British horse racing has announced the sport’s free-to-air coverage will switch from to ITV from January 2017 after the broadcaster beat current rights holders Channel 4 for a new four-year deal.
ITV has secured the rights to show nearly 100 days of racing each year, including all the marquee events on the main ITV network.
The broadcaster will show a minimum of 34 fixtures on ITV main channel and 60 on ITV4, in addition to a magazine preview programme broadcast each Saturday morning on ITV4.
These will include the Cheltenham Festival, Crabbie’s Grand National Meeting from Aintree, Investec Derby Festival from Epsom Downs, Royal Ascot and QIPCO British Champions Day from Ascot, Qatar Goodwood Festival, Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival from York and the Ladbrokes St Leger from Doncaster.
However, it has yet to be revealed which channel will broadcast other major meetings, including the Guineas Festival at Newmarket, which features two Classics.
No other sport in the UK will enjoy that level of live free-to-air coverage and the contract, which runs through to December 2020, will provide an increase in revenues to British racing, with reports suggesting the four-year deal is worth £30m.
The deal further enhances ITV’s portfolio of world-class sports rights, which includes the Tour de France, the French Open and exclusive live coverage of the England football team.
Following the success of ITV’s exclusive Rugby World Cup coverage in 2015, this new announcement kicks off another huge year of sport on the channel, as 2016 sees ITV broadcast RBS Six Nations rugby for the first time starting next month, followed by Euro 2016 in the summer.
ITV’s commitment to sport and use of cross-programming promotion will help further position racing as a leading sport and appeal to ITV’s wide and diverse audience, as well as the established racing audience.
Richard Fitzgerald, Chief Executive of Racecourse Media Group (RMG), who headed racing’s negotiating team, which included UK racecourses and British Champions Series, said:
“ITV has made a strong and compelling four-year commitment to British horseracing.
“ITV places itself at the heart of popular culture and we look forward to working closely with the broadcaster in ensuring racing remains in this fantastic shop window.
“This is a great opportunity for everyone in the industry to support ITV in jointly promoting the sport and telling the stories throughout the year to as wide an audience as possible.
The unprecedented level of interest in the tender shows what an attractive proposition the sport is.
“This is reflected in the new deal, which will generate increased revenues for racing.
Niall Sloane, ITV Director of Sport, said: “ITV is delighted to be the home of British horse racing from 2017 and we are thrilled that the sport has chosen us to be their partners.
“ITV and ITV4 will showcase more than 90 days of races, which include some of the best days in the British sporting calendar and we want our coverage to reach not only its loyal, core audience, but beyond, by capturing the full enjoyment of this most wonderful of sports.”
ITV will broadcast the Grand National for the first time in April 2017, although the broadcaster has an historical link with racing, going back to the days of the ‘ITV Seven’, a key component of the Saturday afternoon ‘World of Sport’ programme in the 1980s.
Its coverage switched to Channel 4 in 1985, together with well-known presenters such as Derek Thompson and John McCririck, although they were dropped from its presenting team when the channel won the exclusive terrestrial rights in 2012.
Fitzgerald paid tribute to Channel 4: “We would like to thank Channel 4 for the huge support they have given horse racing over the years, and particularly their investment in coverage over the last three years.
“Channel 4 has been a fantastic partner for British racing and we look forward to continuing to work together in delivering a captivating and enthralling year ahead.”
Despite declines in viewing figures and criticism from some viewers over its revamp since taking over exclusive rights in 2013, Channel 4 sought to innovate and has won industry awards for its coverage, which is produced by IMG.
It brought in guests including jockeys Frankie Dettori and AP McCoy, and fashion expert Gok Wan, but ratings for some meetings, particularly Epsom and Ascot, have dropped significantly, while Channel 4 last month agreed a significant multi-million pound deal to show Formula 1 from 2016 to 2018 after the BBC cut short its deal.
A Channel 4 statement said: “2016 will be an unprecedented year for premium live sport on Channel 4 as it becomes the new terrestrial home of Formula One alongside the Rio 2016 Paralympics and horse racing.
“We are proud of the award-winning coverage we have given to horse racing over the last three decades – and the 90 days of live terrestrial television exposure per year we have offered the sport, backed by significant editorial investment, marketing and programming across our schedules.”
Alongside extensive free-to-air coverage, horse racing also has two dedicated channels in Racing UK and At The Races.