Sport Horse Racing

Monday 10 December 2018

Comment: Asking fans to fork out €372-a-year is bad enough but the move to Racing UK will also damage Irish racing

Cormac Byrne

The sport of kings is inaccessible to most and now many of us won't be able to even look on enviously at our horseracing heroes.

Despite the clamour from numerous leading racing figures over the weekend, the Association of Irish Racecourses (AIR) declined to use their veto and ratified a new five-year deal with Racing UK (RUK) which will leave rival station Attheraces (ATR) struggling for survival.

When Horse Racing Ireland and AIR renewed their contract with SIS in March 2016, SIS was granted the right to sell the pictures to the broadcaster of its choice ahead of the new five-year arrangement kicking in on January 1, 2019.

How an Irish sporting organisation would cede control of where, when and how its product is broadcast is baffling.

If Attheraces goes out of existence it will have a major effect on how future rights deals are bartered.

From January 1, 2019 racing fans will be asked to fork out €372-a-year to watch action from all 26 Irish racecourses on Racing UK (it will be re-branded later this year).

Let's put this into context, shall we.

That is well in excess of the increase in all weekly social welfare payments, including pensions, the state pension in last October's budget. An extra €5 a week.

Given how costly a day at the races can be, most people will have to make do with the 25-27 days of racing that will be shown on RTE over the next three years.

Irish racing received €64m in taxpayers money last year and will pull in a similar figure this year. They were horrified that it didn't increase in Budget 2018.

After this commercial agreement which robs tens of thousands of supporters of Irish racing the chance to enjoy the sport they love, I think the amount of our money the HRI receives should be capped until the deal expires at the end of 2023.

The HRI has lobbied for an increase in betting tax to help finance the Horse & Greyhound Fund. I agree. Increase the tax on bookmakers to finance the fund rather than have it come out of our pockets.

Apart from the obvious financial ramifications for supporters of Irish racing of the move to RUK, there are serious doubts over the quality of coverage Irish racing will receive.

RUK already deals with 800 Uk fixtures a year and will now have to shoehorn in 360 Irish meetings.

Much has been made of the fact that Irish racing will now be available in high definition but squinting to see those pictures on the corner of a split-screen doesn't seem like much of an improvement.

There will be 43 afternoons and nine evenings with more than three fixtures being broadcast. With races approximately every 30 minutes and most races rarely going off on time, split-screen viewing will become frequent.

There is also the issue of how in-depth the analysis will be and how they will fit in pre-race and post-race interviews during such a packed schedule.

Racing UK have confirmed there will be no second racing channel dedicated to Irish racing.

Irish racing has been front and centre in Attheraces coverage and the profile of the sport and its incredible participants has grown as a result.

Colin Keane's incredible title-winning season, the absorbing end to the national hunt season last year with Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins, Joseph O'Brien's stunning Melbourne Cup success and his father Aidan's world record year would not have captured the public's imagination had it not been for the exposure Attheraces provided.

The Attheraces website is also a brilliant resource and it would be a crying shame to lose it.

It's unclear what kind of damage will be done to racing's profile by the addition of a €31-a-month paywall but it's clear that damage will be done.

Gary O'Brien, Kevin O'Ryan and Kevin Blake are renowned horseracing journalists and experts and RTE and other outlets should be swooping for their services.

Their knowledge and the esteem they are held in by trainers and jockeys will make them a prized commodity.

Yesterday was a bad day for Irish racing. We won't know how bad until January 1, 2024.

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