Bookies lose turf war with racecourses over rights to broadcast
Some of Britain's best-known race courses, including Ascot, Newmarket
and Cheltenham, have won a bitter legal battle with leading bookmakers over the
rights to market pictures for broadcasting in betting shops.
The victory in effect
breaks a 20-year monopoly where the buying of all media rights was carried out
by a firm controlled by high-street bookmakers.
The move affirms the
legitimacy of Turf TV, a joint venture backed by 31 race courses, including 13
of the 14 tracks owned by the Jockey Club. It is the sole rival to Satellite
Information Services (SIS), a business which since its formation in 1987 has
been controlled by the large bookmakers.
Alan Morcombe, executive chairman of Turf TV,
said: "We are delighted with this outcome ... This is a judgment that allows
Turf TV to continue in business and maintains healthy competition in the supply
of picture and data services."
Asked why it had taken so long for a
competitor to emerge, Simon Bazalgette, chief executive designate of the Jockey
Club, said: "We were dealing with an entrenched monopoly supported by Ladbrokes
and [William] Hill's to an extraordinary extent."
Last night, several
betting shop chains privately repeated warnings that attempts by the racetracks
to wring more financial value from media rights were likely to have knock-on
consequences for the amount of money bookmakers handed back to track operators
through other channels, particularly through the horse-racing levy and race
Bazalgette dismissed these suggestions, noting that last
year's levy had risen to record levels and race sponsorship was still being
taken up by bookmakers. After Turf TV's launch in January last year, most
leading bookmakers refused to sign up to the new service, claiming prices were
too high. But in June last year the government-owned Tote broke ranks.
There followed a flurry of private emails between directors of the
Association of British Bookmakers, read out in court, which laid bare the
disappointment felt at this decision. ABB's chairman, Warwick Bartlett, wrote:
"The Tote are irredeamable [sic] bastards and everyone their [sic] should have
been shot at birth. Members of the ABB? I don't think so."
later, despite the court action against Turf TV having commenced, Coral also
signed up to the new service, withdrawing its participation in the legal claim.
Unable to afford to boycott the service any longer, Ladbrokes and William Hill
reluctantly followed suit, but continued to pursue their legal claim. They told
investors the additional media rights would cost about £10m a year.
Of the big five, only the privately owned Betfred has held out. It too
is expected to sign up to Turf TV now, after admitting in court that not having
the pictures was harming business.
In a written judgment, Mr Justice
Morgan threw out the bookmakers' claim against Turf TV. He even suggested some
of their claims "stood arguments as to competition on their head".
judge is expected to rule in the autumn on a counter-claim alleging the
bookmakers colluded to prevent Turf TV entering the marketplace. That ruling is
expected to be closely watched by the Office of Fair Trading.
ruling is also a major victory for Alphameric - a joint venture partner in Turf
TV, providing the technology - which was on the brink of collapse last year.