EXPLAINER: What the Racing UK deal means for Irish racing coverage
The controversial new agreement is expected to be approved today11:39 Tuesday 6 February 2018, 11:39 6 Feb 2018
Today at its general meeting the Association of Irish Racecourses is expected to approve a new TV rights deal which could have huge ramifications for the coverage of horse racing on this island.
As it stands racing from all 26 Irish racecourses is broadcast on At The Races, which despite being a Sky channel is available as part of a basic digital package while not strictly being 'free-to-air'.
At The Races have shown Irish racing for over a decade, but all that will change from 2019 if, as expected, a new deal with subscription-based channel Racing UK is rubber stamped. However in contrast to At The Races, access to Racing UK requires a separate subscription of €31 a month to Irish customers, even if a customer has a Sky Sports package.
Davy Russell kisses a TV camera after winning at the 2015 Cheltenham Festival ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
The idea of putting such a wealth of Irish racing behind a paywall has not sit well with some, with Michael O'Leary of Ryanair and Gigginstown the most high-profile critic of the move.
Speaking on this morning's OTB AM, racing journalist Johnny Ward explained why the decision is having plenty of detractors.
"Racing UK has around 50,000 subscribers. Obviously the hardcore racing fans will subscribe to it now in Ireland, but most people won't and that is a worry. It's also a worry for promoting the sport because everyone who has become accustomed to At The Races will just have this idea that Irish racing is always on. That's not the case anymore and a lot of the floating voters won't be watching it day to day."
Ward also made the point that the move could force people into betting more, as the majority of bookmakers give punters access to a particular race on their phone if they make a bet.
Another issue that would need resolving according to Ward is the sheer amount of racing already broadcast by Racing UK. The channel is the exclusive rights holder for 37 tracks in Britain, and it is currently unclear how the station intends broadcasting those races on top of its Irish coverage on just one channel.
When asked about At The Races general coverage of the sport, Ward described it as "good but not flawless".
"There's been no HD brought in so I would have some issues with At The Races, but because it has so little in terms of English racing, Irish racing is really their jewel in the crown. It has a small enough number of English tracks and it has very small numbers of the good meetings in Britain, so the Irish racing became the jewel in the crown".
The rights holder of Irish racing is Sports Information Services (SIS), a content creator which supplies data and information to its customers which includes almost every major bookmaker. SIS renewed their rights deal with Horse Racing Ireland on a five-year contract in March 2016.
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