I do hope the weather allows racing to take place at Chepstow on 27 December and that the Coral Welsh National goes ahead as planned. That day’s racing is scheduled to mark the end of an era of 50 years of broadcasting horse racing on the BBC, and no doubt the programme will be full of nostalgia and old clips. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Peter O’Sullevan could be coaxed out of retirement for one last commentary?
In the end the decision to terminate the BBC’s contract didn’t come down to money. Between them, Racecourse Media Group, Jockey Club Racecourses, Ascot and the British Champions Series represent the racing industry over broadcasting rights. In their view, a single deal with Channel 4 would better promote racing than shared coverage.
A source from the negotiating team told the Racing Post, “The decision we have taken is in no way criticism of the BBC. They wanted to stay in racing and they offered us more money than they have paid in the past to do so. But it was felt that it would be a big strategy advantage for one broadcaster to have everything. Why would Channel 4 promote races that are being shown on the BBC?”
We might wonder how much promotion some of those races actually need. Aren’t the Grand National, The Derby and Royal Ascot well enough known not to need additional commercial marketing?
That same source sounded a note of caution that should lead us all to wonder whether this is the right approach for racing when they said that Channel 4 would need to up its game if it was to match the quality of coverage the BBC has provided. He said, “The BBC continue to cover the crown jewels extremely well. It is hard to believe that anybody could cover those days better than the BBC, but we feel that Channel 4 can at least match them and, with further innovation, perhaps even exceed them.”
Now what do they mean by further innovation? A helmet mounted camera so we can have a jockey’s eye view of the National in the race itself? Better not be one that falls at the first then.