FIVE Irish racecourses have come together to form a new organisation as they continue to battle with Horse Racing Ireland over the distribution of media rights revenue.
Kilbeggan, Limerick (pictured), Roscommon, Thurles and Sligo have labelled themselves United Irish Racecourses and their representatives have this week been in contact with other independent tracks seeking common ground.
Irish racing’s media rights are owned by the racecourses but their sale is negotiated by a committee put together by Horse Racing Ireland and headed by the chairman of the Association of Irish Racecourses.
Last October HRI and AIR announced that they had selected Sports Information Services (SIS) and Racecourse Media Group (the parent company of Racing TV) as the preferred bidders for the next five-year contract.
In November representatives of all 26 tracks were invited to a meeting to hear more details of the proposed deal but it appears that a full breakdown of how the revenue would be divided between the tracks was not provided.
At the heart of the matter is the percentage of the money kept by HRI in return for their role in providing the daily ‘runners and riders’, often referred to as ‘data charges’. United Irish Racecourses believe that HRI has increased its take from 7% to over 18% in recent years, and that the payment formula also favours ‘blacktype’ races which are more often staged at HRI-affiliated tracks.
The danger for HRI and AIR is that the new group will refuse to sign the SIS/RMG deal and move to sell their live pictures to another party, such as The Racing Partnership and Sky Sports Racing.
Kilbeggan manager Paddy Dunican is secretary of UIR and told The Irish Field: “This dispute stems from an agreement with HRI that if UIR agreed to signing the 2016 contract with SIS that an independent review would be carried out. This continues to be resisted and trust in HRI has collapsed.”
He says the current formula used to determine how media rights revenue is divided is flawed on two fronts – HRI is taking too much off the top and the deal favours bigger tracks with bigger races.
“HRI should only receive the market value of pre-race data which in England is less than 2%,” he said. “However, their share is as big as 20% for some of the smaller racecourses and only half of that from some meetings at the larger tracks. This has naturally resulted in a division within AIR, with larger tracks attempting to prevent the anomaly from being corrected.”
UIR say that, under legislation, racecourses are compelled to leave the negotiations of their media rights with a committee established by HRI. UIR believe that, as agent for the racecourses, HRI should have a written agreement in place, similar to that drawn up by a property agent and their client.
“This is particularly pertinent as HRI has a vested interest as owners of pre-race data and sell it to SIS for considerably more than the daily newspapers,” a statement from UIR said. “The consequence of this is that the racecourses receive less for pictures, particularly the smaller tracks.”
Dunican says that UIR’s concerns have been discussed at AIR general meetings “following which a number of non-HRI tracks have confirmed their support with some also advising HRI directly.”
One independent racecourse manager told The Irish Field he had been contacted this week by a UIR representative and asked to support their campaign. He said: “They told me how much money my track was potentially losing out on under the new terms, and asked me to write to HRI to express my concerns. I would be sympathetic towards them as I don’t think HRI and AIR have given us all the information we were promised.”
Another track manager said: “My fear is that even if HRI agrees to reduce its take of media rights it will simply replace the lost revenue with a raceday charge imposed on tracks.”
A senior industry figure not directly involved with any racecourse but close to the HRI board said: “It would be a shame to see a split among the racecourses. HRI might have to concede some ground to keep them on-side but those tracks could find themselves out of favour when they are looking for an eighth race or another fixture in the future.”
Asked for comment, a HRI spokesperson said: “The HRI Media Rights Committee, established under statute, is chaired by the chairman of the Association of Irish Racecourses, and is currently working through a new media rights deal for Irish racing.
“This committee has consistently delivered strong media rights deals for the 26 racecourses of Ireland. AIR and HRI will continue to work towards concluding a new deal for all racecourses, as well as ensuring a benefit for the racing and breeding industry in Ireland.”
The five UIR tracks remain members of AIR. Last week AIR announced the appointment of former Curragh Racecourse boss Paul Hensey as its new chief executive. Succeeding Paddy Walsh, Hensey takes office on March 31st and will face a big challenge to keep all his members together and get the new media rights deal completed.
AIR chairman Conor O’Neill said: “I am extremely confident that the Media Rights Committee has obtained the very best possible deal in the marketplace for Irish racecourses and indeed Irish racing. The current period of negotiations entails finalising all detailed elements of the deal together with a distribution mechanism for the income to be divided in a fair, equitable and transparent manner across all parties thereby enabling a detailed contractual agreement to be put in place.
“It is our intention to have a final proposal to be put forward for consideration by all parties very shortly. Given the commercial sensitivity involved I cannot discuss the specifics with the media prior to that. To date, it has always been the case that these rights have been sold collectively and supported unanimously by our members and we will endeavour for that to continue.”