Racing UK will gain a hugely significant addition to its roster of televised tracks following a decision by Ascot to award them the broadcast rights for all events at the famous racecourse from June 2014.
The country’s premier venue, home to Royal Ascot every June, will link up with Racecourse Media Group, the parent company of Racing UK which already broadcasts action from the majority of the UK’s major racecourses, including Cheltenham, Aintree, Epsom, Newmarket, York and Goodwood.
The move is a significant setback for rival channel At The Races, which has held the rights to Ascot race meetings since 2004, and is now left with a portfolio mainly consisting of middle and low-grade courses.
Ascot’s switch to Racing UK will give the channel a near monopoly on the best race meetings on the British racing calendar, including the Grand National, Cheltenham Festival, Epsom Derby, Glorious Goodwood, and Ascot from June 2014.
At The Races also lost Exeter, Kelso and Perth to their rivals earlier this year, while Folkestone and Hereford will also be missing from next year’s line-up as both racecourses will shortly close down.
The only major racecourse to continue on At The Races is Doncaster, the venue of the St Leger, which is owned by ARC (formed recently by the merger of Arena Leisure and Northern Racing), and the channel also has exclusive rights to all racing in Ireland.
Richard FitzGerald, CEO of Racecourse Media Group, owners of Racing UK, said: “We are delighted to welcome Ascot to the RMG family.
“The racecourse’s tremendous racing and global reputation is a natural fit alongside the quality output from our other 33 racecourses.
“We aim to deliver the highest production and presentation values worthy of one of the best racecourses in the world which will only further add to the Racing UK viewer’s experience.
“As Racing UK is 100% owned by our shareholder racecourses, all profits are reinvested in the sport.
“The agreement will benefit Ascot, RMG’s racecourses, the racing community and the sport as a whole.
“We are relishing the opportunity of working together to promote the very best of what British racing has to offer.”
Ascot’s chief executive Charles Barnett said: “We have had an excellent and productive relationship with At The Races since 2004 and are most grateful for all they have done for us.
“Enabling a large percentage of the best of British racing to be promoted by one entity (Racing UK) and showcased through one satellite broadcaster mirrors the thinking behind the Channel 4 deal, and it should benefit initiatives like the QIPCO British Champions Series.”
A statement posted on the At The Races website said “no material impact on At The Race’s profitability is expected” as a result of Ascot’s decision.
The statement read: “At The Races is naturally disappointed that Ascot has chosen not to continue its relationship with the company from June 2014, a relationship which goes back to 2004 and which has at all times been conducted on the best of terms.
“At The Races enjoyed a record year in 2011 and is on track to surpass those achievements in 2012.
“As a shareholder in the company, as well as a media rights licensor, Ascot is a major beneficiary of this success and, factoring in the company’s growth plans going forward, looked set to reap significant further financial returns longer term.
“No material impact on At The Races’ profitability is expected as a result of this decision as the company’s revenue lines continue to grow and diversify.
“Ascot’s rights accounted for 4% of total At The Races revenues in 2011.”
Racing UK and At The Races are the UK’s only dedicated racing channels, both of which are available on satellite and cable platforms, although they operate entirely different business models.
While Racing UK is a subscription channel, currently costs £20 per month to watch on TV and £15 per month month to watch online, At The Races depends on advertising for a significant amount of its income.
At The Races, originally co-founded with Channel 4 in 2001, is now owned by a partnership between BSkyB, Arena Leisure PLC and 27 (out of the 60) UK racecourses.
Racing UK was launched in 2004 with all of its current 30 racecourses operating as shareholders in the business.
The channel does on occasion choose to broadcast certain events free-to-air to a potential audience of around 12 million homes, and is available to 3,500 pubs and clubs in the UK and Ireland.
As well as being the first of the two racing channels to be made available on Freeview (via internet-connected set-top boxes), Racing UK hopes to maintain and increase its subscription base with the addition of Ascot to its list of tracks.
Although many of the course’s major races, plus a significant number of other major racing events throughout the year, will also be broadcast live and free-to-air on Channel 4.
Channel 4 Racing relaunches with a new-look and presenting team on New Year’s Day as they take over from the BBC as the sport’s terrestrial home.
The broadcaster will be the free-to-air home of all the blue-riband events on the racing calendar, including the Grand National, Cheltenham Festival, Epsom Derby and Royal Ascot until at least 2017.