Balding transfer ensures continuity and change in television coverage

Continuity and change were the two watchwords towering over yesterday’s announcement that IMG had been awarded the contract to produce television coverage of racing from the start of next year. By then, BBC will have shown its final race, scheduled to be the Welsh Grand National, and the curtain will have come down on the current Channel 4 contract with Highflyer with Kempton’s King George.

The change comes about not simply in a new contract and a new production company, but that in IMG, Channel 4 has chosen an organisation with no previous experience in broadcasting horseracing. Speaking about the decision, Jamie Aitchison, Channel 4's sports editor, said: "After a rigorous and invaluable tender process, I am looking forward immensely to working with IMG Sports Media to deliver our vision for the sport. Their pitch was compelling and crucially contained deep racing expertise allied to innovative broadcasting proposals. The winning bid hails the arrival of a new era in broadcasting for the sport at a time when the industry is moving forwards with real momentum. The hard work starts now as we head towards 2013 and the exciting challenges ahead.”

The other significant change is that Channel 4 will have exclusive rights to broadcasting racing on the terrestrial channels. It takes over The Grand National, the Derby and Royal Ascot, though the first big test of the new approach will come with Cheltenham, just 11 weeks into the contract.

We’ve yet to learn the detail of what was in IMG’s presentation, but one aspect that is clear is that they want to feature more detailed profiles of horses, riders and trainers, and not simply focus on the actual races.

Their ability to bring some highly experienced names from both sides of the camera from the BBC can’t have done them any harm at all either. It seems that all five companies bidding for the contract had listed Clare Balding as their lead presenter, so that in itself won’t have been a factor in the final decision. But it is good news for viewers. If there were an award for Sports Presenter of the Year she would be a shorter price than Frankel to win.

Continuity then in so far as the outstanding communicator about the sport will continue to front it up. Balding said, “I am absolutely thrilled that Channel 4 has asked me to be part of its new racing team. Racing is my ‘home’ sport and I am delighted that I will stay part of its coverage on TV.”

Her reference to a home sport is a reflection of just how widespread her portfolio has become over recent years, and there’s continuity for her, too. Balding is a freelance worker, and so she will be able to continue working for the BBC and other organisations on any other sports and events. She’s already a certainty for the next two Olympics, and it’s these that mark her change over to Channel 4. Balding has just completed an outstanding fortnight providing much of the anchor role for BBC’s Olympic coverage, and carries out the same function for Channel 4 in their coverage of the Paralympics later this month.

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Aitchison was gushing at the prospect of Balding’s arrival. He said, “Clare’s arrival is superb news for Channel 4 and the production team. Quite simply she is the best sports broadcaster of her era and for her to be heading up our coverage across the year is extremely exciting.”

Also bridging the divide of continuity (in production) and change (in employer) is Carl Hicks. Although his name is unfamiliar, it was probably his signature for IMG that helped overturn the two established production companies, Sunset + Vine (BBC) and Highflyer (Channel 4). Hicks is currently BBC Senior sport editor, and will leave them on a high after his work on the Olympics. His racing background is strong, as he has edited coverage of the National, Derby and Royal Ascot many times.

There was more good news for the broadcaster yesterday with the announcement that Dubai Holdings had agreed a four-year extension to its sponsorship of Channel 4 Racing, taking it through to 2016. John Ferguson, speaking for the Sheikh Mohammed and Dubai Holdings said, His Highness Sheik Mohammed has supported British horseracing for many years and has always felt that strong terrestrial television coverage is crucial to the sport’s popularity in the UK. As Channel 4 becomes the home of all racing for the British public, His Highness has made the decision that Dubai will continue to be the broadcast sponsor for the period 2013 to 2016. Since 2008, when the sponsorship started, we have seen a growth in viewer ship and we look forward to the future.”

What does all this mean for the current team of presenters on Channel 4 racing? It’s perhaps in this area where the change in production team will be most immediately obvious. John Francome is one who places great emphasis on loyalty and has already said he will not be part of the new team. He’s only had two jobs all his life, starting with 15 years as jockey for Fred Winter. Since he hung up his boots he’s spent over 25 years working alongside Andrew Franklin, now executive producer for the outgoing company, Highflyer.

Francome said, “It’s disappointing. Andrew has made a programme on the back of which racing has made the decision to hand over exclusive rights to Channel 4 and he doesn’t get the chance to produce the likes of Royal Ascot and the Grand National. It’ will leave me riding out second lot for Clive Cox.”

Alastair Down also sounded as though he thought he was on the way out, as he paid tribute to Franklin’s work, whilst recognising it might be time for some fresh ideas and brains to come in.

Here’s the current list of presenters.

John McCririck
Tanya Stephenson
Tom Lee
Jim McGrath
Mike Cattermole
Emma Spencer
Alistair Down
Alice Plunkett
Lesley Graham
Derek Thomson
John Francome
Nick Luck

Who would you like to see retained? Who do you think should be for the chop?

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15 replies
  1. britwriterinphilly says:

    “If there were an award for Sports Presenter of the Year she would be a shorter price than Frankel to win.”
    Odds-on? With Gabby Logan in the field? I think not!

    As to the question posed? I’d dump John McCririck and keep the rest. 😉


    • Matt Bisogno says:

      I’m in the Clare Balding camp, too, Dave, but appreciate there are other sports presenters fancied (ahem) by viewers! 😉


  2. Chris Worrall says:

    It all depends on whether you want style or substance. Mrs Logan is far better looking, but I think Clare Balding’s in depth knowledge far outweighs Gabby’s.

    Let’s have both of them presenting the racing, along with some of the “talent” from Sky Sports News.

  3. Matt Bisogno says:

    Regarding who to retain, not many is my short answer!

    – Jim McGrath for his ability to speak in layman’s terms about the form book
    – Nick Luck, a very slick anchor, though it will be interesting to see how the Luck/Balding dynamic pans out
    – John Francome for NH if he can be persuaded back in

    And I’m afraid that’s it. It’s goodbye to the old boy’s club and hopefully hello to people who will be able to offer some fresh content and engage with a new section of the viewing public.

    That, clearly, is not a straightforward challenge…


  4. Pacemaker Tips says:

    Not a lot of sex appeal there Matt!…Emma Spencer, in small doses to that end.Would miss Mike Cattermole,a good interviewer, if he’s kept away from drooling over the former.Would be great to get rid of all the betting/exchange ranting,which punters either have to hand themselves,else the information is irrelevant.Channel 4 in the 80s educated me about paddock watching,going down etc.Nowadays we see little of the horses pre race,little analysis or salient interviews.Time to strip the show ‘back to basics’ and bin all the circus.Darren.

  5. Tony Mac says:

    John McCririck – Way past his sell by date – Dumped
    Tanya Stephenson – Atruely awful presenter and ‘tipster’ – Dumped
    Tom Lee – Good in the ‘ring’ good racing knowledge – Keep
    Jim McGrath – Excellent analysis from Jim – Keep
    Mike Cattermole – Like a 14 year old schoolboy on his first date when with Spencer – Dumped
    Emma Spencer – Brings nothing to the table apart from her looks – Dumped
    Alistair Down – Tries to make every statement ‘shakesperian’ – Dumped
    Alice Plunkett – Plenty of enthusiasm, but little else – Dumped
    Lesley Graham – Oh dear – Dumped
    Derek Thomson – Another way past his sell by date – Dumped
    Nick Luck – Brilliant anchor man, usually presents on RUK on race afternoons – Keep

    So that’s Claire presenting, Tom Lee in the ring, with Jim McGrath, Graeme Cunningham and James Willoughby analyzing – Job cracked

  6. Roy Davies says:

    So does this mean that The Morning Line will be be no more? Huge, monumental mistake by C4 if this programme was “dumped”.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      No, absolutely not, Roy. I don’t think there’s any plan to change the schedule, just the TV production company and some of the presenters.


  7. David says:

    I’m just hoping Clare can persuade Carson, Parrott and Aussie McGrath to join her!! That should add some professionalism…;-)


      • David says:

        I love them all!!!

        Yes Matt, very much joking.
        I’d actually keep Cattermole for commentating purposes but not much else; Nick Luck, Simon Holt and Tom Lee can stay as well. Alice for NH and Emma for flat interviews only, just for a bit of “colour” and I actually quite like Tanya.

        Agree with Jim McGrath (UK) and it would be good to have Francome on board for big NH meets/festivals.

        The “punters voice” McCririck can then get on with promoting those fine folks at Ladbrokes

        😉 😉

  8. Mondo Ray says:

    Although superior to BBC, C4 Racing has needed a bomb up it’s arse for a few years now. Beeb just needed the bomb, period. There are a handful of regulars I’d like to still see involved, and I think they’ve all been mentioned here already. I quite like Tanya, but she’s talking to the converted in her niche; my answer – give her McCririck’s job as well. His on-course “colour” has faded since the reality and celeb stuff and he should be farmed out to them in perpetuity. I like Emma(a) as a bright and bubbly yet knowledgeable presenter, and (b) cos I’m an old perve. Nick Luck is an excellent anchor (no, that’s not rhyming slang 🙂 ) and I cannot stand Ms Balding, although I’m sure she’d do a much better job without Oor Wullie’s usually banal witterings.

  9. Sue Brotherton says:

    Thanks for your great news service. You give free important news items which the Racing Post charges people to read as they are available to members of their ‘club’ only. In fact people are only allowed to post comments if they are already paid up club members.

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Sue

      Glad you enjoy it. Geegeez is, and always will be, free to view. And I like to think our independent status allows us a little more freedom to write what we think, whereas others either take a syndicated Press Association feed (and therefore don’t have a published opinion) or are too worried about upsetting someone… probably rightly, after the storm in a teacup Lee Mottershead has got into with the petulant Ryan Moore.


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