Newmarket could be the big loser in new television rights deal with ITV

Newmarket is at risk of losing more TV exposure than any other racecourse when the rights to screen racing move from Channel 4 to ITV next year.

According to initial plans, ITV will show only one raceday per year from the track, commonly referred to as “Headquarters” within the sport, down from the 17 that will feature on Channel 4 this year.

The remaining Newmarket race-days will appear on ITV4, where the audience is sure to be much smaller. The races likely to be relegated to that space include the 1,000 Guineas, currently the only one of the five Classics not destined to appear on the main channel, the July Cup and the whole of the July meeting, the Dewhurst, the Middle Park, the Cesarewitch and the Cambridgeshire.

A brave response to this prospect was offered by Amy Starkey, responsible for running Newmarket as the Jockey Club’s regional director. Referring to a leaked list of the 34 race-days to be shown on ITV’s main channel, she said: “That isn’t a finalised list. Discussions are still ongoing and the details of which race-days will appear on which channel will be agreed as part of the 2017 fixture process.

“The new rights deal is fantastic for the sport, in terms of the reach and exposure that ITV can provide. Being here at Newmarket, we see it as an opportunity and something to be embraced, which doesn’t take anything away from the Channel 4 Racing team, who do a fantastic job.

“Absolutely we’d love to see Newmarket on ITV as much as possible. You look at the programmes that ITV has and to be alongside those is a massive opportunity for the sport. Look at the events that ITV4 has televised; there have been some strong, good events there. Racing gives that channel a real substance and a strong sporting flavour across the ITV network.”

There appears little doubt that racedays shown on ITV4 will attract a smaller audience than Channel 4 could have managed. The hope among the rights-holders is that those audiences will build over the four-year term of the deal with the ITV network, thanks to greater exposure on the main ITV channel along with vigorous cross-promotion, to a point where they are at least comparable with what Channel 4 is achieving now.

Starkey pointed to the otherwise robust health of her course, which recorded a 35,000 increase in spectators last year, the largest increase of any track in the Jockey Club portfolio. She added that annual members’ badge sales are ahead of where they were at the same stage last year, with Newmarket preparing to celebrate “350 years of making history” over the next 12 months.

“I’m proud of what we’ve achieved here,” Starkey said. “We’re the home of horse racing and we stage 32 Group races, more than anyone else.”

Consequences of the ITV deal may include both Guineas races being staged on the same day and the July Cup being moved back to a midweek slot, to ease the most congested racing Saturday of the year. Starkey did not comment on either possibility.

Richard Johnson achieved the 3,000th winner of his career in Ludlow’s opener on Monday when St Saviour came home 21 lengths clear of the rest in a maiden hurdle. The 38-year-old jockey, whose tally includes a handful of Flat races and international successes, has never been champion as a result of his career coinciding with that of AP McCoy the only other jump jockey to have achieved such a total, but he is well on his way to seizing a first title this season.

“It’s great to get to the 3,000 mark,” Johnson said. “I really must say that I’m only as good as the horses I ride and the trainers and owners I’ve been associated with.

“I’d like to thank all the people I’ve ridden for over the past 22 years and obviously my agent, Dave Roberts, who has done such a fantastic job. My first winner was Rusty Bridge at Hereford for my grandad, Ivor. At that stage I thought I was just going to be an amateur jockey riding a few point-to-point winners. It’s been an amazing experience and I’ve been very fortunate to work with so many great people over the years.”

Powered by article was written by Chris Cook, for The Guardian on Monday 4th January 2016 19.08 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010