RMG media rights payments top £90m but concerns remain over gambling review
The 37 courses affiliated to Racecourse Media Group received more than £90 million in media rights payments last year, it was revealed on Wednesday, but there is concern about future income following the government's gambling review.
In all, the tracks – which include those under the Jockey Club banner and the likes of Ascot, Goodwood, Newbury and York – will receive £93.1m, a nine per cent increase on 2016.
With RMG having just begun a new betting shop media rights deal with SIS, the organisation's chief executive Richard FitzGerald said he expected payments to exceed £100m in 2018.
"It's very pleasing," he added. "The good results continue. We can look forward with some certainty for the next couple of years too."
Bookmakers may have to reinvent themselves
Betting shop media rights were responsible for more than half of the media rights income – RMG would not reveal the exact figure for 2017 – but it amounted to £52.2m in 2016.
However, with FOBT stakes looking increasingly likely to be cut to £2, FitzGerald did acknowledge fears that should betting shop numbers fall their income would as well.
"As part of the risk sharing there will be some pain if it ends up as people think," he said, "but I'm an optimist and bookmakers have been pretty resilient over the years.
"They may have to reinvent themselves and hopefully it may drive people to more over-the-counter betting and racing, although I do worry about that.
"I don't believe anyone thinks £100 is the right number, but it's quite draconian to go from £100 to £2."
Arena Racing Company fallout
FitzGerald would not be drawn on the falling out between RMG and Arena Racing Company over the international rights joint-venture GBI Racing, which is set be dissolved at the end of the year, a row which has spilled over into planning for the racecourse pool betting project Britbet.
He said: "From our perspective I wouldn't describe it as a row, it's just two partners who couldn't agree terms.
"We're not involved in Britbet per se, so it's not for me to comment."
From January Racing UK – which is set to be rebranded – will begin broadcasting action from Ireland's 26 tracks as well as Chelmsford City, raising questions about clashes of coverage.
FitzGerald said: "We're already engaging with Horse Racing Ireland in terms of fixture scheduling so we think we can deal with some of that, and they have been very supportive. It's in everybody's interests.
"I think it's a compelling proposition – it's what the customers want and the narrative will be better than we have now, the storytelling becomes that much easier and better.
"We're not going to increase the price for the channel. We think it's the right thing to give the Racing UK customers Irish racing as well for the same price."
Thrilled with ITV
FitzGerald said he was "thrilled" with ITV's coverage of the sport in the second year of their four-year contract.
"Racing is incredibly lucky to have them as a partner," he added. "The production values they have brought, the enthusiasm, the insight into audiences and the demystifying of the sport – I just think we're very lucky."
There was disappointment with ITV's viewing figures for the Grand National and FitzGerald admitted viewing figures were a measure of success.
However, he added: "In the second half of last year ITV4 was only eight per cent behind Channel 4 and that's without the uplift we get from ITV. There's a lot more to be done and I think ITV are keen to do it."
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