By Laura Donnellan, Lecturer in Law, School of Law, University of Limerick, Ireland
Thursday 23 March saw the announcement by Sport 24 that it had acquired the rights to broadcast the live action and one hour highlights of six major horse racing events, beginning on Saturday 25 March with the Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse (“IMG’s Sport 24 to show live global coverage of horse racing”, 23 Mar. 2017, http://www.getconnected.aero/2017/03/imgs-sport-24-live-horse-racing/).
Under the agreement, Sport 24 and Sport 24 Extra will broadcast the world-famous events of: the Dubai World Cup, a series of ten races between January and March with prize money of over $10.9 million and referred to as “the richest day of racing in the world”, http://www.dubaiworldcup.com/visit/racing-season/dubai-world-cup-carnival); the Randox Health Grand National, at Aintree from 6 – 8 April; the Epsom Derby on 3 June; the British Champions’ Day on 21 October, the finale of the flat racing season in Britain with a purse of £4.26 million, http://britishchampionsseries.com/qipco-british-champions-day; the Breeders’ Cup on 3 and 4 November in Del Mar, California; and the Melbourne Cup on 7 November.
Sport 24 and Sport 24 Extra are the world’s first and only live sports channels that are exclusively available to cruise lines and aircraft using the Panasonic live television system, eXTV (“IMG’s Sport 24 to show live global coverage of horse racing”, ibid).
Sport 24 was established in 2012 by IMG (International Management Group). Sport 24 Extra, a more premium channel, was launched on 1 June 2016 by IMG Media (http://www.sport24-tv.com/about/).
The two channels provide 24 hours of sport per day, 365 days per year and are available on a number of cruise ships, including P&O Cruises, Viking Cruises, The World, Princess Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line, and as in-flight entertainment on a number of commercial airlines, including Air Seychelles, American Airlines, Emirates, Etihad, Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic, Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airlines.
This will be the first time live horse racing will be broadcast on cruise lines and aircraft. The agreement was concluded between Racecourse Media Group (RMG), Henry Birtles Associates and WME/IMG. WME, William Morris Agency (since 2009 William Morris Endeavor) was founded in 1898 and is the longest running talent agency in the world (http://wmeentertainment.com/story/). In 2009, it merged with Endeavor Talent Agency and, in 2014, it acquired IMG to become WME/IMG. WME/IMG is a global entertainment, fashion and sports agency which is a parent company to a number of subsidiaries including the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and Miss Universe.
IMG was founded in 1960 and operates in over 30 countries. It represents and manages world class sportspersons, fashion models, organises live events and is particularly active in the marketing of sports events (http://img.com/story/). IMG signed a ten-year deal with Euroleague Basketball in 2015 (Michael Long, “Euroleague snubs FIBA to launch new competitions with IMG”, 11 Nov. 2015, http://www.sportspromedia.com/news/euroleague_snubs_fiba_to_launch_new_competitions_with_img).
Racecourse Media Group Ltd (RMG) is an English holding company, which is responsible for a number of media rights businesses in 37 racecourses including Aintree, Epson, Kempton, Newmarket and York in the UK (http://www.racecoursemediagroup.com/about-us/). It is the parent company of Racing UK. RMG is described as “an umbrella organisation” which imbues “a revolutionary approach to sports media rights management” as it permits the 37 racecourses (the shareholders) “to own, manage and exploit their intellectual property across all platforms”. The result is that all profits are ploughed back into the racecourses (http://www.racecoursemediagroup.com/about-us/).
Henry Birtles Associates (HBA) is an England-based media consultancy company, which specialises in broadcasting and distribution rights for horse racing. Currently, HBA, along with Victoria Racing Club, distributes the rights for the Melbourne Cup, a partnership which dates back to September 2014 (HBA Racing, “HBA to assist with Melbourne Cup distribution”, 5 Sept. 2014, https://www.hbaracing.tv/hba-to-assist-with-melbourne-cup-distribution).
In June 2016, the Breeders’ Cup renewed its global rights deal with HBA up until and including the 2018 Breeders’ Cup (“Breeders Cup, The Thoroughbred Global Showdown, Renews Racing Deal”, 26 Jun. 2016, https://www.horsereporter.com/breeders-cup-returns-to-santa-anita-in-november-2016/).
No financial details of the agreement have been publicly disclosed. As of 23 March, the parties involved have yet to announce the details of the agreement on their respective websites. An article published on Get Connected, which provides the latest information on inflight connectivity, cites Richard Wise, Senior Vice President of IMG as saying:
“This is a very exciting addition to our premium offering for airline and cruise line passengers. Each of these events has enormous tradition and history, and are among the most popular and exciting horse race meetings in the world, attracting the very top owners, riders, jockeys and horses from all over the globe” (“IMG’s Sport 24 to show live global coverage of horse racing”, ibid.).
Adam Binns, Director of Broadcast and Production with RMG, expressed similar sentiment as Wise. He was quoted as stating:
“We are delighted that airline and cruise line passengers will not miss out on these showpiece race days thanks to this partnership with Sport 24” (ibid.).
The duration of the agreement has not been revealed; however, given the reported $4 billion WME/IMG paid to acquire the UFC in July 2016, and its launch of Sport 24 Extra in June 2016, it has demonstrated its willingness to take risks. As one author states: “WME-IMG has shown a proclivity to think outside of the box and associate itself with emerging opportunities” (Darren Heitner, “Why WME-IMG Led $4 Billion Bid For UFC”, 11 Jul. 2016, https://www.forbes.com/sites/darrenheitner/2016/07/11/why-wme-img-bid-4-billion-for-ufc/#31990fe9b969). Given the proclivity of WME/IMG and the benefits for RMG and HBA, the agreement may well be a long-term commitment.
Of course, these new arrangements will not only benefit horse racing fans, but also the betting industry, which tends to keep horse racing alive, from a financial point of view!
Laura Donnellan may be contacted by e-mail at ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’