THE media rights for all 26 Irish racecourses will remain under one contract for the next five years following a last-minute decision by United Irish Racecourses [UIR] to sign up to the deal recommended by Horse Racing Ireland [HRI] and the Association of Irish Racecourses [AIR].

In May five racecourses voted against the deal offered by Sports Information Services and Racecourse Media Group [SIS/RMG].

Under the UIR banner, Limerick, Kilbeggan, Roscommon, Sligo and Thurles said the deal was unfair to smaller tracks and that HRI was taking too much of the money for itself.

The UIR tracks said they wanted to explore their own media rights deal with Arena Racecourse Company, owners of 16 British racecourses and partners with Sky Sports Racing.

Before any such deal could be discussed, UIR and HRI officials appeared before the all-party Oireachtas Agriculture Committee to discuss the issue and differences between the parties were also discussed by the Public Accounts Committee.

UIR called for an independent mediator to be appointed but HRI insisted there was nothing to mediate - racecourses either sign the deal or go their own way.

This week contracts were prepared for the 21 tracks who had signed up for the new deal and they were due to be signed on Friday.

A meeting on Wednesday between UIR and HRI ended with no agreement but at 6.45pm on Friday AIR and UIR released a joint statement which confirmed that the UIR tracks had signed.

"Very best deal"

Chairman of AIR, Conor O’Neill said: "Firstly, I would like to commend and compliment the executive of AIR and HRI who have supported the Media Rights Committee to ensure that the very best deal in the marketplace has been obtained for Irish racecourses and indeed the wider industry. I can confirm that Kilbeggan, Roscommon, Sligo, Limerick and Thurles have decided to join the other 21 racecourses today and sign that deal. Furthermore, I look forward to working SIS and RMG now and seeing it come to fruition."

HRI chief executive Suzanne Eade commented: “This process has been exceptionally thorough and has delivered a superb deal for all 26 Irish racecourses. Horse Racing Ireland will be working closely with all racecourses and our media rights partners SIS and RMG to maximise the future revenue streams under the new deal.”

On behalf of UIR, Pierce Molony said: “Having satisfied our principal objectives, UIR has agreed to sign-up to the current media rights deal negotiated between HRI and RMG/SIS. In particular, the membership of UIR is pleased by HRI’s willingness to implement a proposed memorandum of understanding for racecourses during future media deal negotiations, and a review of media rights, as referenced by the chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee, on June 1st.”

Deal details

The SIS/RMG offer is believed to be worth €47 million to Irish racing per annum. This includes upfront payments, a minimum guarantee, in running data, and race sponsorships.

According to AIR, a study carried out by Deloitte indicated that, contrary to extensive media comments, it was the larger tracks who were not receiving the full value of their rights in the previous deal, and that the smaller tracks were being overpaid, based on their performance.

It became apparent that some racecourses’ media income might be impacted in the early stages of the deal, as the new performance-based model kicked in. To protect those impacted, an easing-in provision was designed where the big tracks agreed to continue to supplement the smaller tracks media rights payments for the first three years of the deal, until the market growth projections passed out the adjustment period.

Another change negotiated was that charges to racecourses would be based on a percentage of income rather than on a fixed fee, meaning that those who earned more paid a higher proportion of the costs.

On February 27th, racecourses were presented with individual and combined financial projections, while contract negotiations continued with SIS and RMG with assistance from legal advisors. Completed contracts were then circulated to AIR members.

The proposed deal was unanimously approved by the AIR board but the five UIR tracks rejected it. For a while it looked as if 15% of Irish racing pictures would no longer be carried by SIS and Racing TV, but that scenario has been avoided.