modern technology, why shouldn’t that be possible?” asked Walsh, also an analyst with RTE and whose son Ruby fulfils a similar role with RUK.
“The BBC have about six different sports channels. If you turn it on and are watching Wimbledon, you can watch something else on the red button.
“We don’t in any way know this is a bad thing until they come up with a solution, so I’m not looking negatively at it. Let’s see what happens.”
However, Walsh did say that, should it emerge the new arrangement does impact negatively on Irish racing’s profile, serious questions would need to be asked of the decision-making process.
"It’s like selling a horse," he suggested. "If he turns out no good, he was well sold. If he turns out to be a champion, you got a bad price for it. We don’t know yet whether we got a bad deal or not.
“Whoever was responsible for selling the rights, they have to have a look at themselves and ask whether they did a bad deal for Irish racing. Hindsight is 20-20 vision, but they have to look and ask if we sold ourselves short.
“I’m not saying that’s what's going to happen, but if we end up with very little Irish racing on television, or a big slice gone, we've sold ourselves short and it was a bad deal, and those who did the deal – as in any business if mistakes are made – should be held to account.”
Goffs chief executive Henry Beeby made a similar point, saying: “It looks like it will reduce viewership and exposure, so it’s very worrying.
“You’d have to ask questions about how it was that those negotiating the deal on behalf of Irish racing allowed a situation to occur whereby we've ceded control of the product.”
HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh is not commenting on the matter until the process has concluded, but the main point of concern for Irish racing fans and stakeholders is how much of an effect sharing RUK airtime with 37 British tracks will have on the coverage of Ireland's 26 tracks.
Furthermore, while viewers already pay for ATR via a basic satellite subscription package, Irish racing will go behind an extra paywall on relocating to RUK.
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