Rights talks back on track after Cheltenham meeting between ITV and Jockey Club
The protracted saga of ITV's marathon mission to secure a new three-year racing rights deal took a turn for the worse and then one for the better on the Cheltenham Festival's opening day, when a back-page newspaper story threatened to bring talks to a crashing halt.
What one insider described as a "fraught" morning turned into a more conciliatory afternoon following a lunch meeting at Cheltenham between ITV director of sport Niall Sloane and Jockey Club chief executive Delia Bushell.
The newspaper article suggested ITV could lose its rights due to an alleged unwillingness on its part to assure main channel coverage of the sport's major meetings.
The Racing Post understands the real bone of contention surrounds the Investec Derby, which could conceivably at some point coincide with an England football match, in which circumstances the Classic would likely switch to ITV4. With ITV next year sharing the FA Cup with the BBC, some have raised a question mark over a clash with one of the competition's semi-final matches, but in those circumstances it is nigh on inconceivable the two would overlap.
Bushell, who previously worked for Sky and BT Sport, has become the central figure in negotiations with ITV, having significantly slowed the journey to a deal after picking up the baton from her Jockey Club predecessor Simon Bazalgette, who had been keen to get ITV's three-year extension sealed last year.
"Negotiations are continuing and we are hopeful of a conclusion soon," was the official ITV comment on Tuesday, while a Jockey Club spokesperson said: "ITV does a great job broadcasting our sport. Discussions continue and we're pushing towards a win-win outcome for both parties."
A warning to racing was also given from Cheltenham by Sir Anthony McCoy, who insisted his views were not linked to his position in the ITV team.
"If horseracing was not regularly broadcast on terrestrial television it would be a disaster for the sport," said McCoy.
"I genuinely don't care if I never work another day on terrestrial television. However, I know for sure that maintaining terrestrial coverage is the most important decision facing the sport right now. If a deal is not done, racing will end up like show jumping, cricket or Formula One, which have all suffered in recent years.
"It's a huge thing for racing to be able to advertise itself on terrestrial television – and I think anyone who is seriously involved in the sport would say the same."
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