Ascot warned to expect sponsorship and turnover trouble if parting from ITV
The importance of Ascot extending its association with ITV has been highlighted by bookmakers, punters and sponsors, all of which believe racing will suffer if the sport's most famous racecourse fails to agree a new contract with the broadcaster.
ITV has asked Ascot to decide by Saturday whether it will sign up to a three-year deal in which, unlike Britain's other major tracks, it is set to receive a pay cut.
Although that deadline is likely to stretch into September, a frustrated ITV is prepared to continue its relationship with racing without the involvement of Ascot, one of whose principal jumps season partners, Betfair, stressed on Monday that mainstream television coverage would be of significant importance to the future of its two key sponsorships.
The correlation between an ITV shop window and betting turnover was also highlighted in reaction to the news Ascot is stalling on agreeing the terms of what would be a three-year contract extension running from 2021 to 2023.
Racecourse Media Group, representing the vast majority of Britain's leading racecourses, is ready to secure future coverage of crown jewel events such as the Randox Health Grand National, Cheltenham Festival, Investec Derby and Qipco British Champions Day, which Ascot stages but does not wholly own.
Arena Racing Company is understood to be 95 per cent happy with its ITV offer, but it, too, may delay in support of Ascot, with which it shares dedicated channel exposure on Sky Sports Racing.
Although ITV is poised to increase the amount it pays to racecourses overall, the requirement for Arc to receive a rights fee – it does not receive one in the current contract – and the outcome of a root and branch analysis of every ITV race and fixture's commercial value to the broadcaster has resulted in Ascot's proposed income slipping. ITV has insisted it will not revisit the numbers on the table.
Ascot has made clear it wants to remain with ITV and "is not looking for any more in terrestrial TV media rights than under the current contract". However, should it choose to reject the offer, it would likely struggle to move fixtures after 2020 to another mainstream broadcaster, with the possible exclusion of the royal meeting.
Certainly keen for an agreement to be reached is Betfair, sponsor of the Grade 1 Ascot Chase and the feature handicap hurdle on the track's pre-Christmas Saturday card.
Betfair head of media relations Barry Orr said: "When you come to evaluate a sponsorship a major consideration is the exposure you receive through ITV, whose coverage gets you into so many more homes. It's very significant indeed. The ideal scenario is to have races both on terrestrial television and a dedicated channel. That's what we hope to see in the future.
"Whether or not our races are being televised terrestrially would have a very significant impact on the attractiveness of any sponsorships going forward. It's a no-brainer to say if races in future were not on ITV they would be increasingly less attractive from a sponsorship perspective."
Like Betfair, Coral is an Ascot sponsor, but speaking from a betting perspective head of PR David Stevens said: "As there is direct correlation between terrestrial television coverage of racing and increased betting turnover on the sport, the current extensive ITV contract that covers all the year’s flagship meetings is something we absolutely welcome, with the increased year-on-year audience figures proof of the sport’s continued relevance and popularity.
"Whilst we rightly couldn’t comment on specific ongoing commercial negotiations between Ascot and ITV, Royal Ascot is the biggest week of the Flat season in betting terms, and along with the other top-class fixtures under both codes that the course stages, forms a key part of the terrestrial programme. We would hope that position can be maintained going forward."
@HbfBritain supports all the efforts to continue to show Ascot on terrestrial TV. The loss of ITV coverage of Royal Ascot would be a significant blow for all racing fans. #keepracingfreetoair https://t.co/tN1bBMY4Mb— H'racingBettorsForum (@HbfBritain) August 26, 2019
That perspective was backed by Horseracing Bettors Forum chair Colin Hord, who pointed to the organisation's recent survey showing 33 per cent of respondents were more inclined to bet on televised races.
The organisation tweeted: "HBF supports all the efforts to continue to show Ascot on terrestrial TV. The loss of ITV coverage of Royal Ascot would be a significant blow for all racing fans. #keepracingfreetoair"
Newbury chief executive Julian Thick, who represents independent racecourses on the RMG board, believes Ascot must put its own interests first, but he also feels the necessity of ITV's shop window cannot be overstated.
Thick said: "Speaking purely on behalf of Newbury and the other independents, excluding Ascot and Chester, we have been delighted with what ITV has done for racing and our racecourses. We are very keen to see an extension concluded sooner rather than later. It gives certainty to all parties and will enable us to extend a great relationship.
"It's really important to us. We have seen growing audience figures and the coverage underpins a lot of the sponsorship we achieve on our major Saturdays. It's an important part of the commercial picture, particularly for those racecourses who don't have one massive festival and need to make all their big televised days work. ITV have done such a good job for us and we would like to see the partnership continue.
"Equally, as people running independent businesses, we appreciate that others, such as Ascot, have to do what is best for their own organisation."
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